In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white man to play the banjo on stage. His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth-string. There is no proof, however, that Sweeney invented either innovation. This new banjo came to be tuned g'cgbd'. This is not quite a straight transposition
Transposition (music)
In music transposition refers to the process, or operation, of moving a collection of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval.For example, one might transpose an entire piece of music into another key...

 of the e'aeg#b' tuning of the banjar; the B string of the banjo has the lowest pitch (a straight transposition would be g'c'gbd'.) Banjos were introduced in Britain by Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels
Virginia Minstrels
The Virginia Minstrels or Virginia Serenaders was a group of 19th century American entertainers known for helping to invent the entertainment form known as the minstrel show...

, in the 1840s, and became very popular in music halls.

The modern banjo

The modern banjo comes in a variety of forms, including four- and five-string versions. A six-string version, tuned and played similarly to a guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

, has gained popularity. In almost all of its forms, banjo playing is characterized by a fast arpeggiated plucking, though there are many different playing styles.

The body, or "pot", of a modern banjo typically consists of a circular rim (generally made of wood, though metal was also common on older banjos) and a tensioned head, similar to a drum head. Traditionally the head was made from animal skin, but today is often made of various synthetic materials. Most modern banjos also have a metal "tone ring" assembly that helps further clarify and project the sound, however many older banjos do not include a tone ring.

The banjo is usually tuned with friction tuning peg
Tuning peg
A tuning peg is used to hold a string in the pegbox of a stringed instrument. It may be made of ebony, rosewood, boxwood or other material. Some tuning pegs are ornamented with shell, metal, or plastic inlays, beads or rings....

s or planetary gear tuners, rather than the worm gear machine head
Machine head
A machine head is part of a string instrument ranging from guitars to double basses, a geared apparatus for applying tension and thereby tuning a string, usually located at the headstock. A headstock has several machine heads, one per string...

 used on guitars. Frets have become standard since the late 19th century, though fretless banjos are still manufactured and played by those wishing to execute glissando
In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, to glide. In some contexts it is distinguished from the continuous portamento...

 or otherwise achieve the sound and feeling of early playing styles.

Modern banjos are typically strung with metal strings. Usually the fourth string is wound with either steel or bronze-phosphor alloy. Some players may string their banjos with nylon or gut strings to achieve a more mellow, old-time tone.

Open-back and resonator

Some banjos have a separate resonator plate on the back of the pot, designed to project the sound forward and give the instrument more volume. This type of banjo is usually used in bluegrass music
Bluegrass music
Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. It has mixed roots in Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish traditional music...

, though resonator banjos are played by players of all styles, and are also used in old-time as a substitute for electric amplification when playing in large venues.

Open-back banjos generally have a mellower tone and weigh less than resonator banjos. They usually have a different setup than a resonator banjo, often with a higher string action (string action refers to how high the strings are positioned above the fingerboard.)

Five-string banjo

The modern 5-string banjo is a variation on Sweeney's original design. The fifth string is usually the same gauge as the first, but starts from the fifth fret, three quarters the length of the other strings. (The long-necked Vega Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger
Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

 model starts the fifth string from the eighth fret.) This lets the string be tuned to a higher open pitch than possible for the full-length strings. The short fifth string means that, unlike many string instruments, strings pitches on a five string banjo do not go in order from lowest to highest across the fingerboard. Instead, from low to high, they go fourth, third, second, first, and fifth. This is a form of reentrant tuning
Reentrant tuning
A reentrant tuning is a tuning of a stringed instrument where the strings are not ordered from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch ....


The short fifth string presents special problems for a capo
A capo is a device used on the neck of a stringed instrument to shorten the playable length of the strings, hence raising the pitch. It is frequently used on guitars, mandolins, and banjos. G.B...

. For small changes (going up or down one or two semitones, for example) it is possible simply to re-tune the fifth string. Otherwise, various devices called fifth string capos can effectively shorten the string. Many banjo players use model railroad spikes or titanium spikes (usually installed at the seventh fret and sometimes at others), that they hook the string under to press it down on the fret
A fret is a raised portion on the neck of a stringed instrument, that extends generally across the full width of the neck. On most modern western instruments, frets are metal strips inserted into the fingerboard...

Many tunings are used for the five-string banjo. Probably the most common, particularly in bluegrass, is the Open-G tuning g'dgbd'. In earlier times, the tuning g'cgbd' was commonly used instead. Other tunings found in old-time music include double C (g'cgc'd'), "sawmill" (g'dgc'd') also called "mountain modal" and open D (f#'df#ad'.) These tunings are often taken up a tone, either by tuning up or using a capo
A capo is a device used on the neck of a stringed instrument to shorten the playable length of the strings, hence raising the pitch. It is frequently used on guitars, mandolins, and banjos. G.B...

. For example "old-time D" tuning (a'dad'e') - commonly reached by tuning up from double C - is often played to accompany fiddle tunes in the key of D and Open-A (a'eac#'e') is usually used for playing tunes in the key of A.

While the size of the five string banjo is largely standardized, smaller and larger sizes are available including the long-neck or Seeger neck variation designed by Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger
Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

. Petite variations on the 5-string banjo have been available since the 1890s. S.S. Stewart introduced the banjeaurine, tuned one fourth above a standard five-string. Piccolo banjos are smaller, and tuned one octave above a standard banjo. Between these sizes and the standard there is the A-scale banjo, which is two frets shorter and usually tuned one full step above standard tunings. A "Stealth" brand banjo is a modern 5 string banjo with a 22.5" scale length, similar to a guitar.

American old-time music
Old-time music
Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music, with roots in the folk music of many countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland and countries in Africa. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dance, buck dance, and clogging. The genre also...

 typically uses the five-string open back banjo. It is played in a number of different styles, the most common being clawhammer
Clawhammer is a highly rhythmic banjo playing style and common component of American old-time music. The principal difference between clawhammer style and other styles is the picking direction...

 or frailing, characterized by the use of a downward rather than upward motion when striking the strings with a fingernail. Frailing techniques use the thumb to catch the fifth string for a drone
Drone (music)
In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also used to refer to any part of a musical instrument that is just used to produce such an effect.-A musical effect:A drone...

 after each strum or twice in each action ("double thumbing"), or to pick out additional melody notes in what is known as "drop-thumb." Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger
Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

 popularised a folk
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

 style by combining clawhammer with "up picking", usually without the use of fingerpick
A fingerpick is a type of plectrum used most commonly for playing bluegrass style banjo music. Most fingerpicks are composed of metal or plastic. Unlike flat guitar picks, which are held between the thumb and finger and used one at a time, fingerpicks clip onto or wrap around the end of the fingers...

s. Another common style of old-time banjo playing is Fingerpicking banjo or classic banjo. This style is based upon parlor-style guitar.

Bluegrass music
Bluegrass music
Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. It has mixed roots in Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish traditional music...

, which uses the five-string resonator banjo almost exclusively, is played in several common styles. These include Scruggs style
Scruggs style
Scruggs style is the most common style of playing the banjo in bluegrass music. It is a fingerpicking method, also known as three-finger style. It is named after Earl Scruggs, whose innovative approach and technical mastery of the instrument has influenced generations of bluegrass banjoists ever...

, named after Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs
Earl Eugene Scruggs is an American musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a 3-finger banjo-picking style that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music...

; melodic, or Keith style
Keith style
The Keith style of playing the 5-string banjo emphasizes the melody of the song. Also known as the "Melodic" or "Chromatic style", it was first developed and popularized independently by Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith in the early 1960s. It is used primarily by bluegrass banjoists, though it can...

, named for Bill Keith
Bill Keith (musician)
Bill Keith is a five-string banjoist who made a significant contribution to the stylistic development of the instrument. In the 1960s he introduced a variation on the popular "Scruggs style" of banjo playing which would soon become known as melodic style, or "Keith style." -Professional...

; and three-finger style with single string work, also called Reno style after Don Reno
Don Reno
Don Wesley Reno was an American bluegrass and country musician best known as a banjo player in partnership with Red Smiley, and later with guitarist Bill Harrell.-Biography:...

. In these styles the emphasis is on arpeggiated figures played in a continuous eighth-note rhythm, known as rolls
Banjo roll
In bluegrass music, a banjo roll or roll is a repeated pattern of eighth notes, an accompaniment pattern played by the banjo that by subdividing the beat 'keeps time'...

. All of these styles are typically played with fingerpick
A fingerpick is a type of plectrum used most commonly for playing bluegrass style banjo music. Most fingerpicks are composed of metal or plastic. Unlike flat guitar picks, which are held between the thumb and finger and used one at a time, fingerpicks clip onto or wrap around the end of the fingers...


The five-string banjo has been used in classical music since before the turn of the 20th century. Contemporary and modern
Contemporary classical music
Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s with the retreat of modernism. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 modern musical forms.-Categorization:...

 works have been written or arranged for the instrument by Buck Trent
Buck Trent
Charles Wilburn "Buck" Trent is an American country music instrumentalist. He invented the electric Banjo and also plays the five-string Banjo, Dobro, Steel Guitar, Mandolin, Electric Bass and Guitar.-Biography:...

, Béla Fleck
Béla Fleck
Béla Anton Leoš Fleck is an American banjo player. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players, he is best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.-Early life and career details:Fleck was born in...

, Tony Trischka
Tony Trischka
Tony Trischka is an American five-string banjo player.-Biography:Tony Trischka was born in Syracuse, New York, and graduated from Syracuse University with a B.A in Fine Arts, and was inspired to play the banjo in 1963, listening to the Kingston Trio's "Charlie and The MTA". Trischka was a...

, Steve Martin
Steve Martin
Stephen Glenn "Steve" Martin is an American actor, comedian, writer, playwright, producer, musician and composer....

, Tim Lake, George Crumb
George Crumb
George Crumb is an American composer of contemporary classical music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include seagull effect for the cello , metallic vibrato for the piano George Crumb (born...

, Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse is an American indie rock band formed in 1993 in Issaquah, Washington, by singer/lyricist/guitarist Isaac Brock, drummer Jeremiah Green, and bassist Eric Judy. They are based in Portland, Oregon. Since their 1996 debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think...

, Jo Kondo
Jo Kondo
Jō Kondō is a Japanese composer of contemporary classical music.Kondo studied composition from 1968 to 1972 with Yoshio Hasegawa and Hiroaki Minami at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He won the third prize and made his debut in Japan-Germany Contemporary Music Festival in 1969...

, Paul Elwood
Paul Elwood
Paul Iserman Elwood is a composer and banjo player. He received his B.M.E. at Wichita State University, his M.M. in composition from Southern Methodist University, and his Ph.D. in composition from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He served on the faculty at Brevard College in North...

, Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze is a German composer of prodigious output best known for "his consistent cultivation of music for the theatre throughout his life"...

 (notably in his Sixth Symphony
Symphony No. 6 (Henze)
Symphony No. 6 for two chamber orchestras by Hans Werner Henze was written in 1969.It was written whilst the composer was living in Cuba and marks a departure in the composer's symphonic output: whilst the previous five symphonies were more straightforwardly lyrical, the Sixth Symphony has a more...

), Daniel Mason of Hank Williams III
Hank Williams III
Shelton Hank Williams, known as Hank 3 , is a neotraditional country and punk metal singer, drummer, bassist, and guitarist. In addition to his honky tonk recordings, Williams' style alternates among country, punk and metal...

's Damn Band, Beck
Beck Hansen is an American musician, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, known by the stage name Beck...

, the Water Tower Bucket Boys
The Water Tower Bucket Boys
The Water Tower Bucket Boys are a bluegrass and old-time band from Portland, Oregon. They formed in 2005 and have self released four albums. Their most recent album Sole Kitchen was produced and recorded by Mike Herrera of Tumbledown and MxPx and features all original songs, including Blackbird...

, J.P. Pickens, Peggy Honeywell, Norfolk & Western, Putnam Smith, Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine
Samuel Beam , better known by his stage and recording name Iron & Wine, is an American singer-songwriter. He has released four studio albums, several EPs and singles, as well as a few download-only releases, which include a live album...

, The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers is a folk rock band from Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. The band is made up of two brothers, Scott Avett and Seth Avett, who play the banjo and guitar respectively, and Bob Crawford who plays the stand-up bass. Joe Kwon, cello, and Jacob Edwards, drums, are touring members of...

, and Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens is an American singer-songwriter and musician born in Detroit, Michigan. Stevens first began releasing his music on Asthmatic Kitty, a label co-founded with his stepfather, beginning with the 1999 release, A Sun Came...


The first 5-string electric solid-body banjo was developed by Charles (Buck) Wilburn Trent, Harold "Shot" Jackson, and David Jackson in 1960.

Four-string banjos

The plectrum banjo is a standard banjo without the short drone string. It usually has 22 frets on the neck and a scale length of 26 to 28 inches, and was originally tuned cgbd'. It can also be tuned like the top four strings of a guitar, which is known as "Chicago tuning." As the name suggests, it is usually played with a guitar-style pick
A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

 (that is, a single one held between thumb and forefinger), unlike the five-string banjo, which is either played with a thumbpick and two fingerpicks, or with bare fingers. The plectrum banjo evolved out of the five-string banjo, to cater to styles of music involving strummed chords. The plectrum is also featured in many early jazz recordings and arrangements.

The shorter-necked, tenor banjo is also typically played with a plectrum. It became a popular instrument after about 1910. Early models used for melodic picking typically had 17 frets on the neck and a scale length of 19½ to 21½ inches. By the mid-1920s, when the instrument was used primarily for strummed chordal accompaniment, 19-fret necks with a scale length of 21¾ to 23 inches became standard. The usual tuning is cgd'a', like a viola
The viola is a bowed string instrument. It is the middle voice of the violin family, between the violin and the cello.- Form :The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. A full-size viola's body is between and longer than the body of a full-size violin , with an average...

 or mandola
The mandola or tenor mandola is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola , a fifth lower than a mandolin...

, but some players (particularly in Irish traditional music) tune it Gdae′ like an octave mandolin
Octave mandolin
The octave mandolin is a fretted string instrument with four pairs of strings tuned in 5ths, G, D, A, E , an octave below a mandolin. It has a 20 to 23 inch scale length and its construction is similar to other instruments in the mandolin family...

, which lets the banjoist duplicate fiddle and mandolin fingering. The invention and/or popularisation of this tuning is usually attributed to Barney McKenna
Barney McKenna
Bernard Noël "Barney" McKenna or Banjo Barney as he is known amongst his fellow musicians, is an Irish musician who plays the tenor banjo, mandolin, and melodeon. He is most renowned as a banjo player...

, banjoist with The Dubliners
The Dubliners
The Dubliners are an Irish folk band founded in 1962.-Formation and history:The Dubliners, initially known as "The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group", formed in 1962 and made a name for themselves playing regularly in O'Donoghue's Pub in Dublin...


The tenor banjo was a common rhythm instrument in early 20th-century dance bands. Its volume and timbre suited early jazz (and jazz-influenced popular music styles) and could both compete with other instruments (such as brass instruments and saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

s) and be heard clearly on acoustic recordings. George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known...

's Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue is a musical composition by George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band written in 1924, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects....

, in Ferde Grofe
Ferde Grofé
Ferde Grofé was a prominent American composer, arranger and pianist. During the 1920s and 1930s, he went by the name Ferdie Grofé.-Early life:...

's original jazz orchestra arrangement, includes tenor banjo, with widely-spaced chords not easily playable on plectrum banjo in its conventional tuning(s). With development of the archtop and electric guitar, the tenor banjo largely disappeared from jazz and popular music, though keeping its place in traditional "Dixieland" jazz.

Rarer than either the tenor or plectrum banjo is the cello banjo. It's normally tuned CGda, one octave below the tenor banjo like the cello and mandocello. It played a role in banjo orchestras in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Bass banjos have been produced in both upright bass formats and with standard, horizontally-carried banjo bodies.

Four-string banjos, both plectrum and tenor, can be used strictly for chordal accompaniment (as in early jazz), strictly for single string melody playing (as in Irish traditional music), in "chord melody" style (a succession of chords are played in which the highest notes carry the melody), in tremolo style (both on chords and single strings) and a mixed technique called duo style, which combines single string tremolo and rhythm chords. Fingerstyle opportunities of tenor banjo retuned to open G tuning dgd'g' or lower open D tuning Adad' (three finger picking, frailing) are explored by Mirek Patek.

Eddie Peabody
Eddie Peabody
Captain Edwin Ellsworth Peabody was an American musical entertainer. His career spanned five decades and he was perhaps the most famous plectrum banjo player ever...

 was the greatest proponent of the plectrum banjo in the early to mid twentieth century. Johnny Baier, Bill Lowrey
Bill Lowrey (musician)
Bill Lowrey is an American musical entertainer and banjoist from California. He has been a featured performer or headliner at a variety of jazz festivals around the U.S. for over fifteen years...

, Steve Peterson, and Buddy Wachter are prominent contemporary four-string banjoists currently working professionally. Harry Reser
Harry Reser
Harry F. Reser was an American banjo player and bandleader. Born in Piqua, Ohio, Reser was best known as the leader of The Clicquot Club Eskimos.- Career :...

, who also played plectrum banjo, was arguably the best tenor banjoist of the same era and wrote a large number of works for tenor banjo as well as instructional material. He was well known in the banjo player community up until his passing in 1965. His single string and "chord melody" technique and ability arguably set the "high mark" that many subsequent tenor players endeavor to attain. Other prominent professional tenor performers were Mike Pingitore
Mike Pingitore
Member of Paul Whiteman's Orchestra.He was the elder brother of Eugene Pingitore also a notable banjo player who moved to Australia. Paul Whiteman discovered him playing tenor banjo and he became part of the rhythm section for Paul Whiteman's band....

 and Roy Smeck
Roy Smeck
Roy Smeck was an American musician. His skill on the banjo, guitar, steel guitar, and especially the ukulele earned him the nickname "Wizard of the Strings."-Background:...

. Smeck was an influential performer on many fretted instruments, including the four-string banjo. He also wrote a number of solos and instructional books. Prominent contemporary tenor players are Don Vappie, Ken Aoki, Steve Di Bonaventura, David Bandrowski, the late Narvin Kimball
Narvin Kimball
Narvin Kimball was a jazz musician who played banjo and string bass and was also known for his fine singing voice....

 of Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Preservation Hall Jazz Band is the name for numerous groups of Dixieland Jazz and traditional jazz bands at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, and on tours as organized by the Preservation Hall...

 fame, and Charlie Tagawa
Charlie Tagawa
Charlie Tagawa is an Japanese-American musical entertainer, banjoist, and Japanese immigrant. His musical career has spanned six decades and he is regarded as one of the best banjo players and arguably one of the all-time best. He performs regularly across the U.S. and in Japan where he is known...

. Tagawa has been the music director of the Peninsula Banjo Band
Peninsula Banjo Band
The Peninsula Banjo Band is an American musical group and 5013 non-profit foundation that is dedicated to preservation of the heritage and musical legacy of the four-string banjo as well as raising money for cancer related and other notable charities...

, one of the most prominent banjo bands in the U.S., since 1966. He was a student and devotee of Harry Reser. In the United Kingdom, Frank Lawes
Frank Lawes
Frank Lawes was an English banjo composer and performer from Ifold, West Sussex. He was responsible for composing a large number of well known banjo pieces.He is the great grandfather of the motoring author, Jon Lawes.-Pieces Composed:...

 was one of the most prolific composers of four string banjo music.

The four-string banjo is used from time to time in musical theater. Examples include: Hello, Dolly!
Hello, Dolly! (musical)
Hello, Dolly! is a musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder's 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955....

, Mame, Chicago
Chicago (musical)
Chicago is a musical set in Prohibition-era Chicago. The music is by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the "celebrity criminal"...

, Cabaret
Cabaret (musical)
Cabaret is a musical based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The 1966 Broadway production became a hit and spawned a 1972 film as well as numerous subsequent productions....

, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! is the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance...

, Half a Sixpence
Half a Sixpence
Half a Sixpence is a musical comedy written as a vehicle for British pop star Tommy Steele.It is based on H.G. Wells's novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul...

, Annie
Annie (musical)
Annie is a Broadway musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and the book by Thomas Meehan. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years with a blonde Annie as the poster...

, Barnum
Barnum (musical)
Barnum is a musical with a book by Mark Bramble, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and music by Cy Coleman. It is based on the life of showman P. T. Barnum, covering the period from 1835 through 1880 in America and major cities of the world where Barnum took his performing companies. The production...

, The Threepenny Opera
The Threepenny Opera
The Threepenny Opera is a musical by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, in collaboration with translator Elisabeth Hauptmann and set designer Caspar Neher. It was adapted from an 18th-century English ballad opera, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and offers a Marxist critique...

, Monty Python's Spamalot, and countless others. Joe Raposo
Joe Raposo
Joseph Guilherme Raposo, OIH was a Portuguese-American composer, songwriter, pianist, television writer and lyricist, best known for his work on the children's television series Sesame Street, for which he wrote the theme song, as well as classic songs such as "Bein' Green" and "C is for Cookie"...

 had used it variably. in the imaginative 7-piece orchestration for the long-running TV show Sesame Street
Sesame Street
Sesame Street has undergone significant changes in its history. According to writer Michael Davis, by the mid-1970s the show had become "an American institution". The cast and crew expanded during this time, including the hiring of women in the crew and additional minorities in the cast. The...

, and has sometimes had it overdubbed with itself or an electric guitar
Electric guitar
An electric guitar is a guitar that uses the principle of direct electromagnetic induction to convert vibrations of its metal strings into electric audio signals. The signal generated by an electric guitar is too weak to drive a loudspeaker, so it is amplified before sending it to a loudspeaker...

. The banjo is still (albeit rarely) in use in the show's arrangement currently.

Six-string banjos

The 6-string banjo (note, these still have the short thumb string with re-entrant tuning) began as a British innovation by William Temlet, one of England's earliest banjo makers. He opened a shop in London in 1846, and sold banjos with closed backs and up to 7 strings. He marketed these as "zither" Banjos from his 1869 patent. American Alfred Davis Cammeyer (1862–1949), a young violinist-turned banjo concert player, devised the 5/6-string Zither banjo around 1880. It had a wood resonator and metal "wire" strings (the 1st and 2nd melody strings and 5th "thumb" string. The 3rd melody string was gut and the 4th was silk covered) as well as frets and guitar-style tuning machines.

A Zither banjo usually has a closed back and sides with the drum body (usually metal) and skin tensioning system suspended inside the wooden rim/back, the neck and string tailpiece was mounted on the wooden outer rim, the short string usually led through a tube in the neck so that the tuning peg could be mounted on the peg head. They were often made by builders who used guitar tuners that came in banks of three and so if 5 stringed had a redundant tuner. The banjos could also be somewhat easily converted over to a six string banjo. British opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 diva Adelina Patti
Adelina Patti
Adelina Patti was a highly acclaimed 19th-century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851 and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914...

 advised Cammeyer that the zither-banjo might be popular with English audiences (which was certainly true as it was invented there), and Cammeyer went to London in 1888. Due to his virtuoso playing he helped show that banjos could be used for more sophisticated music than was normally played by blackface
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the "happy-go-lucky darky...

 minstrels, he was soon performing for London society, where he met Sir Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Sullivan
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer of Irish and Italian ancestry. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado...

, who recommended that Cammeyer progress from writing banjo arrangements of music to composing his own music. (Interesting to note that, supposedly unbeknownst to Cammeyer, William Temlett had patented a 7-string closed back banjo in 1869, and was already marketing it as a "zither-banjo.")

In the late 1890s Banjo maker F.C Wilkes developed a 6-string version of the banjo with the 6th string "tunnelled" through the neck. It is arguable that Arthur O. Windsor had much influence in creating and perfecting the Zither banjo and creating the open-back banjo along with other modifications to the banjo type instruments, such as the non-solid attached resonator that banjos' today have (Gibson lays claim to this modification on the American Continent). Windsor claims to be the first in creating the hollow neck banjo with a truss rod, and he buried the 5th string in the neck after the 5th fret so to put the tuning peg on the peg-head rather than in the neck. Gibson lays claim to perfecting the banjo with the tone rings.

The six-string or banjitar was the instrument of the early jazz great Johnny St. Cyr
Johnny St. Cyr
Johnny St. Cyr was an American jazz banjoist and guitarist.St. Cyr was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is most commonly remembered as a member of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven bands....

, as well as of jazzmen Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt was a pioneering virtuoso jazz guitarist and composer who invented an entirely new style of jazz guitar technique that has since become a living musical tradition within French gypsy culture...

, Danny Barker
Danny Barker
Danny Barker , born Daniel Moses Barker, was a jazz banjoist, singer, guitarist, songwriter, ukelele player and author from New Orleans, founder of the locally famous Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band...

, Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson
Papa Charlie Jackson was an early American bluesman and songster. He played a hybrid banjo guitar and ukulele, his recording career beginning in 1924...

 and Clancy Hayes
Clancy Hayes
Clarence Leonard Hayes was a jazz vocalist, banjoist and guitarist born November 14, 1908 in Caney, Kansas. He lived in Parsons, Kansas for a short time, and the town is the subject of his song "The Parsons, Kansas Blues": . He worked always as a professional musician, turning up in San Francisco...

, as well as the blues and gospel singer The Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis, was an American blues and gospel singer and guitarist, who was also proficient on the banjo and harmonica...

. Nowadays, it sometimes appears under such names as guitanjo, guitjo, ganjo, banjitar, or bantar. Today, musicians as diverse as Keith Urban
Keith Urban
Keith Lionel Urban is a New Zealand-born Australian, country music singer, songwriter and guitarist whose commercial success has been mainly in the United States and Australia. Urban was born in New Zealand and began his career in Australia at an early age...

, Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart
Roderick David "Rod" Stewart, CBE is a British singer-songwriter and musician, born and raised in North London, England and currently residing in Epping. He is of Scottish and English ancestry....

, Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal (musician)
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks , who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American Grammy Award winning blues musician. He incorporates elements of world music into his music...

, Joe Satriani
Joe Satriani
Joseph "Joe" Satriani is an American instrumental rock guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, with multiple Grammy Award nominations...

, David Hidalgo
David Hidalgo
David Hidalgo is an American singer-songwriter, best known for his work with the band Los Lobos. He is also a member of the supergroup Los Super Seven and of the Latin Playboys, a side project band made up of some of the members of Los Lobos...

 and Doc Watson
Doc Watson
Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson is an American guitar player, songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music. He has won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson's flatpicking skills and knowledge of traditional American music are highly regarded...

 play the 6-String guitar banjo.

Rhythm guitarist Dave Day of 1960's proto-punks The Monks
The Monks
Monks are a garage rock band, formed by American GIs who were based in Germany in the mid to late 1960s. They reunited in 1999 and have continued to play concerts, although no new studio recordings have been made...

 replaced his guitar with a six-string, gut-strung guitar banjo on which he played guitar chords. This instrument sounds much more metallic, scratchy and wiry than a standard electric guitar, due to its amplification via a small microphone stuck inside the banjo's body.

Banjo hybrids and variants

A number of hybrid instruments exist, crossing the banjo with other stringed instruments. Most of these use the body of a banjo, often with a resonator, and the neck of the other instrument. Examples include the banjo mandolin, the Banjolin, bandolin, and the banjo ukulele
The ukulele, ; from ; it is a subset of the guitar family of instruments, generally with four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings....

 or banjolele
The banjolele is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. "Banjolele," sometimes also spelled "banjelele" or "banjulele" is a generic nickname given to the instrument, which was derived from the "banjulele-banjo", introduced by Alvin D...

, most famously played by the English comedian George Formby junior. These were especially popular in the early decades of the twentieth century, and were probably a result of a desire either to allow players of other instruments to jump on the banjo bandwagon at the height of its popularity, or to get the natural amplification benefits of the banjo resonator in an age before electric amplification.

Instruments using the five-string banjo neck on a wooden body (for example, that of a bouzouki
The bouzouki , is a musical instrument with Greek origin in the lute family. A mainstay of modern Greek music, the front of the body is flat and is usually heavily inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The instrument is played with a plectrum and has a sharp metallic sound, reminiscent of a mandolin but...

 or resonator guitar
Dobro is a registered trademark, now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation and used for a particular design of resonator guitar.The name has a long and involved history, interwoven with that of the resonator guitar...

) have also been made, such as the banjola. A 20th-Century Turkish
Music of Turkey
The music of Turkey includes diverse elements ranging from Central Asian folk music and has many copies and references of Byzantine music, Greek music, Ottoman music, Persian music, Balkan music, as well as more modern European and American popular music influences...

 instrument very similar to the banjo is called cümbüs
The cümbüş is a Turkish stringed instrument of relatively modern origin. Developed in the early 20th century by Zeynelabidin Cümbüş as an oud-like instrument that could be heard as part of a larger ensemble. In construction it resembles both the American banjo and the Middle Eastern oud. A...


See also

  • African American music
    African American music
    African-American music is an umbrella term given to a range of musics and musical genres emerging from or influenced by the culture of African Americans, who have long constituted a large and significant ethnic minority of the population of the United States...

  • List of banjo bands (worldwide)
  • List of banjo players
  • Bluegrass music
    Bluegrass music
    Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. It has mixed roots in Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish traditional music...

  • Country music
    Country music
    Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

  • Prewar Gibson banjo
    Prewar Gibson banjo
    -Terminology:Although this term normally refers to World War II, when used to describe Gibson banjos the term prewar operationally refers to banjos made prior to 1947. Production of metal banjo parts was suspended during World War II...

  • Double-neck guitjo
    Guitjo (double-neck)
    A double-necked guitjo is a guitar-like, fretted, stringed, musical instrument that has two necks attached to a single body, generally with 14-strings, seven strings on each neck. It is strung more like a banjo rather than a traditional guitar. Both necks may be played simultaneously producing a...

  • Stringed instrument tunings
    Stringed instrument tunings
    This is a list of tunings for stringed musical instruments. Strings or courses are listed from low to high pitch, reading from left to right facing the front of the instrument standing vertically...

  • Irish Traditional Music
  • Banjo (samba)
    Banjo (samba)
    The 4-string banjo is a Brazilian instrument which is derived from the cavaco, and is especially associated with Samba and its variants...

  • Banjo roll
    Banjo roll
    In bluegrass music, a banjo roll or roll is a repeated pattern of eighth notes, an accompaniment pattern played by the banjo that by subdividing the beat 'keeps time'...

  • Benju
    A benju is a type of dulcimer fitted with a keyboard, commonly used in the music of Balochistan and Sindh. The instrument is believed to have migrated to the region from Japan some 100 years ago.-...

  • Bulbul tarang
    Bulbul tarang
    A bulbul tarang literally "waves of nightingales", alternately Indian banjo is a string instrument from India and Pakistan which evolved from the Japanese Taishōgoto.The instrument employs two sets of strings, one set for drone, and one for melody...

  • Mandolin-banjo
    The mandolin-banjo should not be mistaken for the banjolin , though their names are sometime interchanged. The mandolin-banjo is also known by its French name, "banjoline", but should not be confused with the Banjoline designed by Peabody. The manjo is also a popular nickname for the...

  • Scruggs style
    Scruggs style
    Scruggs style is the most common style of playing the banjo in bluegrass music. It is a fingerpicking method, also known as three-finger style. It is named after Earl Scruggs, whose innovative approach and technical mastery of the instrument has influenced generations of bluegrass banjoists ever...

  • Clawhammer
    Clawhammer is a highly rhythmic banjo playing style and common component of American old-time music. The principal difference between clawhammer style and other styles is the picking direction...

Banjo history

  • Conway, Cecelia (1995). African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, University of Tennessee Press. Paper: ISBN 0-87049-893-2; cloth: ISBN 0-87049-892-4. A study of the influence of African Americans on banjo playing throughout U.S. history.
  • Gura, Philip F. and James F. Bollman (1999). America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2484-4. The definitive history of the banjo, focusing on the instrument's development in the 1800s.
  • Katonah Museum of Art (2003). The Birth of the Banjo. Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York. ISBN 0-915171-64-3.
  • Linn, Karen (1994). That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06433-X. Scholarly cultural history of the banjo, focusing on how its image has evolved over the years.
  • Tsumura, Akira (1984). Banjos: The Tsumura Collection. Kodansha International Ltd. ISBN 0-87011-605-3. An illustrated history of the banjo featuring the world's premier collection.
  • Webb, Robert Lloyd (1996). Ring the Banjar!. 2nd edition. Centerstream Publishing. ISBN 1-57424-016-1. A short history of the banjo, with pictures from an exhibition at the MIT Museum.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.