Banjo For Beginners

The ultimate guide to banjo for beginners.

Top 10 Banjo Songs

Each of these were chosen because they have a combination of renown, tradition, and ease to learn. Some of them are more difficult than others, which will be noted in the description. A couple are meant to be sung, and a couple are instrumental. Each can be heard at most bluegrass jams and are fairly common.

Cripple Creek
-The opening slide of cripple creek is very distinctive the banjo. It is one of the first songs that my banjo teacher taught me, and I have really appreciated it more over time. Almost anyone who plays bluegrass banjo has been taught cripple creek. Here is a link to a lesson on how to play Cripple Creek.

Foggy Mountain Breakdown
-While Cripple Creek was the first bluegrass song I learned, Foggy Mountain Breakdown is my go to bluegrass song. When I am in an airport, and someone asks me to play a song for them, I play Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Its technically difficult, sounds good, and is fairly familiar. Here is a link to a lesson on Foggy Mountain Breakdown, the guy goofs around for the first minute or so, but after that gives an excellent lesson.

You are my Sunshine:
-I know some of you are waiting for singing songs, and others would stick to instrumental songs. You are my Sunshine is a classic folk/bluegrass song. No way around it. Most US citizens know some version of it vaguely. But now you can learn it in earnest! The song is normally in the key of G, so the three chords are G C D. Many songs have this layout. When you listen to the song, try to pick when the chord changes. There are lots of resources on the internet if you look in the right places. Here’s a link to the song if you don’t know it.

Will the Circle be Unbroken
-This is another classic bluegrass song from the Carter Sisters. This song is also in G C D, but not as popular as some of the other songs. It is a beautiful song, and is worthy of your attention. There are tabs all over the internet (just search “Will the circle be unbroken chords” in google). Here is a link to a version performed by the Carter Family.

Dueling banjos
-If I had a dollar for every time that I had someone request this song, I would have at least 30 dollars. If not more. But it is the song that is unequivocally associated with the banjo. Here is a link to the most famous instance of this song, from the movie Deliverance.

Ballad of Jed Clampett
-This is another classic banjo song. It was written by Earl Scruggs, and used in the show The Beverly Hillbillies. It is a fairly easy song to learn, and is recognizable to anyone who has seen the show. Link to the original version.

Salt Creek
-Although it sounds similar to Jed Clampett, Salt Creek is a staple of bluegrass jams. Salt Creek is a little less known than many of these other songs, but it is a very good song nonetheless. Here is a link to a lesson from the same guy who did the Foggy Mountain Breakdown lesson.

Ground Speed
-Ground Speed is a difficult, but impressive banjo instrumental. It also allows for some improvisation for more skilled players. It is probably the least known of all these songs, but it is impressive and would be a challenge to learn and a joy to play. Here is a link to a lesson

I’ll Fly away
-I’ll Fly Away is a older folk song. It was written in 1929, and is often performed by church choirs and at bluegrass jams. It’s melody is well known, and was even played in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch (both bluegrass singers). Here is the link to their cover of it.

9 Pound Hammer
-This is another old fold song. It was written by Merle Travis, and is another song that many americans know bits of. 9 Pound Hammer is a classic that is originally played on guitar, but can be easily transferred to banjo and played in a group setting. Here is the original version, and a version featuring a banjo.

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