A banjo is a stringed instrument with four or five strings that vibrate a membrane stretched over a circular frame. It is generally used for country, folk and bluegrass music, although it can be played in various settings. Because of their simple design, banjos are relatively easy to make and play at home.
A Brief History
The first banjo-like instruments originated in Africa and used skin heads and gourd bodies. Fingerboards and tuning pegs first appeared in the Caribbean as early as the 17th century. Along with fiddles, banjos were the most popular instrument in African-American music in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 1800s white minstrels used the banjo for stage performances. They often performed with blackened faces and were thus known as blackface minstrels. The banjo has expanded to various genres of music.
Playing a Banjo
Most banjos use four or five strings, although some varieties use six strings. Like guitars, banjos can be played with or without a pick, although the sounds of the two instruments vary greatly. In addition, banjos are often played with finger picks for volume and clarity. Much of banjo playing technique relies on a "roll," a repeated pattern of notes that is used for rhythm. Through rolls, banjos can establish rhythms and beats that form the core of their playing.
Parts of a Banjo
The major parts of a banjo include the head, tone ring, resonator and tension hoop. The head is made of skin or synthetic material and is responsible for much of the banjo's tone. It sits on the tone ring and the way the two touch each other affects the tone quality. Most tone rings are made of brass. The resonator projects the sound forward and is made of wood (mahogany is most common). The tension hoop is made of steel and provides even tension in the head.
Banjos are relatively easy to make at home. Hardwood can be used for the body and neck of the banjo, while stainless steel can be used for the tone ring. The head can be made of many materials, but PET (polyethylene terapthallate) plastic is common. For tensioners, stainless steel strips and wires can be used. Copper wire is an easy material to use for frets, and tuning pegs may vary.
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