With an African origin and modernized American touches, the banjo is considered one of the most iconic musical instruments in the world. And while it isn’t the easiest instrument to learn, people still insist on getting a taste of playing its snappy melodies.
To learn how to play the banjo, you’ll first need to learn how to hold, tune, and strum it. Luckily for you, I’m here for the tuning part. I’ll tell you all about how to tune a banjo and the different types of banjos you can play. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
The most common banjos are the four-string and fifth-string, and each has its own tuning methods. To tune your five-string instrument, you can try the Open G tuning, G Modal tuning, Double C tuning, or D tuning. However, to tune your four-string banjo, you’ll need first to identify its type.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of tuning your four and fifth-string banjos.
How to Tune a Four-String Banjo
A four-string banjo has four strings on a shorter neck than its fellow, the five-string instrument. There are three types of four-string banjos, plectrum banjos, tenor banjos, and banjo ukuleles.
I’ll tell you how to tune all three, so bear with me!
Here’s how to tune a tenor banjo.
Standard Tenor Banjo Tuning
The standard tenor tuning is most commonly used in Jazz songs in both melody and rhythm sections. To try it, tune your strings in this order, C, G, D, A. Most beginners stick with the standard tenor tuning because of how easy it renders playing flat keys.
Irish Tenor Tuning
The Irish tenor tuning is lower in pitch than the standard tuning and produces a tone that’s an octave lower than mandolins and violins. The reason it’s called this way is that it sounds similar to the Irish fiddle. To tune your banjo correctly, adjust the strings in this order, G, D, A, E.
The Chicago tuning isn’t limited to tenor banjos. You can also use it for banjoleles and plectrum banjos. It’s similar to tuning a guitar, so if you’re familiar with guitars, you won’t face any challenges here.
First, tune your fourth string to D and the third to G. Then, tune your second string to B and the first string to E.
It might be challenging to play this tuning at first because there aren’t many octaves between the lowest and highest strings. However, you’ll do better with practice. Generally, this tuning works best for rhythmic sections and strumming because of its rich melodies.
To tune your plectrum banjo, you’ll use the standard plectrum banjo tuning method. It works best with songs that include rhythm strumming, and it’s famously used in old Jazz songs.
Adjust the fourth string to C, the third string to G, the second string to B, and the first string to D. So the order will be C, G, B, D.
The banjo ukulele, also known as the banjolele, can be tuned the same way as a ukulele. So, if you’re already a uke player, this step will be much easier.
The standard tuning of a banjolele consists of the following notes, G, C, E, A. So you’ll need to tune your fourth string to G, the third string to C, the second string to E, and the first string to A.
How to Tune a Five-String Banjo
In this section, I’ll tell you three different banjo tuning methods for a five-string instrument.
Most banjo players, especially beginners, use the Open G tuning with their instruments. It’s called this way because once you tune all of your open strings, you can strum a G chord without fretting any notes. Generally, it’s considered an easy standard that you can master in no time.
First, tune the first and fourth strings to D. Then, tune the third and fifth strings to G and the second string to B. Now, the order of your strings should be G, D, G, B, D, from lowest to highest. And voila!
You just tuned your banjo to the standard G tuning.
G Modal tuning, also known as mountain minor tuning or sawmill tuning, is similar to Open G, but there’s one tiny difference. Instead of tuning the second string to B, you’ll tune it to C. So the order will be G, D, G, C, D.
After mastering the Open G chord, you should try your hands at this one. But beware that if you tune your banjo this way, you won’t be able to tell whether you’re playing a major or minor chord because of how similar they’ll sound.
After its name, the Double C tuning has two Cs, specifically in the fourth and second strings. So the only difference between it and the G Modal is the fourth string. The order here is G, C, G, C, D.
The D tuning was most commonly used by Earl Scruggs, who’s considered by many to be the best banjo player of all time. This tuning breeds a D chord and consists of the following order of notes, F#, D, F#, A, D.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Raise or Lower My Banjo’s Strings Pitch?
If you want to raise a string’s pitch, tighten its tuning peg. Alternatively, you should loosen a string’s tuning peg if you want to lower its pitch.
Do I Have to Tune My Banjo Manually?
No, you don’t. You can use an electronic tuner or a tuning fork to make your life easier. You can also use an electronic keyboard or piano and correspond each banjo string to a piano note.
Learning how to tune a banjo is essential to mastering the instrument. While tuning a four-string banjo differs from a five-string one, both instruments won’t take you much time to learn if you focus and practice regularly.