Banjo is a African originated stringed musical instrument. It was popularized in United States by the slaves and later got exported to Europe. It was then spread in the modern times to Europe through the Arab conquest of Spain and the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Banjo was made by African slaves based on the instruments that were indigenous to their parts of Africa.
The Banjo has a a body like a tambourine with a hoop and a screw that secure the vellum belly to the frame. Screw stretchers are used to vary the tension of the belly. The strings pass over the pressure bridge and are tied to a tailpiece. Later frets were added to the long neck, and a machine head with the screws that replaced the tuning pegs. The older Banjos have four strings and gradually it increased to five to nine strings, however the standard banjo has five strings.
Banjos are used in various genres of music like country music, folk, Irish traditional and blue grass music. Banjo also occupied a major place in African American traditional music before becoming popular in the minstrel shows of the 19th century. It is the mainstay of American old time music.
There are two techniques to play the five string banjo. Rolls and the drones. Banjo was played like a clawhammer style by the Africans. It means downward striking of one or more of the four strings with the index, middle or both the fingers.
The tenor banjo‘s and the plectrum banjo‘s are played with a pick and is commonly used in Irish traditional music.
There are various types of banjos and they come in different styles and different techniques.
Plectrum Banjo: – It is a normal banjo without drone string. It has 22 frets on the neck and length around 26 to 28 inches. It is played using a plectrum to storm the strings and hence is called a plectrum banjo. The plectrum banjo evolved out of the 5 string banjo.
Tenor Banjo: – Tenor banjo is a shorter neck banjo and is also played with the help of the plectrum. It has around 17 frets and length around 19.5 to 21.6 inches. It was a common rhythm instrument in the 20th century dance bands.
Cello Banjo: – Cello banjos‘ are rarely used in comparison to the plectrum banjo‘s or the tenor banjo‘s. It played a major role in banjo orchestra during late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Bass and contrabass Banjo: – Bass banjos were made in upright bass format as well as in standard format. Contrabass banjos with either three or four strings have also been made; some of these had headstocks similar to those of bass violins.