Frailing Strum, Basic Technique, cont’d


The first step to forming cords is to make sure that you are holding your banjo in the manner described at the beginning of this chapter. This isn’t just a matter of formality. Keeping the neck with the fifth string peg “in your ear” makes the job easier for both of your hands because the fretboard is easily accessible and the strings are at an angle that makes the frailing strum easier to control.

We will use chord diagrams to illustrate the chord forms. The diagrams show the first four strings of your banjo neck and the first four frets. The strings are numbered 4-3-2-1, left to right, with 1 being your first string. The “0” symbols on top of the diagram tell you to play that string open. The black dots tell you where to put your fingers.

Some standard chord forms for the keys of G and C are diagrammed below.

chord diagrams

Spend some time just changing chords at random while playing the frailing strum. Listen closely to make sure each string is sounding clearly. If a string is muted or buzzing adjust your hand position until all four strings are ringing clearly. The critical thing to practice here is keeping the rhythm steady while changing chords. You may have to start out practicing the two motions individually. You could practice just changing from G to D or C to F over and over again without playing the frailing strum and slowly add in the right hand rhythm.

Once you can make a few chords clearly start experimenting with chord changes. An easy way to get started with this is to come up with some picking patterns like we used in the last section and experiment with changing chords.

This isn’t a matter of playing a melody. What we are doing here is training the left and right hands to act independently. The first few times you go to make a chord change you are going to have to stop and think about where your fingers go. The goal here is getting to the point where you think, “make a C chord” and your fingers automatically drop on the proper strings. It’s not impossible. It just takes practice.

Let’s look at a couple of chord change exercises.

Example One:

ex 1

In this example we are playing a measure of G and a measure of C. Play this over and over again until the chord change can be performed without hesitating.

Example Two:

ex 2

This is basically the same as the first example except that we are changing from G to D7.

Example Three:

ex 3

Changing from a C to an F chord can be tricky because making a full F chord requires using your little finger. This one will require dedicated practice to make the change smoothly.

Example Four:


In this example we are playing half-measures. Measure one goes from G to C. Measure two switches from G to D7.

Example Five:

ex 5

Be sure to add some minor chords into your exercises.

Example Six:

ex 6

In this last example we are changing the chord on each “bump”. Experiment with different cord combinations and come up with some of your own exercises. Once you can change chords while keeping a steady rhythm we can take a look at playing a couple of songs.