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Tuning Your Banjo

One of the most important (and sometimes most difficult) things to do is to get your banjo in tune. If it is not in tune it really won't sound right. Learning how the strings should sound takes a lot of time, but don't let that discourage you. Electronic tuners can now be purchased very reasonably and should be considered an essential investment for all banjo players.  For tuning your banjo you should have a chromatic tuner. Here are a few that will do the job nicely...

 

 

Here’s a helpful video that will assist you in learning to tune the banjo...
 

 

 

Tuning Tips

  • Keep in mind that the tuning above is "G tuning," which is the most common tuning for the banjo. Some other common banjo tunings are listed below.
     
  • Notice that the notes the open strings are to be tuned to are written on the left side of the first line of tablature. For G tuning these are:
    • D - 1st string
      B - 2nd string
      G - 3rd string (one octave lower than the 5th string)
      D - 4th string (one octave lower and the 1st string)
      G - 5th string (the short string on top when holding the banjo)
       

  • Learning to tune the banjo properly is a skill that must be developed as you train yourself what sounds right and what doesn't. Just as your playing will improve over time with continued practice, your ability to tune the banjo will develop over a long period of time as you develop an ear for the proper sounds.
     
  • Always listen to the note you are going tune along with first, and then pluck your string and match up the sound.
     
  • When tuning a string, be sure to pluck the string with your right hand as you turn the tuning peg so you can hear the sound. Be sure to continually sound the string to ensure you are not tuning it too high, thus possibly breaking the string.
     
  • If you can't tell whether the pitch of the string is too high or too low, tune the string down to a point you know is LOWER than the correct pitch, and then tune up until you reach the right pitch.

Other Common Tunings

The banjo is usually tuned in an open tuning, which enables you to play more open strings and less difficult chords with the left hand. There are dozens of different tunings that have been used over the years, but listed below are some of the more popular tunings that are used. If you have an electronic tuner you should have no difficulty in using these tunings when they are called for.

G Modal Tuning -- This is a very popular tuning for old-time tunes such as Shady Grove, Little Sadie, and many others. It is also sometimes called “sawmill tuning” or “mountain minor tuning.” From G tuning only the 2nd string is retuned.

  1. D
  2. C  -  From G tuning, tune the B note up to C.
  3. G
  4. D
  5. G

Double C Tuning -- This tuning is very popular among clawhammer banjo players and is probably even more popular than G tuning for playing fiddle tunes. Many fiddle tunes are played in the key of D by fiddlers and banjo players will play along using this tuning and put a capo on the 2nd fret to get in the key of D. Notice that from G Modal tuning only one string is retuned.

  1. D
  2. C  -  From G tuning, tune the B note up to C.
  3. G
  4. C  -  From G tuning, tune the D note down to C.
  5. G

Standard C Tuning -- This was the first tuning that Pete Seeger taught in his classic book, “How to Play the 5-string Banjo.” It is not really an open tuning but allows you to easily form the most used chords in the key of C (C, F, and G). This was the standard tuning for the 4-string plectrum banjo. It is not the most popular tuning but can come in handy for playing in the key of C and is quickly accessible from G tuning.

  1. D
  2. B
  3. G
  4. C  -  From G tuning, tune the D note down to C.
  5. G

D Tuning -- D tuning is probably the most common alternative tuning for bluegrass players. The 5th string can either be tuned to A or F#, depending on which sounds best for different songs.

  1. D
  2. A  -  From G tuning, tune the B note down to A.
  3. F#  -  From G tuning, tune the G note down to F#.
  4. D
  5. A or F#  -  From G tuning, tune the G note up to A or down to F#.