musical instrument

The banjo is a string instrument, that was first played by African slaves in the United States a few hundred years ago. The idea came from other African instruments.[1] The name banjo may have come from a Kimbundu word: mbanza, but it could have also come from a Senegambian word for the bamboo stick used for the banjo's neck.

A four-string banjo
Classification string
Inventor(s)Surinamese Creole peoples
DevelopedLate 1700s-present

The modern banjo comes in a variety of forms, including four- and five-string versions. A six-string version, tuned and played similarly to a guitar, has gained popularity. In almost all of its forms, banjo playing is characterized by a fast arpeggiated plucking, though many different playing styles exist.




Further reading


Banjo history

  • Conway, Cecelia (1995). African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, University of Tennessee Press. Paper: ISBN 0-87049-893-2; cloth: ISBN 0-87049-892-4. A study of the influence of African Americans on banjo playing throughout U.S. history.
  • Gura, Philip F. and James F. Bollman (1999). America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2484-4. The definitive history of the banjo, focusing on the instrument's development in the 1800s.
  • Katonah Museum of Art (2003). The Birth of the Banjo. Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York. ISBN 0-915171-64-3.
  • Linn, Karen (1994). That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06433-X. Scholarly cultural history of the banjo, focusing on how its image has evolved over the years.
  • Tsumura, Akira (1984). Banjos: The Tsumura Collection. Kodansha International Ltd. ISBN 0-87011-605-3. An illustrated history of the banjo featuring the world's premier collection.
  • Webb, Robert Lloyd (1996). Ring the Banjar!. 2nd edition. Centerstream Publishing. ISBN 1-57424-016-1. A short history of the banjo, with pictures from an exhibition at the MIT Museum.

Instructional (5-string Banjo)

  • Bailey, Jay. "Historical Origin and Stylistic Development of the Five-String Banjo." The Journal of American Folklore 85.335 (1972): 58-65.
  • Costello, Patrick (2003). The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo. Pik-Ware Publishing. ISBN 0-9744190-0-1. Instruction in frailing banjo. Available online under a Creative Commons license on several web sites including ezfolk Archived 2007-11-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  • Scruggs, Earl. "Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo". Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-634-06042-2. Instruction in Scruggs or 3 finger style 5 string banjo.
  • Seeger, Mike (2005). "Old-Time Banjo Styles". Homespun Tapes. Seeger teaches several old-time picking techniques - clawhammer, two-finger, three-finger, up-picking and others.
  • Seeger, Pete (1969). How to Play the 5-String Banjo. 3rd edition. Music Sales Corporation. ISBN 0-8256-0024-3. The seminal instruction book, still in print decades later. Seeger has since recorded an instruction video, available on DVD.
  • Wernick, Pete (1985 DVD). Beginning Bluegrass Banjo. Full course in the basics of Scruggs style.
  • Wernick, Pete & Trischka, Tony (2000). Masters of the Five-String Banjo. Acutab Publications. ISBN 0-7866-5939-4. 70 banjo pieces from Scruggs, Reno, Osborne and Crowe to Fleck, Munde, and Cloud. Technique, improvising, set-up, learning, backup, favorite banjos, practice tips, equipment.
  • Winans, Robert B. "The Folk, the Stage, and the Five-String Banjo in the Nineteenth Century." The Journal of American Folklore 89. 354 (1976): 407-37. 14 Sep. 2006.

Instructional (Tenor Banjo)

  • Bay, Mel (1990). Complete Tenor Banjo Method. Porcupine Press. ISBN 1-56222-018-7. An instructional guide.
  • Bay, Mel (1973). Deluxe Encyclopedia of Tenor Banjo Chords. Porcupine Press. ISBN 0-87166-877-7. A comprehensive chord dictionary for CGDA or standard tuning.
  • O'Connor, Gerry. 50 solos for Irish tenor banjo: (featuring jigs, reels and hornpipes arranged for E, A, D, G and A, D, G, C tuning). Soodlum, Waltons Mfg. Ltd. ISBN 978-1857201482.
  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Tenor Banjo Chord Bible: CGDA Standard Jazz Tuning 1,728 Chords. Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-4-9. A comprehensive chord dictionary in standard jazz tuning.
  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Irish Tenor Banjo Chord Bible: GDAE Irish Tuning 1,728 Chords. Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-6-5. A comprehensive chord dictionary in Irish tuning.
  • Wachter, Buddy (2005). Learning Tenor Banjo. Homespun. ISBN 1-59773-078-5. An instructional guide.

Instructional (Plectrum Banjo)

  • Richards, Tobe A. (2007). The Plectrum Banjo Chord Bible: CGBD Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. Cabot Books. ISBN 978-1-906207-07-6. A comprehensive chord dictionary in standard tuning.

Instructional (Claw-hammer Banjo)

  • Koken, Walt (2016) "Slo-Mo Banjo" DVD. Mudthumper Music.

Instructional (Cello Banjo)

  • The cello banjo was introduced during the banjo orchestra craze of the early 20th century, to play, not surprisingly, the cello parts of the orchestra. Recently it has made a little comeback, thanks mainly to Gold Tone making two low-pitched instruments, a 5-string and the 4-string.

Instructional (Bass Banjo)

  • Gibson produced a separate instrument called a "bass banjo" from 1930 to 1933. This was a 4-string instrument, played as an upright bass, with a stand substituting for a spike. It was tuned EADG, the same as Gibson's mando-bass.

Instructional (Bluegrass Banjo)

  • Bluegrass music, which uses the five-string resonator banjo almost exclusively, is played in several common styles. These include Scruggs style, named after Earl Scruggs; melodic, or Keith style, named for Bill Keith; and three-finger style with single-string work, also called Reno style after Don Reno.

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