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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 Originally made from a gourd and animal skin, it was brought by slaves to the Caribbean, then to America (by 1688) from W Africa; similar instruments are also found in the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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



pizzicato string instrument akin to the guitar. The body is in the shape of a flat tambourine with a skin diaphragm. It has four to nine strings. The sharp, harsh, quickly fading sound is produced with a plectrum. Around the 17th century it was brought from Western Africa to the USA, where it was widely used by Negroes for accompaniment to singing and for solo playing. In the 19th century it was improved: the five-string banjo appeared, and stops on the neck came into use. Varieties of banjos of different sizes and pitches are used in jazz.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a stringed musical instrument with a long neck (usually fretted) and a circular drumlike body overlaid with parchment, plucked with the fingers or a plectrum
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Perhaps the concert's most poignant moment came when Fleck noted the recent death of folksinger (and fellow banjoist) Pete Seeger.
Solo banjoists include Jimmy Strothers playing "I Used to Work on the Tractor," "Uncle" Homer Walker playing "Cripple Creek," "Big Sweet" Lewis Hairston playing "Bile Them Cabbage Down," and Irvin Cook playing "Old Blue." Solo guitarists include Clayton Horsley playing "Poor Black Annie" and John Jackson playing "Medley of Country Dance Tunes." By the audio standards of most historic recordings, this is a particularly good set.
Musician Mike Seeger (Pete is his brother) traveled through Appalachia in the '50s and '60s, recording singers, banjoists, guitarists, fiddlers, and autoharpists per forming in the nimble, backwoods style known as oldtimey.
Marilyn Goold's Hagley logo; The Midlands Fretted Orchestra with leader Danielle Saxon Reeves (front) one of only five known classical banjoists in the world - and the only woman in that select company