One-Finger Easy Chords for Banjo

By Wayne Erbsen

People are always searching the Internet for the easiest way to play the banjo. Who can blame them? Aren’t we all looking for the easiest way to do things? Many of them end up on this website, and find the article Banjo Chords. This article demonstrates that with two- and three-finger chords, the beginner can play thousands of bluegrass, folk, and gospel songs.

Right now I’m going to make things even easier! Many thousands of songs can be played using just one-finger chords. Yes that’s right. One finger.

For bluegrass music, banjos are generally tuned in what’s called G tuning. That means the open strings make a G chord. The notes for G tuning, starting with the 5th string, are gDGBD. So you can play a G chord with NO FINGERS!

For most bluegrass or folk songs, only three chords are needed: G, C, and D.

A one-finger C chord can be played by fretting the 2nd string at the 1st fret, which is a C note. Although this is not a “complete” C chord, it certainly works for most songs, so if you’re looking for an ultra easy way to play a C chord, this is IT!

An easy one-finger way to play a D chord is to fret the 3rd string at the 2nd fret. You would then lead with that note when the song goes to a D chord. Again, this is not a complete D chord, but it certainly works when you have a D chord emergency.

So there’s the three chords that you’ll need to play thousands of songs: G, C, and D.

Important note: In bluegrass music, the strings are not generally strummed. Instead, individual strings are picked. If you’re wanting to simply strum all the strings, only the open G chord can be strummed. The simplified one-finger C and D chords will only sound right when they’re picked, not strummed.

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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 more than 30 songbooks and instructions books for banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin.

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