As a beginner on any instrument you are going to want to play songs as quickly as possible. This article will give you a handful of easy banjo songs to start your journey with! These easy banjo songs are great for clawhammer banjos, bluegrass jamming, learning scruggs style, and many more techniques and types of play you’ll run across in your journey.
Now, there are plenty of drills and practice methods you should use to accompany learning banjo. While many of these things won’t be as fun as learning songs, they are just as important. We recommend you break your banjo lesson time into equal parts drills and songs!
You can quickly navigate to any of the songs we’ve listed just by clicking on the title below, or read on to find out more about how we chose the songs and strumming as a beginner!
What Makes These Good Banjo Songs for Beginners?
One of the hardest part about learning a new instrument is figuring out what to learn first. Beginner banjo players are no exception to that rule. So how did we pick out the songs we think you should learn first?
- The number of chords — The songs on this list have no more than 4 chords needed to play it. In a few instances you’ll see a song call for both an Amaj and an Amin chord, or some variation of that. So just play the Amaj! Simplifying songs in this manor can really make a overly complicated song easy enough for a beginner and give you something to grow into!
- The Key of G. — When in standard tuning playing all five strings open makes a G chord. Thus, any songs written in the key of G become fairly easy to play! The key of G also is made up of most of your easy banjo chords that are used in thousands of songs!
- Simple Strumming — Not all of the songs we have include have simple strumming or finger-picking patterns. But, as a beginner you should always start with four down strums per bar (assuming it’s a 4/4 time stamp).
- They are fun. — Songs for beginner banjo players should also be fun banjo songs. We love “twinkle, twinkle little star”. But who wants to actually learn how to play it? To many beginners get stuck playing stuff like that they’ll never play after the lesson!
What to Do with your Right Hand as A Beginner
Most introductory courses only focus on the left hand. It’s extremely important! Chord changes are all there is to playing the banjo, right? Wrong! While we won’t focus on the right hand in this article it’s important to understand strumming and finger-picking before we go any further!
Strumming is something MANY beginners find extremely difficult. Especially when you are trying to keep time and change chords. It can be overwhelming.
The very first thing we recommend is that you get a metronome. This will allow you to subconsciously focus on that tone and teach you rhythm as you focus on the chord changes.
Next, just strum down on each bar. If that is too easy, then you can go to strumming on beats one and three. Once you find that easy you can strum down on each beat. Then, when you’ve got your rhythm mastered and your down strums consistent you can start to add in up strums in effective spots!
Most of the banjo you are probably familiar with from popular music is played in a finger-picked, or ‘rolled’, style. This is a bit tougher than strumming and so we recommend you concentrate on it when you aren’t trying to change chords to start out with.
The first thing to learn is the “pinch”. This is accomplished by using your thumb and middle finger to simultaneously pluck the 1st (bottom) and 5th (top, shortened) strings. Combine this with plucking an individual string and you’ll have played your first thumb pinch!
Pluck the 2nd string with your middle finger, followed by playing a pinch. Follow this up with a 3rd string pluck, followed by the pinch.
While practicing this drill don’t forget about keeping your time. Use the metronome just like you would have for strumming.
Best Banjo Songs For Beginners
Ya, ya, we get it. We’ve rambled on about what makes an easy banjo song long enough. We know. So, without any further ado… here is our list! If you don’t find the song you’re looking for here, or want more information about learning, buying, and playing banjos, see our full Banjo Section!
We’ve added a video lesson for many of these songs to make theme easier to learn!
1. Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek is simply a banjo classic and is super easy to play, we think that all banjo players should learn this at some point, so why not start off with it!
2. American Pie
An American classic that everyone can sing along to. The best part about this song is a beginner banjo player can start playing this song by just strumming this using only four left hand positions, while more advanced players can add in chord variation, picking, and an extra note or two for a few of the more memorable melody notes.
3. Cotton-Eyed Joe
You’ve certainly seen someone dancing along to this long time party favorite. It’s actually a fairly easy song to play slowly and great to work on building up speed as you play!
4. Hush Little Baby
This classic children’s song and nursery rhyme has been hummed and quietly sung to children since Laura Boosinger came out with it on “Sing it Yourself”. Especially if you have children, this is a song that the entire family will love and amazingly it only uses the easy banjo chords!
5. Ring of Fire
This is definitely not a song that is normally thought of as a banjo tune, but it makes a great instrumental for the instrument! Johnny and June Cash made this tune famous, but you’re friends will love this picked version.
6. She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain
Another classic sound that everyone is able to sing along with and perfect for this list, you can play the basic version using G, C, and D. Once this becomes routine many people switch to the 7th of the D chord in the chorus to add a bit of flavor.
7. Ground Speed
This song needs no introduction for most banjo players. Originally written and performed by Earl Scruggs, it’s been covered by more artists than we can name!
8. Hot Corn, Cold Corn
This song is great because in it’s base version it is simple and easy for a beginner to learn, but can be added to and layered to increase the complexity as a banjo player increases in skill!
9. Wagon Wheel
A song that has gained significant popularity in the 5 years since Old Crow’s version was certified platinum in 2013, it’s also see hits with artists like Darius Rucker. In the version that Old Crow did, there are two banjo players so you have a choice which one to follow. We like the song so much we recommend you learn both!
10. Blowing in the Wind
This Bob Dylan classic is another on that you might not normally associate with the Banjo, but we love the sound of it. It’s also only your standard G, C, and D chords which makes it a quick and easy banjo song to learn!
The Final Note
A list like this could easily have hundreds of songs added to it, especially if you expand your search past just the basic key of G. We settled for 10 with a good mix of banjo classics, sing along’s, and popular tracks that everyone would know.
We know that we could have added more songs from John Denver, Earl Scruggs, and Tom Dooley and classic tracks like Country Roads, Dueling Banjos, Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, House of the Rising Sun, and Blue Ridge, but we wanted you to start playing sooner than later!