The Origins Of The Banjo.   Leave a comment

Do you notice where banjo originated from? It is an extremely distinctive musical instrument both in tone as well as design. Well, I had some basic questions myself personally so I proceeded to go looking for some information.

It’s thought that the banjo originated in Africa, however, not everyone can decide on the origin of the word itself. Some believe the term banjo comes from the Kimbundu word mbanza. Now that probably doesn’t help if you don’t really know what Kimbundu and mbanza mean. Well, Kimbundu ( also referred to as North Mbundu) is found in the African country of Angola ( a land that is roughly twice as large as the state of Texas). The Kimbundu culture is often dated back to the 1400’s. Others believe the phrase banjo may be a varied pronunciation of the Portugese word “bandore”. The bandore (aka bandora) is a instrument that somewhat reselmbles a banjo, even though it has numerous characteristics of a lute or cittern. Other researchers claim that the term banjo was derived from the Spanish word “bandurria”. Again, the bandurria is a stringed instrument that somewhat resembles a banjo, but has a lot more in common with a mandolin or cittern. Finally, other researchers believe the word banjo could have come from the Senegambian term for a bamboo stick since the early banjos used a bamboo stick for the neck. The Senegambian area of africa includes the western African countries of Gambia as well as Senegal. So, I guess if you happen to be keeping score at home, everyone can all agree that the term banjo either emerged via Africa or near Spain/Portugal.

Moving forward, what is a banjo today? That may be somewhat simpler to answer. A banjo traditionally has 4 to 5 strings. But, what gives the banjo it’s unique sound would be that the strings typically resonate over a membrane stretched over a circular frame. So whereas a guitar produces sound by vibrating strings over a wooden surface (typically through a soundhole), the strings of the banjo vibrate across a surface more comparable to a drum head. Also, oftentimes banjos use a resonator plate on the back of the body of the instrument which further helps to define the banjo sound.

Now, where it can get sticky, however is with the quantity of strings on the banjo and in what way they’re tuned. Most banjos have 4 to 5 strings. Having said that, increasingly more banjos are being made with six strings. These banjos are generally tuned and played as a guitar, however due to the banjo body, they have a sound that is far more closely related to the banjo. These variations are often called guitjos, banjitars and so on. Now, on the four-string banjo, the strings will be typically tuned as CGDA. Yet, there also exists a 4-string hybrid that is a mix of a ukulele and also a banjo. This instrument is typically tuned GCEA, much like a ukulele. Where the G may either be low or high. Got all that? Good, because another monkey wrench is the mandolin banjo. This instrument has 8 strings that are tuned as four pairs of octaves. This tuning is usually GDAE. And so, it is rather much like you took the 4 lowest strings on a guitar and reversed them. Is your mind blown yet?

In any case, if you have had plenty of of this talk and just would like to get your hands on a banjo, banjolin, banjolele or banjitar then you should look online for a lot of great banjo deals.


Posted August 24, 2011 by horses and more in Uncategorized

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