- Lesson One: What is a banjo?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a banjo is a musical instrument with a drum-like body, a fretted neck, and usually four or five strings that may be plucked or strummed. Some newer models have six strings and are played more like a guitar.
- Lesson Two: What is the origin of the word banjo?
The exact origin of the word is unknown, but etymologists have a number of ideas. One possibility is that it is derived from the Kimbundu word mbanza which refers to a similar instrument. Other possibilities include the word coming from the Senegambian word for the bamboo stick that once made up the neck of the instrument, and from the Portuguese word bandore or the Spanish word bandurria which both refer to other similar instruments to the banjo.
- Lesson Three: Where does the banjo come from?
Banjo-like instruments were brought to America with the African slaves who then perfected the instrument. It first gained its popularity in the US in the southern United States minstrel shows during the nineteenth century. It still remains most popular in that area of the world, and is often used in bluegrass music today.
- Lesson Four: Where have I heard the banjo before?
Many popular bands have used banjos in their work. Chances are you’ve heard the banjo at work and didn’t even know it. Some past popular radio hit songs you may have heard of that include banjo music include R.E.M.’s “I Believe”, Modest Mouse’s “Satin in a Coffin”, The Eagles' “Take It Easy”, Neil Young’s “Old Man, and The Grateful Dead’s single “Dark Star”.
- Lesson Five: How much does a banjo cost?
The cost of a banjo, in general, will be anywhere from fifty dollars to three thousand dollars. If you are just starting out, you’ll probably want a beginners lower-end banjo, which will cost you around two to three hundred dollars.
- Lesson Six: What other costs will there be when I start learning to play the banjo?
The most obvious cost you will incur will be the price of banjo lessons. This will vary based on the talent of your instructor, but will generally cost you about fifty to a hundred dollars per lesson. You will most likely want to purchase a case for your banjo as well, and this will usually cost around fifty to a hundred dollars for a basic yet good case. One cost that you may not be expecting is the cost of tuning your banjo. First check with your instructors. Some instructors will tune it for you or teach you to tune it yourself. If this is not possible, music stores will usually charge to tune (or repair) your instrument for you, and their fees vary.
Photo Credit: Dean Zobec