The banjo is an iconic instrument of American folk music. Instantly recognizable, the banjo plays a large role in specific kinds of music, but it also plays a role in the larger music history of the United States.
The banjo was originally developed by African slaves in America. It was modeled after native instruments played in their homelands. It was first popularized in the early minstrel shows.
A banjo usually has either four or five strings and a body that is made similar to a drum head. This circular body is either left open in the back or has what is known as a resonator plate.
The five-string banjo is played most often in folk or bluegrass music. Folk music usually features an open-backed banjo played without picks, whereas bluegrass uses picks and a resonator.
The four-string banjo is also sometimes called a tenor banjo. It features prominently in the jazz styles known as Dixieland, and it is also played with a pick.
The iconic "Dueling Banjos" piece in the 1972 movie "Deliverance" actually features a guitar and a banjo. It was the first recording of this traditional song, which is normally played with two banjos.
A number of stylized banjo designs are named for the musicians who popularized them. Arguably the most mainstream of all banjoists is Pete Seeger, who played a slightly longer-necked version.