The banjo has played an important role in American society for the last century, both as a cornerstone of bluegrass music and as a popular instrument in the Appalachian region. By using the banjo in children's learning and playtime, you can teach a truly American past-time. Homemade banjo projects can incorporate lessons in music, history, construction and art.
To make a kids' banjo, you must know the basic parts of the instrument. Much like a guitar, a banjo contains a head, neck and body. The head contains the tuning pegs, which attach to the strings of the banjo and allow the player to adjust the sound of each string. The neck generally contains the frets, which shorten the string, creating a higher sound when the player presses against them. The strings attach to the tailpiece at the opposite end of the body from the neck, lifting off of the body by a mechanism called the "bridge."
You can make a simple kids' banjo out of aluminum foil pans and a little bit of wood, following instructions provided by the Baltimore Area Boy Scout Council for Baloo's Bugle. Start by cutting a two-inch wide tab out of the rim of two aluminum pans. Place a two-inch piece of wood between two aluminum pans, so that the insides of the pans face each other and the tabs allow for the wood to rest between them. Tack the tabs to the wood to hold the pans together. Place metal glue between the two pans to affix them permanently. Drill four holes at the top of the banjo's arm and use golf tees to create tuning pegs. Use ukulele strings for the banjo's strings, attached on one end at the golf tees. Attach the other end of the wire to a piece of wood glued to the bottom of the top pan.
You can use old store boxes to make a rubber band banjo. Start with a box about four inches square and one inch deep, such as a square necklace box from a jewelry store. Cut a piece of cardboard about 1.5- to two inches square. Insert this into a slit cut at the bottom end of the box, so that it sits parallel to the edge of the box like a banjo bridge. Tape four rubber bands to the edge of the box farthest from the bridge; pull these across the box to the opposite side, so that the bridge holds all of the bands off of the surface of the box. Tape the rubber bands to the opposite edge of the box. When creating the strings, make sure that you use different tensions so that the sounds differ between the strings.
You can use kids' banjos in a variety of different ways. For a music lesson, use the banjo to interest the children or teach about rhythm (quarter notes and half notes, for example). For a lesson on cooperation, you can create other musical instruments and start a class band. You can even use the creation of banjos in an art class to teach about simple construction.
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