A banjo is a stringed instrument plaid by plucking or strumming. It was developed by slaves in America and is based on African lutes with gourd resonators. Although it is similar to a guitar, it is usually played in a very different way. In bluegrass music, it is played with fingerpicks to get a loud, fast, percussive sound. This is often called Scruggs style, after Earle Scruggs, a bluegrass banjo pioneer. The clawhammer style is an older banjo method used in Appalachian music.The hand is held in a rigid "claw" shape and moved past the strings. A finger or thumb plucks a string as it passes on the way down, and again on the way up.
Head and Resonator
The banjo gets its sound from its unique body. The strings of a banjo pass over a bridge which sits on top of a drum head. When a string is plucked, it transmits vibrations directly into the head, amplifying the notes and giving them the bright sound a banjo has. Bluegrass banjos also have a resonator in addition to the skin. The resonator is a chamber behind the drum head. The vibrations from the drum echo around in the resonator, building up strength. This makes bluegrass banjos much louder than normal folk banjos.
The 5-string style is one of the most common variants. it has 4 strings which run all the way to the fretboard, and a fifth drone string which starts partway up the neck. The drone string is designed to provide a fixed drone as the banjo is played. Usually, the 5-string is played with a bare hand or with finger picks. The 4-string banjo is sometimes known as the plectrum, or pick banjo because it was invented for people who like to play with a pick. It is easier to strum chords on because it does not have the drone string. There are also some six-string banjos, although they are rare. Six-string versions are often played like a guitar, but they give a different sound.
Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.