Strum Fun On the 5-String Banjo

by Carolina Bridges

There is great joy in playing the 5-string banjo! Many people have pre-conceived notions that you have to do some fancy fingerpicking to play the 5-string banjo, but this is completely untrue. This type of banjo is traditionally tuned to open G tuning sounds great when strummed as well. Who doesn’t like to strum? It is so relaxing and easy. It is truly my favorite way to play. So, let’s talk about “strum fun” today!

A WHOLE NEW WORLD:

With the many books at my disposal in the showroom, I began the grand experiment of researching just how far you can go with simple strumming. WOW! What a riot. It was a whole new world of fun.

If you don’t already have one, you should invest in a modest chord chart. We have some for both tenor and 5-string banjo. With this as your little chord bible, the world of songs opens up for you. Check them out here...

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

After playing a variety of songs in open G tuning out of the book, Parking Lot Pickers (this was a wonderful collection with 2 CDs so you can hear what the songs sound like), I came to some honest conclusions.

  1. The basic strumming patterns that you can use will take on a nice selection of variations according to the song you choose.
  2. I strum with my middle finger. You can strum with any finger or your thumb; whichever you are most comfortable with.
  3. Sometimes you will want to just strum the one downward stroke; brushing your finger from 5th to 1st.
  4. The song may require only downward strokes with an occasional upward stroke to sound best.
  5. You can do a little pluck of the 5th string in to add a bit of a lilt to the strumming pattern. Like this:

Down pluck the fifth string with your finger then go back up and strum/brush from the fifth to the first in a downward stroke and immediately back up again from the first to the fourth string. It has a nice sort of “country vibe” about it.

  1. The plucking patterns can vary any way you want them to as long as they fit in with the tempo of the song.
  2. You can pluck softer or harder to vary tone as well. Make it personal and relax and feel the music.

RESOURCES:

While I truly believe that strumming can work in any tuning, the beauty of the open G tuning in banjo is that there are innumerable songs written using just G, C, and D. You may already have some great books in your collection from which to draw inspiration.

I had particular fun with these and they go beyond strumming to teach you new techniques as well so they serve a double purpose:

  1. Banjo Chord Chart; 5 string; G tuning; has innumerable chords and is compact.
  2. Parking Lot Pickers; learn some new tunes and really enjoy them by strumming along!
  3. Christmas Songs for 5-string Banjo by Janet Davis; Christmas will be here before you know it. Get started so you can have a wonderful sing along with your family.
  1. School of Banjo: Bluegrass Melodic Style by Janet Davis; great melodic instructional material too.

The idea is to just PLAY your banjo. Find what works for you. Vary the styles of play and have FUN. Greg Deering always says, “If we are not having fun, we are not doing it right.” I agree!

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