How To Tune a Banjo (Ultimate Guide)

Finally it’s time to learn how to play those twangy, sweet sounding notes you’ve enjoyed listening to all these years.

You’ve been listening to banjo music your entire life, with a yearning all along to one day pick up a banjo and play. 

But first, you need to learn how to tune a banjo. 

Methods To Tuning a Banjo

There are various methods to tuning a banjo and that all works great. Some are faster and easier than others while some are the opposite but it is great to know each if you’re taking it seriously. 

It’s a good idea to learn as many of these methods as you can to ensure you’re able to play on in any circumstance.

We will list each method from easiest to hardest so it’s easier for you to quickly tune your banjo.

Tuning With An Electronic Tuner

Most banjoists swear by this technique, as it’s the least complicated, most sure fire way to ensure your banjo is tuned up and ready to play. 

Nowadays, many electronic tuners are affordable and efficient, and simply clip on the headstock of your instrument, which is the part of the banjo at the end of the neck which holds the tuning heads for the four longest strings. See the best banjo tuners.

You simply play each note, and this device tells you if the note is sharp or flat. 

You continue turning the tuning head until the note is pitch perfect, and continue on with each string until each of them is in tune. 

This method is generally faster than other methods, and more accurate as well.

Tuning Relative to Other Strings on the Banjo

This method will do in a pinch, but may take some practice to perfect. 

By playing a string, and then understanding the other string’s note in relation to the first string played, you can find the tuning for the other strings relative to that string. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want to have another instrument or a tuning fork handy, first tuning the fourth, or “D” string, and then by playing the fifth fret of that key, you will be able to hear the note “G”, which you can then use to tune the fifth “G” string. 

You then tune each of the other strings relative to the string you tuned last.

Tuning By Ear

If you’ve been lucky enough to have been blessed with the gift of perfect pitch, you’re off to a great start already and you may already have some experience tuning other instruments. 

This method uses your own ear’s familiarity with musical notes, turning the tuning heads until you’ve found the proper notes to get set up to the standard tuning of G, D, B, D, G once more.  

Listen carefully as you tune each string, and be sure to test them together by playing a few chords, or even just an open “G” chord, to ensure that they sound as though they are in harmony with one another.

Tuning To Another Instrument

One common technique for tuning a banjo is to tune it to another instrument, such as a piano. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a piano in your home, simply sit or stand at the piano with your banjo in hand, and find the notes on the piano, twisting the tuning heads on the banjo until they match the notes you’re playing on the piano. 

The notes to use for standard tuning are G, D, B, D, G, and these notes are in order from the top string, on down to the bottom string. 

You’ll need a good ear to hear when you’ve turned the tuning head to get the string to the right pitch, and be careful not to over turn it, as you risk breaking a string if you do. 

You’ll also want to make sure the piano is in tune before using it as a point of reference from which to tune your banjo.

Standard Tuning For Banjo Strings

Not only are there different types of banjos, there are many different ways that banjos can be tuned. 

Luckily, as a beginner and for most standard songs you’ll likely want to learn to play, there is one standard tuning which will serve you well until you reach a more advanced status as a player. 

On a five string banjo, “Open G” tuning is the standard which you’ll want to begin with. 

The great thing about this standard tuning is that you’ll feel like a pro in no time at all – simply play all of the strings at once and you’ll be playing your very first chord – a “G” chord!

Here is a great reference guide to learn more from.

Why Tune A Banjo?

Well, it sounded great at the store, especially when the clerk who knows a thing or two about playing a banjo picked it up to give you a demonstration. 

You’ll love it and nurture it and play with it every day from this day on. Carefully placing it into the trunk of your car, you drive home and reveal your new love to your family. 

You scrimped and saved your hard earned dollars and cents until finally you reached the magical day when you walked into your local musical instruments store and stared at the wall of shiny new instruments, until you fell in love with the one that seemed to have been built just for you. 

Taking it off the wall hanger and into your hands, you approached the store clerk and laid your hard earned savings down on the counter, and even splurged on the protective case and a couple of extra sets of strings and a polishing kit, because after all, this will be your new baby.

But they had likely tuned all of their instruments that morning as a part of their store opening procedure. 

The nature of the materials means that stringed instruments like banjos, guitars, and ukuleles will lose their tuning by being played, being left alone, or being exposed to varying levels of humidity.  

This means you will probably want to tune your banjo at the start of every session, and possibly once or twice more throughout your practice session too. 

It’s a good idea to learn how to tune your instrument even before you pick it up to pluck that very first chord.

Let’s take a closer look at some tuning methods for getting your instrument to sound fantastic.

How To Tune a Banjo Without a Tuner

Tuning without an electric tuner is relatively easy.

The other tuning methods above such as tuning to other instruments, by ear, strings have everything you need to tuning without a tuner.

Can You Tune a Banjo With a Guitar Tuner?

Yes, you can tune a banjo with a guitar tuner if you have a chromatic tuner which will allow you to to any instrument that produces a chromatic sound.

Conclusion

Tuning your banjo is the first and most important step for any banjo player. It is necessary to become a competent banjo player and learn the proper notes. You don’t want to learn the banjo without it being tuned.

Pick your favorite tuning method, we suggest an electronic tuner, and continue playing and learning the banjo because as any banjo player knows, learning never stops.

Image from flickr creative commons Ted Major

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