When you look at the banjo and the guitar, there’s no denying that these two instruments look quite similar. They are both stringed instruments and have identical necks and headstocks.
And the similarities between these two instruments make people wonder if a guitar player can pick up a banjo and start playing right away. I am part of those people. So I decided to research this topic. And here is what I learned.
Having experience with a guitar will make it easier to pick up the banjo. However, guitar players will still need training and practice to play the banjo. This is because the style of plucking the banjo strings, chord fingering, and other techniques involved in playing the banjo vary slightly from that of a guitar.
Similarities Between Banjo and Guitar
A banjo and a guitar are two musical instruments that look alike. Thus it is not surprising why people confuse a banjo to be a type of guitar. There are quite a number of parts that are common to both musical instruments as well.
These parts include; the head, tuning pegs, nut, fretboard, neck, strings, and bridge. Both of these instruments have a belly, which helps to amplify the sound they generate. The strings on a banjo and guitar can be plucked with either a pick or with the fingers.
Difference Between a Banjo and a Guitar
Although there are many similarities between the banjo and the guitar, there are some major differences between the two instruments. Let’s take a look at them.
Number of Strings
Generally, a guitar has six strings. A banjo may come with either 4,5, or 6 strings. Also, the strings on a guitar have a relatively thicker gauge than that of a banjo. Banjo strings have a lighter gauge. What this means is that strings on banjos are thinner than guitar strings.
Due to their light gauge, banjos are easier to fret, and your fingers do not hurt so much when doing so. Thinner strings are easier on the fingers.
The strings of a banjo are fixed on top of a tambourine-like build which is covered with a drum vellum skin. Basically, a banjo resembles a snare drum that has a neck and string.
The gauge of the strings also affects the sound they produce. Banjos produce a high-pitched tone, while guitars produce a rich deep tone.
Another difference between a banjo and a guitar is their sizes and necks. Banjos are small in size as compared to guitars, and their body is virtually circular in shape. Thus, banjos have smaller bodies and necks than guitars. The neck of a string instrument refers to the long and thin wood piece that extends from the headstock to the body.
The neck of a banjo is slimmer than that of a guitar. This makes it relatively easier for your hand to reach and go around the neck of a banjo when fretting the strings. Thus, it is harder to fret a guitar’s strings than that of a banjo.
Finally, the tuning for guitars varies from the tuning for banjos. The standard 5-string banjo has an “Open G tuning” of G, D, G, B, D. This means that whenever you strum down on a banjo string without anything else, you would be playing the chord G.
On the other hand, guitars have a standard tuning of E, A, D, G, B, E. Thus, unlike the standard tuning of guitars, the open G tuning of banjos creates an open chord.
Due to the difference in tuning, both musical instruments sound different as well. The reason for this is that the guitar and banjo strings are tuned differently and sound different as well.
Is it Easy for a Guitar Player to Learn the Banjo?
Most people are of the view that, once you can play a particular musical instrument, playing another musical instrument of the same family should come easy to you. In plain terms, they think you should automatically be able to learn another instrument belonging to the same family of instruments.
Though this may be true for a few musical instruments out there, can guitar players learn the banjo easily as well?
It is easy to play the banjo if you’re a guitar player, especially if you are a fingerstyle guitarist. Banjo playing actively involves your thumb, index finger, and middle finger for plucking the strings. And that’s similar to fingerstyle guitar playing since that involves your thumb, index finger, middle, and ring finger for plucking.
Guitar players will definitely have done many hand-fretting flexibility exercises and picking practice. Thus, they develop muscle memory by doing lots of these repetitions. These come in handy when learning to play the banjo.
Is it Hard to Switch from Guitar to Banjo?
Though you may be a good guitarist, you might still struggle a little when transitioning to playing the banjo. One of the biggest challenges guitarists face when transitioning to banjos is understanding the tuning of banjo strings.
Guitar strings are tuned differently from that of banjos. This makes them sound a lot differently than guitars do. Thus, in the early stages of transitioning, the sound the banjo strings produce may seem weird to you.
Also, you will need to familiarize yourself with and master the techniques involved in playing the banjo. These include; the style of plucking the strings, the banjo chords, among others. They vary slightly from that of guitars.
You may also have to master how to use banjo finger picks, especially if you’re serious about mastering the banjo. Most banjo songs are played with the finger pick. And it’s even more important in genres such as bluegrass.
I know some guitar players use finger picks. But that’s just a small percentage of guitar players. Therefore, if you want to transition seamlessly from playing the guitar to playing the banjo, there are a few things you need to consider. You need to have the right tutorials, coupled with a lot of practice.
You should also listen to and watch musicals that feature banjos in them. The reason for this is that the guitar and banjo strings are tuned differently and sound different as well. Listening to such music trains your ears to identify the changes in chord, timbre, the banjo feel, and how to express yourself on the instrument.
Should I learn the Guitar Before Banjo?
No, you do not need to learn the guitar before the banjo. This is because the banjo is the easiest stringed instrument to learn. A banjo has fewer notes and a relatively simpler fingering. On the other hand, there are more notes to learn and to master when it comes to playing the guitar.
A banjo has a smaller neck and fewer strings as well. These make banjos relatively easier to learn than the guitar.
Also, a guitar’s fretboard is far from its strings. Thus you will need more effort to be able to create chords and notes.
As a beginner, learning to play either the guitar or banjo can be difficult to do. The learning curves and techniques for every musical instrument vary. However, it is easier to get ahead faster when learning to play the banjo than the guitar.
Though you may not attain a peak level of mastery, you will enjoy playing the banjo after a few months of practicing.
The same cannot be said of the guitar. Most people find it difficult stringing nice tunes after months of practicing the guitar.
Thus, it is much harder to learn the guitar than the banjo. However, you should bear in mind that the ability to learn the guitar or banjo is also determined by your hand and finger dexterity.
Learning how to play any new instrument has its challenges. There is no easy way out to learn an instrument. However, when it comes to playing musical instruments, a few basic playing skills are easily transferable between similar musical instruments.
Therefore, if you are already a guitar player, you have a good starting point when learning the banjo than someone who does not play the guitar. However, the only thing that makes a difference when transitioning is the time, discipline, and practice you put into mastering the instrument.