banjo, stringed musical instrument, with a body resembling a tambourine. The banjo consists of a hoop over which a skin membrane is stretched; it has a long, often fretted neck and four to nine strings, which are plucked with a pick or the fingers. Originally made from a gourd and animal skin, it was brought by slaves to the Caribbean, then to America (by 1688) from W Africa; similar instruments are also found in the Middle East and Far East. Frets, a metal ring, and other additions changed the instrument until it reached its modern appearance and characteristic sound. It was played in minstrel shows in the 19th cent. It is used in Southern folk music, in country and western music, and, because of its incisive, percussive quality, as a rhythm or a solo instrument in Dixieland bands.
See L. Dubois, The Banjo (2016).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: Theory, Forms, and Instruments