One problem that many Banjo players run into right away is tuning thier instrument. It’s not quite as straightforward as a guitar, ukulele, or many of the other instruments in the string family.
There are few things that have the distinctive sound of a finely tuned Banjo. Banjo tuning is very unique, especially on the 5-string styles, because the last string is higher in pitch than the other strings. One of the major questions people have when tuning a Banjo is the notes since it changes dependent on the number of strings.
Ways How to Tune Your Banjo
There are basically three ways to tune your Banjo. With time you may be able to tune by ear, but this is definitely not something you’ll be able to do until you are a very experienced musician.
This is an especially good idea when playing as part of a band. Have the lead guitarist, pianist or bassist tune their instrument and then you can adjust yours to “match” theirs. This will ensure each instrument sounds good together as a whole.
If you don’t have other instruments around to assist you in tuning your banjo we highly recommend buying a small electronic tuner. Not only are these not very expensive but they are highly portable. We really like Snark Tuners, and use them regularly.
Online Tuning Resource
There are a handful of smartphone apps and online tuning tools that you can use to tune your Banjo, our favorite can be found at Get-Tuned.
Tuning a 4 String Banjo
Tuning your four string banjo depends greatly on the style of music you will be playing. The popular patterns are CGDA, GDAE, and DGBE, with each producing slightly different sounds. The GDAE tuning creates a classical feel that sounds similar to the fiddle. The CGDA tuning arrangement is considered the standard ‘tenor’ tuning, and will match the way Viola’s are commonly played. Finally, the DGBE is closely associated with guitar sounds and is mostly used for playing full chords.
Tuning a Five String Banjo
The 5-string banjo is probably the most popular, and truest form of the instrument. The 5-string is normally tuned to an open G, though many variations are used to create different harmonic possibilities and voicing. We’ve included a great video for you below, dedicated to tuning a 5-string Banjo to open G
As you saw above, the open G tuning consists of G, D, G, B, D notes. Other popular tuning patterns include:
Double C Tuning: G,C,G,C,D
C Tuning: G, C, G, B, D
D Tuning: F#, D, F#, A, D
G Modal Tuning: G, D, G, C, D
Tuning a Six String Banjo
Six strings banjos are the ideal crossover instrument for most of the guitarists since they are optimized using the same chords and notes. Just like a guitar, the notes applicable for the six string banjo tuning are E A D G B E. Six string banjos normally play a lower octave than the five string banjo, and they do not have any closed gear on its 5th string.
Tuning A Twelve string Banjo
The tuning of the 12 string banjo is the same as that of a 12 string guitar. the extra six strings use the same notes as the regular guitar, but the lower three strings are doubled separately using a higher octave, and the top 3 strings are then doubled in unison. The notes of 12 string banjo are E, E, A, A, D, D, G, G, B, B, E, E.
Is a 4 String Banjo tuned like a Ukulele?
Yes! The 4 string banjo (or Banjolele) is tuned the same as a Soprano, Concert or Tenor ukulele. Just like those ukuleles, you can tune the banjo ukulele in gCEA (reentrant) or GCEA (standard) tuning.
Is a 6 String Banjo tuned like a Guitar?
Just like a guitar, the 6 string banjo is tuned EADGBE. This makes it the perfect banjo for guitar players to pick up for a unique sound with familiar chords.
Can I use a Guitar tuner for a Banjo?
Yes! Electronic guitar tuners are great for any stringed instrument, including the Banjo. You can also tune off another instrument, an online tuner, or a tuning fork.
What is the 5th String on a Banjo For?
The 5th string, or “drone string” on a banjo gives the instrument it’s unique sound. The clawhammer style of playing involves picking that string with your thumb, creating the sound that the instrument is known for!
The Final Note
That wraps up our article on tuning a banjo! You now know more than 90% of the population about banjo tuning, and hopefully more than you actually needed! We do our best to be the ultimate source for information on all things banjo, so check out our articles. If you don’t see what you need please let us know so we can write the article on it!