As well as guitar, I also play mandolin and 5 string banjo, and, from guitarists, these often inspire a question along the lines of….how easy / hard is it to play the banjo / mandolin compared to the guitar. This isn’t actually that easy to answer as there are a couple of different things involved, but the bottom line is that if you can play the guitar a bit, then the finger movements needed to play banjo or mandolin shouldn’t be too difficult. What might be more tricky is to try not to play them like a guitar.

Taking the 5 string banjo for example, there are as many approaches to playing this are there reasons why Scottish football is struggling, but the main styles are scruggs picking, melodic playing and frailing. A guitarist used to playing fingerstyle would be able to play examples of at least one of these styles quite quickly, but the trick really lies in not just transplanting right hand patterns from the guitar to the mandolin. Don’t get me wrong, that will work to a certain extenet, but missing will be a bit of the sound that would be associated with the banjo. This is because the banjo has a very different dynamic range compared to the guitar with a different sustain, and also the short 5th string which means a sequence of notes that might be played linearly on a guitar (ie on one or 2 strings max) can be played more effectively across 3 or more strings on the banjo.

Likewise the mandolin, which isn’t a huge jump technically for a guitarist used to using a plectrum requires a very different touch on both the left and right hands, and often a different approach to rhythm playing to make the notes sing out.

There are also a lot of advantages of trying to play a piece of music recorded on the banjo or mandolin on the guitar…it can be the trigger to break out of a rut, and likewise learning another instrument can have a similar effect. ┬áSo to answer the question ‘how difficult is it playing the banjo or mandolin compared to guitar’…..its just different!