The Irish tenor banjo is a type of banjo. Although the banjo did not originate in Ireland, its growing popularity in the United States encouraged many musicians to play traditional Irish music on it. Although the Irish tenor banjo is very similar to a common banjo, it has more specialized uses and techniques.
The banjo originated as a folk instrument in Africa. Slaves bound for the West Indies then took this instrument with them to the Caribbean in the 17th century. Minstrels popularized the banjo in the United States in the 1800s and primitive banjos reached Ireland soon thereafter. However, it took the Celtic music revival of the 1960s to raise interest in the banjo as a featured instrument in Celtic music. Today, the banjo is popular for playing traditional Irish music.
The Irish Tenor Banjo
The Irish tenor banjo is the standard choice for Celtic music. It was originally designed as a solo instrument in an ensemble. As a result, it has a dominant sound and can be heard clearly over other instruments. Other tunings enable it to have a much mellower sound, making it more suited for Irish music. Irish banjo playing emphasizes tunes first and foremost, so the Irish tenor banjo is used mainly to play melodies instead of chords.
Left Hand Technique
Two fingering systems are used for the Irish tenor banjo: chromatic and diatonic. Diatonic fingering is better for smaller banjos, while chromatic fingering is better for larger banjos. In diatonic fingering, one finger is used for each note in the scale. For example, the index finger plays the notes on the first and second fret, the middle finger plays the notes on the third and fourth fret and so on. In chromatic fingering, one finger is used for each fret. The index finger plays all the notes on the second fret, the middle finger plays all the notes on the third fret and so on.
Right Hand Technique
Most Irish banjo players hold their banjos a certain way. Rest your little finger lightly on the banjo head close to the bridge and your arm close to the wrist on the armrest. You then play using your wrist, moving the arm as little as possible. A pick or a thimble is almost always used, and a relaxed state is of paramount importance. When playing solo, only one string is played at a time, as opposed to playing rhythm.
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