Learn Banjo Online - For Beginners

  • 18 lessons teaching how to play 15 very popular Irish tunes.
  • Progress at your own pace, pause & repeat videos.
  • Access on all your devices.
  • PDF sheet music & mp3’s to download & keep for each tune.
  • 14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
  • Access to 14 instruments, 40+ courses, 700+ tutorials

Start Your Free Trial

BONUS:
  • Access our Entire Course Catalogue for Every Instrument.
  • Library of over 150 popular Irish tunes to practice along with.
  • Virtual Reality Sessions for the unique Irish Pub Session experience – a real treat for the Irish music lover.
  • Community Forum of students and teachers, all friends with a love of Irish music.
The banjo isn’t the first instrument one would associate with Irish music. It wasn’t until the early ‘60s that the banjo really found its own among the traditional music community when Barney McKenna, founding member of The Dubliners, took it to greater heights and across the globe. Barney retuned the instrument one fourth lower to coincide with fiddle tuning (GDAE) and developed a technique that would be suitable for traditional tunes. The good news is that this course, Banjo Basics, is for absolute beginners to music and the banjo, so it’s never to late to join in the great fun that is banjo playing.

By the end of the course you will have a repertoire of fifteen popular Irish session tunes. The course has 18 lessons, broken into 3 to 4 tutorials each, where tunes are taught phrase by phrase.

Start Your Free Trial

Course Structure

This course is aimed at the absolute beginner tenor banjo player. It’s for a four-string tenor banjo tuned to GDAE. Lessons cover how to hold the instrument and plectrum, how to tune the strings and the proper hand and finger positions. There is a progressive study of scales and ornamentation throughout the course. Trebles, triplets and the use of double stops will feature, particularly in the later lessons.  A wide variety of tune types and keys are taught, phrase by phrase.

Here are the popular Irish traditional tunes that are taught in this course:

The Kerry Polka
Britches Full Of Stitches
The Taureen Polka
Báidín Fheilimi
The Lilting Banshee
Gerry Beaver’s Hat
Out On The Ocean
The Concertina Reel
The Derry Hornpipe
The Rights Of Man
The Winnie Hills Of Leitrim
The Humours Of Westmeath
Humours Of Whiskey
John Blessing’s Reel
The Golden Stud

Sheet Music and Mp3s available to Download for each Tune

Learn The Kerry Polka in this free sample lesson:

Sample Sheet Music

Download The Kerry Polka ABC Sheet Music.
Download The Kerry Polka Standard Notation Sheet Music.

Sample mp3 of The Kerry Polka

Download The Kerry Polka mp3.

Recommended Tenor Banjo for Beginners

17 fret (short neck) 4 string tenor banjo tuned to GDAE is recommended for these lessons and Irish music in general. Entry level banjos can be bought from Gold Tone which are fairly good for beginners and improvers but better quality vintage instruments can be got within the same price range with some shopping around.
Start Your Free Trial

Advice Starting Out with the Tenor Banjo

Enjoy the journey, the process of learning, and don’t be too focused on the end goal, be patient. It is highly recommended to be familiar with any tune you are learning before learning how to play it, so download the mp3 file and listen to it frequently first before picking up your instrument. Watch and listen to the tutor and try to copy the notes she is playing exactly. After a while you will be familiar with the notes and how they should sound, meaning you will have trained your ear, to hear if you are playing correctly. This is how Irish music has been traditionally handed down through generations.

Your Tutor
Lisa Canny is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and composer hailing from Co. Mayo. At five, she began learning tenor banjo, by ten, the harp and piano. She went on to win 7 All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil titles throughout her competing years, including the Senior Harp title. In her capacity as a teacher, 9 of her students have also won All-Ireland medals. She holds a first-class honours degree in Irish Music and Dance from the University of Limerick and has a first-class honours Masters degree in Ethnomusicology from the University College Cork. Read more.

Frequently Asked Questions answered by Alan Reid

What banjo do I need for Irish traditional music?
You will need a 4 string tenor banjo for Irish traditional music. For Irish music we use the tuning GDAE from low to high.
Do I need a 19 fret or 17 fret tenor banjo?
Either is fine. Some players may find a 17 fret banjo beneficial because of the shorter scale length which makes easier work of reaching fourth finger notes such as the “high B”.
How much does a banjo cost?
An entry-level tenor banjo will cost in the region of €200-€400.
An intermediate instrument will range from €700-€1200.
You can get a high quality professional grade instrument from €1500 and upwards.
Should I go for a vintage banjo or a contemporary banjo?
This is down to personal preference. Go for the instrument that feels best to play.
What string gauges do I need?
Strings that will work on a 19 fret tenor banjo are gauges .36 wound, .26 wound , .17 wound or plain steel and.12 plain steel. For a 17 fret banjo be prepared to generally use slightly thicker gauges ie. .40 wound, .30 wound, .20 wound and .13 plain steel.
What pick/plectrum should I use?
Choice of pick comes down to personal preference. If you are unsure of what pick to start with I would recommend a 0.73mm nylon plectrum as a starting point. As you become comfortable with it you may decide you prefer the feel or tone of a thinner or thicker pick. Thicker picks tend to give more of a rounder tone with more bass and a stronger lower sonic presence. Thinner picks generally give a tone with more highs in the treble frequency range.
How should I hold the pick?
You should hold the pick loosely between your index finger and thumb with the playing point of the pick pointing towards the banjo head. Take care to not use excessive force to grip the pick so as to prevent strain in your fingers, hand or arm.
Should I use the 3 finger or 4 finger method for my fretting hand?
Either is fine. If you use the 4 finger method just make sure you have a strategy for hitting notes on the 6th and 7th frets.
Should I anchor my picking hand/finger(s)?
Anchoring is fine as long as you are not hindering your picking movement or excessively dampening the tone by leaning heavily on the banjo head.
What are triplets?
Triplets are what we call the main ornamentation we use on Irish style tenor banjo. A triplet is three short notes played quickly in succession. A triplet usually starts with downstroke of the plectrum. The picking hand and arm should remain relaxed when executing a triplet.
Can you play chords on banjo for Irish traditional music?
Tenor banjo is mostly used for single line melody playing in the Irish tradition. It is possible to play chordal accompaniment on tenor banjo but the volume of chordal playing is very loud and would drown out the other acoustic instruments common to Irish music. It’s best to leave the chordal accompaniment to the guitar, bouzouki and the piano.
Is the fretting hand on the tenor banjo similar to the mandolin and fiddle?
Because of the GDAE tuning the fingering of the fretting hand is very similar to both the mandolin and the fiddle. The banjo involves more of a stretch because of its longer string length.
Detailed questions and discussion on the course can be found in the Community Forum, available to paying members only.
Start Your Free Trial

Banjo Basics Lessons

Level

Hand And Finger Positioning

Banjo Basics Lesson 1

  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Tuning the strings, plectrum motion, and Hand and Finger Positioning

Focus on Technique

Start Free Trial

The Scale of D Major

Banjo Basics Lesson 2

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

The scale of D Major


Start Free Trial

Twinkle Twinkle

Banjo Basics Lesson 3

  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Down-Up-Down Plectrum Motion


Start Free Trial

The Kerry Polka

Banjo Basics Lesson 4

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Exercises on the Scale of D Major

Polka

Start Free Trial

Britches Full of Stitches

Banjo Basics Lesson 5

  • G Major
  • Level 1
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

The Scale of G Major

Polka

Start Free Trial

The Taureen Polka

Banjo Basics Lesson 6

  • E Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Economy of Finger Movement – Left Hand

Polka

Start Free Trial

Báidín Fheilimi

Banjo Basics Lesson 7

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Exercises on the Scale of D Major

Waltz

Start Free Trial

The Lilting Banshee

Banjo Basics Lesson 8

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

How to play trebles

Jig

Start Free Trial

Gerry Beaver’s Hat

Banjo Basics Lesson 9

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Trebles / Plectrum Motion

Jig

Start Free Trial

Out on the Ocean

Banjo Basics Lesson 10

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Plectrum Motion / Trebles

Jig

Start Free Trial

The Concertina Reel

Banjo Basics Lesson 11

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Triplets

Reel

Start Free Trial

The Derry Hornpipe

Banjo Basics Lesson 12

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Triplets

Hornpipe

Start Free Trial

The Rights of Man

Banjo Basics Lesson 13

  • E Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Triplets and Trebles / Chromaticism

Hornpipe

Start Free Trial

The Winnie Hills of Leitrim

Banjo Basics Lesson 14

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Slip Jig Rhythm

Slip Jig

Start Free Trial

The Humours of Westmeath

Banjo Basics Lesson 15

  • D Mixolydian
  • Level 2
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Double Stops


Start Free Trial

Humours Of Whiskey

Banjo Basics Lesson 16

  • B Minor
  • Level 2
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

The use of double stops in Slip Jigs

Slip Jig

Start Free Trial

John Blessing’s Reel

Banjo Basics Lesson 17

  • D Major
  • Level 2
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Triplets, Trebles and Double Stops

Reel

Start Free Trial

The Golden Stud

Banjo Basics Lesson 18

  • E Minor
  • Level 2
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tenor Banjo Online

Triplets, Trebles and Double Stops

Reel

Start Free Trial