The Banjo is a musical instrument similar to a guitar with a long neck, round body and four, five or occasionally six metal strings that can be strummed or plucked. It consists of a membrane which is stretched over a frame and usually called the head. The membrane, which is made of plastic or animal skin, is used to amplify the vibration of its strings. The first version of this instrument had four strings, and in later variations five to nine strings were used. Banjos can be played with a plectrum, pick or bare fingers.
Initially, the instrument was played in a style called ‘Clawhammer’, which was invented by Africans who brought their version of the banjo with them. Clawhammer consists of downward striking of one or more of the four main strings with the middle, index or both fingers while the fifth string is played with a lifting motion of the thumb.
These instruments were first used by Africans, and spread in the United States in the 19th century by slaves, and later they were exported to Europe. Early African influenced banjos were built with a wooden stick neck and had varying number of strings and often including some form of drone.
Banjos are often used in country, folk, classical, jazz, contemporary and modern music. Modern banjo playing has been influenced by Bela Fleck who introduced jazz styles for five-string banjo. Other contemporary or modern works have been written for this instrument by Tonyn Trischka, Ralph Stanley, Buck Trent, Steve Martin, Earl Scruggs etc.
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