How to Play Dueling Banjos: A Beginner’s Guide to the Bluegrass Classic

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If you’ve ever heard the iconic bluegrass tune “Dueling Banjos,” you know that it’s a classic. As an avid bluegrass fan myself, I’m always looking for ways to improve my playing and master this classic tune. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to playing “Dueling Banjos,” so you can join in the fun and learn how to play this timeless melody. From understanding the structure of the song to learning the individual notes and chords, I’ll provide you with all the tools you need to master this iconic bluegrass tune. Let’s get started!

Overview of the Dueling Banjos Song

Overview Of The Dueling Banjos Song
Dueling Banjos is a popular song from the 1972 movie “Deliverance”. The song is an instrumental duet between a five-string banjo player and a guitar player. The song is played in an alternating call-and-response format with the guitar playing a short, simple melody followed by a banjo break. The song is often used for comedic effect in movies and television shows.

In order to play the song, both instruments need to be in the key of G. The guitar part is relatively simple and consists of a few basic chords and scales. The banjo part is a bit more complex and consists of several melodies and runs. The song can be played either as a solo, with one player playing both parts, or as a duet with two players.

The song is often used as an introductory piece for beginning banjo players. It is a great way to get familiar with the instrument and how it is played. The song is also a great way to practice alternating between chords and scales on the guitar. Once you have mastered the basics of the song, you can move on to more complex versions.



  • Gather two banjos and two players
  • Tune the banjos to the same key
  • Choose which player will start the duel
  • Choose a tempo and time signature
  • Decide on a musical form, such as 8-bar blues, 16-bar blues, or 32-bar AAB
  • Agree on a set of chords to use
  • Set the stage with a few warm-up licks

Basic Banjo Knowledge

Basic Banjo Knowledge

Banjo Type Description
4-string Most common type, consists of four strings in a scale of G, D, B, and G.
5-string Includes an extra string, usually a high C.
6-string Similar to the guitar. Mostly used in country music.

The banjo is a stringed instrument with a long neck and a round body. It usually has either four, five, or six strings. The four-string banjo is the most common type and is used for bluegrass and old-time music. It consists of four strings in a scale of G, D, B, and G. The five-string banjo includes an extra string, usually a high C. The six-string banjo is similar to the guitar and is mostly used in country music. Banjos are typically made with a wooden neck and a metal rim and head.

Gathering Materials

Gathering Materials
To play dueling banjos, you’ll need two banjos (or one banjo and a guitar). If you don’t own one, you can rent them from most music stores or borrow from a friend. Make sure to check that the banjos are in tune. You’ll also need a guitar pick for each instrument, and a strap for the guitar, if necessary. Finally, you’ll need a metronome, which is a device that keeps time and helps you stay on beat.

Learning the Melody and Chords

Learning The Melody And Chords
Playing Dueling Banjos requires knowledge of the melody and chords of the song. The melody of the song is composed of several notes that are played one after the other. The chords are the accompaniment part of the song, and they consist of several notes that are played simultaneously.

To learn the melody, it is best to listen to a recording of the song and try to pick out the notes. Once you have become familiar with the melody, practice playing it on your banjo. It is also a good idea to practice the melody with a metronome, to ensure that you are playing the notes in the correct rhythm.

To learn the chords, you can use a chord chart, which shows the positions of the fingers on the banjo neck for each chord. It is important to practice both the melody and chords together, so that you can get used to the sound of the entire song. Once you have mastered the melody and chords, you can start to add dynamics and improvisation to your playing.

Tabs and Chord Charts

Tabs And Chord Charts
Playing dueling banjos requires a few basic skills. One skill is the ability to read tabs and chord charts. Tabs are a form of written notation which show the guitarist which notes to play and where. Tabs are great for learning songs quickly and accurately as they show the exact location on the fretboard to place your fingers. Chord charts are diagrams which show the chord shapes that are used in the song and which fret to place them at. Both tabs and chord charts are essential when learning to play dueling banjos.

Breaking Down the Melody and Chords

Breaking Down The Melody And Chords

The melody of “Dueling Banjos” is made up of two main parts, the main banjo part and the guitar accompaniment. The main part consists of a four-bar phrase, repeated throughout the song. The phrase is made up of a series of four chords, A, D, E and A7. The chords are strummed on the banjo and played with a rolling technique. The guitar accompaniment follows the same chord progression, but is played with a picking style.

In order to learn the melody of “Dueling Banjos”, you must first be familiar with the basic chords. Start by playing each chord separately, then practice strumming all four chords together. Once you have a feel for the chords, try playing the melody. It starts on the A chord and moves through the progression, repeating the same four-bar phrase.

Once you have the melody down, you can begin to add in some extra flourishes. You can add in extra notes between the chords or play some simple picking patterns. You can also experiment with different rhythms and strumming patterns.

The beauty of “Dueling Banjos” is that you can play around with the melody and chords, and come up with your own unique version. Have fun and enjoy the process of learning this classic song!

Adding Arrangement and Improvisation

Adding Arrangement And Improvisation

  • Develop a basic understanding of the tune.
  • Start with the standard melody and practice it until you can play it with ease.
  • Experiment with different variations on the melody.
  • Change up the rhythm, add fills, and embellish the notes.
  • Explore different tempos, time signatures, and chord progressions.
  • Create different improvisations while keeping the basic melody in mind.
  • Practice playing the improvisation with a metronome.
  • Play the improvisation in different keys.
  • Gain a better understanding of the song by playing it with different accompaniments.
  • Explore various genres and styles to add flavor to your playing.
  • Experiment with different instruments and sound effects.

Improvising with Scales

Improvising With Scales
Playing dueling banjos can be a great way to practice improvising with scales. To improvise, start by choosing a scale or mode and then play it up and down the neck, making variations as you go. As you move up and down the scale, you can use hammer-ons and pull-offs, bends, slides, and vibrato to add expression and interest. You can also use different picking patterns, such as alternate picking or sweep picking. To further add to your improvisation, you can experiment with different chord shapes, or try taking a break from the scale and playing a blues or jazz lick. To get the most out of your playing, you should also listen to other players, watch videos, and read up on theory to get an understanding of the different scales and modes. This will help you to be able to create interesting and meaningful solos.

Adding Accompaniment

Adding Accompaniment

  • Practice the melody of the main banjo part
  • Learn the chords and timing of the accompaniment part
  • Play the accompaniment part in time with the main banjo part
  • Vary the accompaniment part by changing its tempo, volume, and rhythm
  • Incorporate improvisation into the accompaniment part
  • Practice playing the accompaniment part in a solo setting

Tips for Playing with a Partner

Tips For Playing With A Partner

  • Practice your part separately to get the timing and rhythm right.
  • Start off slowly, gradually increasing the tempo as you become more comfortable.
  • Listen to your partner and adjust your playing to match their rhythm.
  • Be aware of your partner’s playing and anticipate their next move.
  • Allow for improvisation, but stay true to the original melody.
  • Don’t be afraid to improvise, but make sure you both agree on the changes beforehand.
  • Have fun and enjoy the experience.

Finding the Right Tempo

Finding The Right Tempo

  • Listen to a recording of the song to get an idea of the tempo.
  • Tap your foot along with the recording to help you keep time.
  • Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed.
  • If you make a mistake, slow the tempo back down so you can play the part correctly.
  • Be consistent with the tempo throughout the song.
  • Practice playing with a metronome to help you play in time.

Staying in Sync

Staying In Sync

Action Description
Listen Listen carefully to the other player.
Count Count the beats in your head or out loud.
Keep Time Keep time with your foot and/or a metronome.
Practice Practice playing with a metronome to get the timing right.
Learn by Ear Learn the other player’s part by ear instead of relying on sheet music.
Signal Signal the other player when you are ready to start or if you need to stop.

Staying in sync is essential when playing Dueling Banjos. Both players must be able to match their playing with the other. To do this, listen carefully to the other player, count the beats in your head or out loud, keep time with your foot and/or a metronome, practice playing with a metronome to get the timing right, learn the other player’s part by ear instead of relying on sheet music, and signal the other player when you are ready to start or if you need to stop.

Playing the Dueling Banjos Song

Playing The Dueling Banjos Song
The most important part of playing the Dueling Banjos song is to master the technique. It requires the ability to switch between two different banjo parts – the lead part and the rhythm part. The lead part is played on the higher-pitched strings and the rhythm part is played on the lower-pitched strings.

The lead part consists of a few sections that are repeated throughout the song. The first part is the main melody. It is a fast-paced, driving part that is played on the higher strings. The second part is a counter-melody which is played on the lower strings. This part moves against the main melody and provides a contrasting sound.

The rhythm part is a steady, driving force that keeps the song moving. It is played on the lower strings and follows a repetitive pattern. It is important to keep this part consistent throughout the song.

When playing the song, it is important to keep in mind that the two parts should blend together. The lead part should be the focus of the song while the rhythm part provides the support. The player should be aware of the dynamics of the song and adjust the volume accordingly to create a balanced sound.

Once the technique has been mastered, the player can begin to add their own flair to the song. By improvising and experimenting with different variations of the melody and rhythm, the player can create a unique rendition of the song.

By learning the technique and experimenting with the song, players can create their own versions of the classic Dueling Banjos song.

Playing in Public

  • Be prepared: practice the song beforehand, and become familiar with the chords and techniques.
  • Choose an appropriate venue: choose a place where your playing won’t disturb the locals or be too noisy.
  • Be aware of your audience: customize your playing style to the audience’s level of appreciation.
  • Be considerate: respect the other people in the vicinity, and be aware of your volume.
  • Know the rules: make sure you know the rules of the venue, such as whether you’ll need to pay a fee to perform.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of banjo is used to play Dueling Banjos?

Dueling Banjos is typically played on a five-string banjo, often a resonator or open-back banjo. The five-string banjo has a fifth string, which is a short string located on the outside of the neck, tuned to a higher pitch than the other strings. This extra string adds a unique sound to the instrument, making it essential for playing Dueling Banjos.

How long does it take to learn how to play Dueling Banjos?

It depends on your current level of skill and how much time you are willing to dedicate to practicing. A beginner may need to spend several weeks learning the basics, while an experienced musician can learn the song in a few days. It’s important to practice regularly to improve your technique and become more familiar with the song. With dedication, you can master Dueling Banjos in a short amount of time.

What techniques are required to play Dueling Banjos?

Playing Dueling Banjos requires advanced fingerpicking techniques and proficiency in bluegrass music. Players must be able to keep up with a fast-paced rhythm and use a variety of fingerpicking styles. This includes alternating bass, roll picking, and hybrid picking. As the tune is played in the key of G, players must also be familiar with the notes and chords of the G major scale. Additionally, mastering the right and left-hand techniques of up-picking and down-picking is essential.

What is the Difference Between Dueling Banjos and Banjo Deliverance?

Dueling Banjos is a duet for two banjos that originated as a traditional folk song from the Southern United States. It became a popular bluegrass instrumental after being featured in the 1972 film Deliverance. Banjo Deliverance is a version of Dueling Banjos which was recorded for the soundtrack of the film Deliverance in 1972 and released as a single. The version features Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell on banjos and was used in the film’s famous hillbilly duel scene.

Are there any special strategies to consider when playing Dueling Banjos on a 5 string banjo?

When playing Dueling Banjos on a 5 string banjo, the most important thing to remember is that the song is usually played in the key of G. This means that the banjo should be tuned to the G major tuning, which is gDGBD. As the original song was recorded in two-part harmony, it is important to remember the melody and the harmony parts. The melody is mainly played on the fourth string and the harmony is mainly played on the third and second strings. Additionally, the song is usually played with a roll pattern, so it is important to practice the roll pattern and memorize the individual notes of the song.


Mastering Dueling Banjos is a challenging but rewarding experience. With practice and dedication, you can learn to create a beautiful and iconic bluegrass tune. Start by learning the chords and melody of the song, followed by the banjo-picking. Then, challenge yourself to learn the more complex techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides. Once you have the basics down, practice playing along with the original version of the song to fine tune your skills. With dedication and practice, you’ll be able to play Dueling Banjos with confidence.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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