Classic Banjo Songs: 10 Good Banjo Songs You Must Know

A lot of people have the misconception that playing the banjo is actually harder than playing the guitar but this is not always true because the success in playing the banjo has a lot to do with the commitment and dedication of the one playing the instrument. The banjo is considered as the most appropriate string instrument for songs that are in the genre of folk, bluegrass. and country.

But oftentimes, banjo is also used in pop and rock music because it is able to add beautiful harmony and additional colors to various songs. If you are still acquainting yourself with this instrument, there are a lot of banjo songs fit for beginners and these songs will help someone enjoy the entire learning process.

banjo songs

1. Cripple Creek

The Cripple Creek is a folk song and this is considered one of the most important banjo songs that anyone trying to learn this instrument must learn. A lot of people say that the title of this song is actually a reference to a place in Virginia; while there are others who say that this song originated from the gold rush that happened in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

This song is considered as a bluegrass standard, which means that anyone who is currently aspiring to become an excellent musician for this genre would need to have this song in their arsenal because Cripple Creek is considered a stereotypical banjo song. It is worth noting that even though the original version of the song was intended for the violin, this song still sounds great when played on the banjo.

Learning this banjo song can be intimidating at first because of its fast tempo, along with the clawhammer technique that experienced musicians use to play this song.

Expert Tip: One very effective technique to be able to play this song as a beginner is to learn the three short parts of this song individually and then combine them, in the end, to be able to come up with the entire song.

What’s really great about this specific banjo song is that a beginner will already be able to learn some of the most important fundamental skills needed for the other banjo songs.


2. Dueling Banjos

A lot of people say that one is not a genuine banjoist if they do not know how to play the Dueling Banjos. The most interesting thing about this banjo song is the fact that a lot of videos available for it are for comparing how it sounds when played using a 5-string banjo and an acoustic guitar. And even though it still sounds good when played using an acoustic guitar, it still sounds better when played on a banjo.

This banjo song was composed by Arthur Smith in 1954 and he created the riffs in the song using a 4-string plectrum banjo. And to be able to achieve the sound of two banjos answering one another. Smith really asked someone else to play the song using a 5-string banjo, thus the name of the song.

The song became extremely popular that a lot of people started recording their own versions of it and the one recorded by Eric Weissberg in 1972 is considered as the most popular because his version even reach the number 2 spot at the Hot 100 chart.

The reason why this banjo song is recommended for beginners is because the first few parts only require an easy strumming pattern.

Beginners will also be able to practice their plucking ability with this song because they would have to pick on the open chords. Beginners are recommended to learn this banjo song by heart because it is not only a good gateway to bluegrass music, but also because mastering this masterpiece would also enhance a beginner’s playing techniques.


3. Red River Valley

This is considered as one of the best folk songs out there even though it only has two stanzas in its lyrics. What makes this beginner-friendly out of all the other banjo songs out there is the fact that it has the same chords and notes that a beginner will not have a hard time to repeat over and over throughout the entire song. If a beginner will be able to master the verse, then the rest of the song would already be a breeze.

Red River Valley is one of those banjo songs that has been remixed, covered, and recorded in different ways by a lot of artists. Interestingly, it has also been given various names such as Cowboy Love Song and Bright Laurel Valley. Even though this song did not earn any awards from music organizations like the other banjo songs, it is still considered by a lot of people to be an extraordinary song.

This song is really great for beginners because it is very versatile; beginners can play it like a traditional folk song, it also sounds great as a country song, and even works amazingly as a pop song And the most amazing thing is that all these genres are possible with only a banjo in hand.


4. Man of a Constant Sorrow

This banjo song was made popular by George Cloonie’s movie in 2000 called ‘0. Brother. Where Art Thou?’ This song has also won a Grammy in 2002 even though a lot of people are not aware that this song has been around pre-World War I. As a matter of fact a lot of different artists have already made a cover of this song or used it as their inspiration.

The reason why Man of a Constant Sorrow is part of the list of banjo songs that beginners should learn is the fact that even though it sounds complicated at first, someone will eventually get used to its sound to eventually allow them to get the notes correctly.

It is advisable that when a beginner takes on the challenge of playing this, they should do it slowly. Once a beginner becomes successful in playing this song, it can already be assumed that all the fundamentals needed for the other banjo songs have already been acquired as well.


5. Stand by Me

This masterpiece by Ben E. King is proof that banjo is not only for bluegrass songs. Even though it may seem odd to play this song on a banjo at first, the notes will eventually make sense when played together to form a very catchy melody.

Stand by Me is included in the list of banjo songs that a beginner must learn because it only has four chords and those who are just starting out will surely be able to play these chords easily. Strumming the chords of this song will be fairly easy to do and will still sound good, but picking the strings when playing it is still the more recommended method.

Like most of the other banjo songs that other beginners can learn, Stand by Me also requires for a beginner to master the clawhammer technique.

One will also be able to practice sliding the fingers on different frets because of the notes and chords required in this song. But when one has already mastered this song, it is guaranteed that all the important techniques and fundamentals have already been learned by a beginner as well.


6. Bye, Bye Love

This is one of the banjo songs for beginners that prove that this instrument is not only perfect for country and bluegrass songs because it also sounds great for rock songs too. The fact that a banjo is able to give off that very distinct twang makes it a great instrument for creating awesome rock licks.

Expert Tip: For beginners who are very much interested in learning this song, it is important to note that the key to playing Bye, Bye Love is to get the fingerstyle and position correct first. Doing this on a banjo is easier compared to doing it on a guitar, so those who have backgrounds in playing the guitar should have an easier time.

And of course, just like all the other banjo songs recommended for beginners, the clawhammer technique is the primary technique needed in playing this song.

But if it gets too difficult for someone who is just learning to play, then it is always an option to switch to strumming the chords instead. Getting the full experience of the song though and learning all the fundamentals will only be achieved when the song is played by plucking the strings.


7. House of the Rising Sun

A lot of people may not know it, but even before The Animals has made this song popular, a lot of blue-collar workers are already singing it.

A lot of music experts are saying that this song is as old as the ballads during the 17th century even though technically this has not yet been proven. However, it still cannot be denied that this is still one of the best banjo songs that one can learn as a beginner.

Those who are already experts in playing this song on the banjo have deft fingers and can definitely mesmerize anyone who will attempt to watch them. This can seem intimidating for a beginner especially since it is considered as the hardest song to play on the banjo, but the truth is that when one spends enough time practicing it, the song becomes considerably easier to play.

The best way to be able to learn playing the House of the Rising Sun on the banjo is by mastering its rhythm first. When one is already familiar with the rhythm, it will be easier to move on to familiarizing oneself with picking the strings properly.

Some beginners get intimidated when they hear that it does not sound as good as the original song when they play it. But rest assured that with enough practice and right techniques, even a beginner will be able to pull off a beautiful sound that sounds just like the House of the Rising Sun.


8. Johnny B. Goode

This Chuck Berry classic is also one of the banjo songs that a beginner can learn when just trying to get comfortable with playing the instrument. Because rock and roll songs are defined by the distinct high-pitched tones of the guitar strings, playing Johnny B. Goode with a banjo will give off the perfect rock and roll vibe.

This is one of the most popular banjo songs out there because a lot of audiophiles never fail to include it in their playlist, which is not surprising because Johnny B. Goode is considered as a classic. The main reason why this is included in the list of ideal banjo songs for beginners is because of its note-for-note solos at the start of the song.

Another thing that makes this piece truly unique is the fact that the various solos of the song can be incorporated in different banjo songs; a segment of Johnny B. Goode can be used to give more color to another cover song.

And just like all the other banjo songs, to be able to master this song, one would need to become more familiar with the fingerstyle first which will allow for someone to move through different frets effortlessly.


9. Ho Hey

It might surprise someone how easy it is to play this song on the banjo because this song only needs one to perform some of the most basic patterns of strumming. Because of the high-pitch sound of the strings of a banjo, it will be effortless to produce beautiful sounds while playing this song.

And if someone has had experience in playing the guitar, it would be easier to play this song on the banjo since strumming is not that different on the banjo.

Since this song will require for someone to slide their fingers from the upper part of the banjo’s neck up to the lower end, it may be a little intimidating for first-time banjo players. But the good thing is that with the right amount of practice, playing this song will become easier.


10. Silent Night

Compared to the other banjo songs available, this is probably not the first choice of a beginner because it is known as a seasonal song and reserved only during the Holiday season. However, the beautiful melody is not the only thing that might attract someone to play it. but also its soothing effect to anyone’s ears.

Even though this song is already very old. it sounds so angelic when played on the banjo, especially when it is played note per note. Even though this song can be challenging at first because of all the techniques that a beginner needs to learn to be able to play it correctly, there is always the option to play the song through strumming.

But once someone becomes more comfortable with playing this song by plucking the strings, the colorful melody will become more vibrant.


11. Wake Me Up

This song by Avicii is probably one song that is hard to predict as part of the list of banjo songs that beginners can learn. But the banjo is the perfect instrument for this song because of the high-pitch sounds that the strings produce that is actually similar to the electronic sound of the original.

Expert Tip: The key for beginners to be able to successfully play this song is for them to switch from different chords seamlessly. This is a unique technique that would require someone to slide their fingers through the entire fretboard.

With regular practice it would be impossible to not get this chord switches perfectly; as a matter of fact, playing this song religiously can also help a beginner to enhance their clawhammer skills.


12. Will the Circle be Unbroken?

This song does not only have a beautiful message, but it also has a very heavenly melody. And for beginners to be able to learn this easily, the key is to first remember the melody so that it would be easier to know if one is playing the song correctly or not. This is also the reason why it is recommended for someone to listen to a recording of this song first before actually learning how to play it.

Just like in all the other banjo songs for beginners, learning this one will allow someone to practice some techniques like sliding, pinching, and pull-off. These are different finger styles that will be very useful in learning other banjo songs as well.

It is also important for someone to be patient when trying to learn this song because it may seem complicated at first, but it will become easier as one becomes more familiar with it.


13. American Pie

This is a Don McLean classic and it is one of the most popular banjo songs available for beginners to learn because of its very easy introduction that only requires a very straightforward strumming of each of the chords. The verses and chorus are the parts that will be a bit challenging because of the complexity in switching from one chord to another.

A beginner would also need to use the clawhammer technique to be able to play this song pretty well. The good thing is that once a beginner gets so used to doing the clawhammer technique because of this song, it would be easier to learn all the other available banjo songs as well.


14. Nothing Else Matters

Even though this song by Metallica is not the usual pick when playing the banjo, it will still sound because of the high-pitched sounds of the strings that give off a rock and roll vibe to it. What’s even greater about the banjo is that it has a very bright and vivid sound that emphasizes the beautiful notes of this song’s melody

It is to be expected for beginners to find the riffs of this song to be challenging, but it can be solved by focusing on just using the middle, thumb, and index fingers when plucking the strings of the banjo. Once one is already comfortable with picking each of the strings, it would now be easier to play the entire song as a whole.


15. You are My Sunshine

Out of all the banjo songs that were previously mentioned, this is probably the most popular because anyone, regardless of age, is familiar with it because it has the ability to win the hearts of a lot of different artists from different genres through the years. Some of these artists are Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

This is considered as one of the best songs to learn on the banjo because of how fun it is to play this song using that specific instrument; not to mention, this is also considered as the easiest song to play on the banjo.

The happy melody of the song perfectly matches the vibrant sound that the banjo gives off. This is also one song that is quite easy to play because of the slow tempo and it would only require for someone to strum the different chords.

About Jayden Buckley

Hi, my name is Jayden and I am author/editor for PlayTheTunes. I remember the first time I hopped on the drums, I was hooked. Music has played an enormous part of my life, and I'm honored I get to share my experiences with you!