Banjo Chords

If you’re gonna play bluegrass music, your banjo will be tuned in G Tuning. The strings in G Tuning are

1  2  3  4  5

D  B  G  D  G


The vast majority of all bluegrass songs use only three chords, G, C and D or D7. Some, in fact, only use two chords, G and D or D7.

When you’re in G tuning, your banjo is tuned to a G chord.

So in G tuning your G chord is just to pick or strum the banjo stings “Open,” or unfretted. What could be easier?

A D7 chord requires you to use only two fingers, your index and middle fingers.

The third chord you’ll need is a C, which uses either two or three fingers.

Most of the time, you can play a two finger C chord. Looking at the diagram above, simply lift off your middle finger from the 4th string. If you need to play the 4th string while on a C chord, put your middle finger back where it goes, on the second fret. Otherwise, you can just play your C chord on all the strings except the 4th string.

Important Tip: When you’re making chords like the D7 or C, it’s vital that your fingers land on the strings all-at-the-same time, rather than piecemeal. To perfect this, go to the D7 or C chord. Then lift your fingers off the chord about a quarter of an inch, and then make them land in their correct position all at once. Practicing this now means you’ll be able to get to your chords quickly in the future.

With the G, C and D7 chords you can play about a BILLION bluegrass songs. Have fun.


Wayne Erbsen has been teaching banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin since dinosaurs roamed the earth (really, about 50 years). Originally from California, he now makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He has written 30 songbooks and instruction books for banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.