History Of Banjo: From Africa To America

Do you love playing the Banjo or about to buy one? Then it shall fascinate you to know that Banjo has a rich history and the modern-day Banjo that you see has come a long way. At one time this stringed instrument was more popular than the guitar. In fact, apart from South West, Banjo came into existence more than a hundred years before the guitars.

The Evolution And History Of Banjo

An assumption goes around by many that Banjos are associated with the hillbilly culture of the Appalachians and the folk revival of the Northeastern United States. But you will be surprised to learn that this mountain instrument of white-man was made many centuries back by the African enslaves across the Caribbean and North American colonies around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So, the Banjos are nothing new but a primitive instrument.

According to the records, previously this instrument was called Bandore. The instrument is a mix of African and European forms. The earliest known banjo had a somewhat guitar-shaped body with a drum at the base made from a gourd or even calabash at times. It was connected by a bamboo neck which had four strings attached. There were three full-length strings and the fourth one was short and stopped halfway toward the side of the neck. The drum-shaped body and the strings resembled more of the African tradition while the tuning pegs and flat fingerboard are more about the European culture.


History Of The Banjo - From Africa To America

The Different Era Of Banjo

Multiple upgrades have been given to Banjo across the different Eras.

  • Ministerial Era: It was from the 1830s to 1870s. During this time Sweeny was the person who played the Banjo on the stage for the first time. The banjo during this era underwent an upgradation so that it could be sold.
  • The Classic Era: This era existed from the 1880s to 1910s. Not only the Banjo got a more guitar-like look but also developed a similar technique for playing too. Fingerstyle got introduced here. Even for enhancing the sound quality metal parts, wood, metal frets, and tone ring were added too.
  • Ragtime Era: It was from 1885 to 1919 before moving on to the next era which was the Jazz era. This era was right from 1910 to 1930. the Banjo underwent further modifications such as the shortening of the neck, plectrum, and four strings were added too. A process for tuning the instrument too got developed.
  • Modern Era: This era started after the second world war. The Banjo popularized further across the world and it was also during this era the five-stringed Banjo had got introduced. And since then till now, many upgradations are being made both to this instrument and also in its techniques of playing.

Types Of Banjo

After Banjos got widely popular and known in America, more musicians across the world started to adopt it gradually and began to understand the richness of this instrument. This instrument has got so much popular that choosing a Banjo has become very easy now. Its playing technique has evolved too. Right from A to G, there are seven major and minor chord variations in it and each of them can be played differently too.

There are also a variety of Banjo brands too. Banjos are not only made for right-handed players but for left-handed players too. In fact, it might surprise you to know that the most popular one is the left handed Banjo. There are six types of Banjo you can choose from out of which the fifth-stringed Banjo is the most popular one. It is mostly used for folk and Bluegrass.