20 Easy Banjo Songs For Beginners

The banjo’s association with traditional, country, bluegrass, and rockabilly music is strong, and these are the musical styles where you’ll hear it being played most.

In this guide, though, you’ll find a mix of traditional and modern songs featuring the banjo. Yes, the banjo can work quite well in pop and rock contexts too. Best of all, most if not all of the following songs are easy to play.

So, let’s look at easy banjo songs for beginners.

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“Cripple Creek” by Traditional

Song year: Mid-19th century

“Cripple Creek” is a banjo classic. You could even call it a banjo essential. At some point, every banjo player should consider learning it.

At its core, it’s a three-chord wonder – G, C, and D. It’s not too hard a song to learn overall, but a complete beginner might not want to start their journey off with this tune (unless you only plan to work on the chords). There’s some string skipping, double stops, and even slides and pull-offs.

I don’t want to scare anyone off. These types of arrangements are very typical of the banjo. And ultimately, the song is made up of a lot of single notes. Even then, I do think it would be wise to build up your comfort level with your instrument before challenging “Cripple Creek.”

No doubt you will come face to face with the creek at some point, though, so once you’ve got some of the basics under your fingers, do give this one a go.

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show

Song year: 2004

“Wagon Wheel” is a quintessential banjo tune. The song is in the key of A. The only problem? The key of G is a much better key for banjo. Fortunately, all you need to do to solve this problem is slap a capo on the second fret, and it’s practically a done deal.

The main chords in the song are A, E, F#, and D. Very typical of pop songs, basically the I, iv, v, and vi chords.

As a banjoist, you will have your work cut out for you, though. The good news is that this song will introduce you to many essential picking patterns, and it is mostly single notes too. Like I always say – you can learn anything one note at a time!

Since you are using a capo for this tune, you are effectively playing G, C, D, and Em chords, which are chords you should strive to become very familiar with as you’re picking up the banjo. They will show up many times over in the songs that follow in this guide.

“I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons

Song year: 2012

The nostalgic faux indie folk of Mumford and Sons feels more ironic than genuine… but that’s just me. I don’t judge anyone for liking them though. They did base their writing on some great roots music.

“I Will Wait” features some essential banjo-picking techniques, as well as some strumming. The song is kind of in an awkward key, but that’s only because of the capo. The chording is probably what will take the most work on this one.

You can speed up your learning by working on songs you love. And if you enjoy “I Will Wait” you may be more determined to learn it and it may not be as bad as you think!

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver

Song year: 1971

You don’t have to be from West Virginia to enjoy singer-songwriter John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” This still stands out as one of Denver’s most recognizable hits.

Denver, of course, played it on the guitar. But you can bet that it works very nicely on the banjo as well.

To play along with the original, you’ll want to slap that capo onto the second fret. The picking is quite relentless with this tune, but fortunately, you can get away with playing just open notes for the intro and even the first two bars of the verse.

The chording doesn’t get a whole lot more complicated until the chorus, although it’s not too bad if you know what you’re doing.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” could be a good place to start for beginner banjo players if they take it in strides.

“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Song year: 1969

Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes are essential learning for every beginner banjoist. Their songs are very straightforward and feature rhythmic patterns that translate well to an array of genres, styles, and songs.

Every banjo player should strive to take what they’ve learned in one song and apply it to other aspects of their playing. That’s a valuable lesson all its own!

Anyway, “Bad Moon Rising” is like the template for all vaguely country, rockabilly, or folk-rock tunes. Some musicians use it as their foundation, others try to avoid it like the plague. But as any good teacher will tell you, it’s well worth learning the rules (or clichés) before you break them.

So far as three-chord wonders go, this is a fun one to learn.

“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty

Song year: 1989

There are many ways to approach simple three-chord wonders like “Free Fallin’.” The original features multiple layers of guitars, playing the same chords in different positions, sometimes adding color notes for added flavor. That’s one of the things that makes the song so great.

These qualities make it a great jam tune as well!

“Free Fallin’” can sound amazing on the banjo too, as Clawhammer Banjo demonstrates in the video. I love how he puts his spin on it. As you can probably see from his playing, though, it’s not that hard a song to play, even if you do include some of the color notes.

“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Song year: 1974

“Sweet Home Alabama” on the banjo?! Sure, why not? It is country rock after all, and the song is primarily based on just three chords. Beginners should probably focus on learning the chords before worrying about adding all the extra fills, riffs, and licks the Skynyrd was known for anyway.

If you do want to learn all those little flourishes, though, it’s nice to know you can pick them up in the video tutorial seen above.

“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash

Song year: 1963

Throughout his career, and especially during his early days, Johnny Cash would pave the way for many artists to follow – not just in country music, but in an array of different genres.

At its core, “Ring of Fire” is a three-chord wonder. It uses those three chords very effectively, yes, but its arrangement makes it easy enough for a beginner to pick up.

The video tutorial shows you all the flare you can add to the song if you wish. Those just starting on the banjo, though, should focus on mastering the chords first.

“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

Song year: 1967

Here’s a song that hardly needs an introduction. And, it sounds surprisingly great on the banjo. Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is already a simple four-chord song at heart, but it’s also one of those songs with layers of flourish on top.

The video tutorial focuses primarily on the chords, but it also contains the opening riff and several other fills. Well worth your time!

“You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell

Song year: 1940

“You Are My Sunshine” is a country classic, and the perfect three-chord song to turn to when you’re not sure what else to play! It makes for a great jam tune as well. Over 350 artists have recorded their versions.

It’s amazing to think about because if you listen closely to the lyrics, you realize the song isn’t exactly the happiest in the world. But for obvious reasons, it’s well-recognized, even to this day. Better put in the effort and add it to your repertoire.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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