Banjo: history, video, interesting facts

Musical Instrument: Banjo

Culture and lifestyle of the population of any country is always reflected in the folk art, which is distinguished by its originality and original inimitable color. In the United States of America, one of the most common and popular varieties of national music is the incendiary and cheerful country music, which absorbed many styles and tendencies of the country's emigrant population, both white European settlers and African Americans. The main musical instruments for the performance of country music are fiddle violin, guitar and, of course, the banjo. This instrument is a musical symbol and an inherent value of the American people, among whom it is very popular.

Banjo is a very interesting musical instrument with an original unique sound. Playing it is a snap, and if you own a little guitar, then mastering the banjo will not be difficult for you.

The history of the banjo and many interesting facts about this musical instrument, read on our page.


Banjo sounds very cheerful and perky. But if you describe the voice of the instrument, otherwise it can’t be called sharp, jangling and sharp. Because of the special membrane, it is very clean and sonorous. The source of the sound on the banjo is the strings, clamping them in frets with the fingers of his left hand, the performer gets the desired pitch.

The technique of playing the instrument is similar to the guitar. The main methods of picking up are tweaks and strikes to the strings, performed with the help of special plectrums, which are worn on the fingers and are very similar to claws. The performers can also play like a guitar with the fingers of their right hand or with the help of a regular pick.

Especially used banjo performing techniques are tremolo and arpeggiation.

The banjo range is almost three octaves. Build the most popular five-string banjo: salt; re; salt; si; re.

A photo:

Interesting Facts

  • In some African states, banjo is revered as a sacred instrument and is used exclusively by high priests or rulers.
  • A banjo musician is called a banjist.
  • The legendary guitar player of the world famous Beatles group John Lennon was able to play banjo. John was assisted by his mother, Julia, in the initial mastering of this instrument. However, after the banjo, D. Lenon could not play the guitar for a long time, as he jammed the 5 and 6 strings with his thumb.
  • The famous American comic actor Steve Martin, known to our audience in many films, such as “Father of the Bride”, “Pink Panther”, “Cool Guy”, independently learned to play banjo in his youth. Having created his group "Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers", he successfully performs, performing his songs in the style of "bluegrass".
  • At the end of the 19th century, a tool called banjo became so fashionable in England that the English classic Jerome K. Jerome very noticeably mentioned this in his famous work "Three in a Boat, not counting dogs."
  • The famous American composer D. Gershwin used the banjo sound in his opera "Porgy and Bess".
  • Frank Converse, who made a significant contribution to the popularization of the banjo, was called by his friends the "Father of the banjo."
  • The banjo sound is very often used in various TV shows, for example, in the popular worldwide SESAM Children's Television Educational Program.
  • The four-string banjo is widely used in musical performances staged on Broadway. It can be heard in musicals such as "Cabaret", "Hello Dolly", "Chicago".
  • Commercial production of banjo was launched in the United States at the factory for the production of musical instruments, William Boucher. Three instruments, which were made in 1845, are exhibited in one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

  • Banjo manufacturers are mainly engaged in manufacturing guitars. The leading manufacturer among them is the American "Fender". Also very popular among professional performers and music lovers are the instruments of the South Korean company "Cort", the Chinese - "Veston", the American "Washburn" and "Gibson".
  • The first five-stringed electric banjo was developed in 1960 by Wilbern Trent and David Jackson.
  • The six-string banjo, which has also become quite popular and tuned like a guitar, was invented by an Englishman by birth, William Templett.


A very original banjo design includes a round acoustic acoustic body and a peculiar neck.

  • The tool body resembles a small drum. On the front side there is a membrane, tensioned with a steel ring, which is fastened with screws - screeds. The membrane on modern banjo is usually made of leather or plastic. On the back of the instrument, a removable half-shell resonator is installed, slightly enlarged in diameter compared to the membrane. To the side of the banjo, which is usually made of wood or metal, is attached a tailpiece. A stand is mounted on the membrane through which the strings are pulled.
  • The neck, attached to the body with an anchor rod, ends with a head with knobs for string tension. The neck is divided by frets in frets, which are arranged in a chromatic sequence. The most popular banjo has five strings. The fifth string on such an instrument is shortened, and the bell for it is located directly on the neck, on its fifth fret.


The popularity and universal recognition of the banjo initially began to gain momentum very quickly. Manufacturers have constantly worked on the creation of various types of tools, starting with

piccolo and ending with bass. Today, the banjo has many types with different numbers of strings, but the most used are four, five and six-stringed instruments.

  • Five-stringed - usually used to play music "country" or as the Americans call it themselves "bluegrass". The instrument has an interesting feature - the shortened fifth string, which is not clamped (open) when performed. Build this banjo - (salt) re, salt, si, re;
  • four-string - banjo-tenor is a classic. It is used for playing in orchestras, accompaniment or solo performance. Build tool - before, salt, re, la. The same banjo is used for the performance of Irish music with only a slightly different system - salt, re, la. mi;
  • six-string - has the name banjo - guitar. Very popular with performers owning a guitar, since both of these instruments are tuned in the same way - la, re, salt, si, mi2;
  • banjolele - has four single strings tuned to do, salt, re, salt;
  • banjo-mandolin - a characteristic feature are four double strings, tunable as mandolin-prima: salt, re, la, mi.

Application and Repertoire

The range of use of the banjo, which attracts attention with its bright and peculiar sound, stands out against the background of other instruments, is quite extensive. With the advent of the era of jazz, blues and ragtime, it confidently and firmly became part of the instrumental groups, while new musical directions, initially playing the role of rhythmic and harmonic instrument.

Currently, banjo, as a rule, associated with music in such styles as country and bluegrass is widely used in pop music, Celtic punk, punk rock, folk rock, hardcore.

However, the banjo also clearly manifested itself as a solo concert instrument. Usually, composers, such as Buck Trent, Ralph Stanley, Steve Martin, Hank Williams, Todd Taylor, Putnam Smith and others, compose works for the banjo.

It should also be noted that the repertoire list of works is generously complemented by original arrangements of the works of the great classics: I.S. Bach, PI Tchaikovsky, L.V. Beethoven, L. Boccherini, W. A. ​​Mozart, E. Griga, R. Schumann, F. Schubert.

In turn, it is important to note that composers such as George Gershwin, Hans Werner Henze, Daniel Mason included the banjo sound in their symphonic works.


Initially, the banjo, used mainly by the black population of the United States, gradually attracted the attention of white singers. One of the first banjist musicians who not only successfully brought the instrument to the concert stage, but also made a significant contribution to its improvement, was Joel Walker Sweeney - a real banjo enthusiast.

Subsequently, the instrument, which is gaining ever greater recognition from the audience, brought on the stage more and more talented performers - virtuosos, among whom A. Farland particularly stood out, having become famous for performing transcriptions of European classical music, such as sonatas L.V. Beethoven and D. Rossini's overtures.

As the banjo became very popular not only in the Americas, but throughout the world, more and more performers were proving their love for this instrument.

E. Peabody, D. Bayer, B. Lowry, S. Peterson, D. Bandrowski. B. Trent, R. Stanley, S. Martin, H. Williams, T. Taylor, P. Smith, C. Douglas, D. Garcia, D. Crumb, P. Elwood, P. Seager, B. Mandrell, D. Gilmore, B. Ives, D. Lennon, B. Moomin, D. Osmond, P. Seager, T. Swift, P. Tork, D. Dyke - this is just a small list of famous musicians who delighted the audience with their skillful performance.

Since the instrument has found its application in various genres, we should especially note the performers who decorated jazz compositions with their performance. At an early stage, it should be noted D. Reinhardt, D. Saint-Cyr, D. Barker. Today, K. Urban, R. Stewart and D. Satriani are very famous jazzmen-banjistami.


Banjo, which appeared on the American continent, has a very interesting history that can be traced from 1600, although the ancestors of this tool appeared in West Africa long before this time, about 6 thousand years ago. Today, studies of West African music are more than 60 different instruments that have a particular similarity with the banjo and may be probable by its predecessors.

The instrument was first described by an English physician, naturalist Hans Sloan in 1687 after a visit to Jamaica, where he saw a banjo from slaves brought from Africa. Early tools, according to the Englishman, were made from dried gourd or wooden casing, which were tightly tightened on top of the skin. On the wooden fretboard, in addition to the main strings, one or several drone ones were added. And the first mention in the press of the banjo, which for a long time was considered an instrument of black slaves, appeared in North America in "John Peter Zenger New York Weekly in 1736.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, banjo, along with the violin, was the most popular instrument in African American music in the United States. But then white professional performers became actively interested in them, demonstrating the banjo to a wide audience. In 1830, Joel Walker Sweeney was the first white musician who not only mastered the instrument and brought it to the stage, but also received great recognition as a bangist performer. D. Sweeney is also credited with a significant modernization of the banjo: he replaced the pumpkin body with a drum, the neck of the neck was separated by frets and left five strings: four long and one short. From the second half of the 19th century, banjo becomes very popular not only at concert venues, but also among music lovers.

In 1848, the first manual on the independent mastering of the instrument was issued. There is information about the conduct of various competitions of performance banjo. The first workshops for the manufacture of these instruments opened in Baltimore and New York, where smaller banjo were produced especially for women. Manufacturers experimented with the design of the instrument, replaced the gut strings with metal. In the last quarter of the 19th century, banjos of various sizes were designed, such as bass banjo and banjo piccolo, from which banjo orchestras were subsequently formed. Such musical groups began to appear in colleges, one of the first was the Hamilton College Ensemble. By the end of the century, the banjo craze reached its peak. Musicians - professionals at the concert scenes even performed works by classical composers, such as such masters as L.V. Beethoven and D. Rossini arranged for banjo. The last decade of the XIX century was marked by the emergence of new styles, such as ragtime, jazz and blues, in which the instrument took an important place. However, in the thirties of the 20th century, due to the emergence of electric guitars, which were distinguished by a brighter sound than the banjo, interest in the instrument began to weaken. However, this did not last long. In the 40s, the banjo again successfully returned to the concert venues.

Today, the banjo, which used to be an instrument of black slaves, is in great demand among musicians in all parts of the world with different skin color. It is successfully used in the compositions of various modern music trends, delighting listeners with its perky and catchy sound. The cheerful and sonorous voice of the instrument adjusts to a positive and uplifting.

Watch the video: The History of Banjo Kazooie - PART 1 - retrospective (October 2019).

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