A five-string banjo
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.322-5
(Composite chordophone sounded by plectrum, finger picks, or the bare fingers)
Developed18th century
Playing range
Open strings and highest note of a standard-tuned five-string bluegrass banjo.

The banjo is a four-, five-, or six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head, which is typically circular. The membrane is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally used. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design.[1][2] The banjo is frequently associated with folk, Irish traditional, and country music. Banjo can also be used in some Rock Songs. Countless Rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century.[3][4][5][6] The banjo, along with the fiddle, is a mainstay of American old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.


The Old Plantation, ca. 1785 - 1795, the earliest known American painting to picture a banjo-like instrument; thought to depict a plantation in Beaufort County, South Carolina

The modern banjo derives from instruments that had been used in the Caribbean since the 17th century by enslaved people taken from West Africa. Written references to the banjo in North America appear in the 18th century, and the instrument became increasingly available commercially from around the second quarter of the 19th century.[2]

Several claims as to the etymology of the name "banjo" have been made. It may derive from the Kimbundu word mbanza,[7] which is an African string instrument modeled after the Portuguese banza: a vihuela with five two-string courses and a further two short strings. The Oxford English Dictionary states that it comes from a dialectal pronunciation of Portuguese bandore or from an early anglicisation of Spanish bandurria.[8] The name may also derive from a traditional Afro-Caribbean folk dance called "banya", which incorporates several cultural elements found throughout the African diaspora.[9]

The Portuguese banza: a possible ancestor of the modern banjo

Various instruments in Africa, chief among them the kora, feature a skin head and gourd (or similar shell) body.[10][11] The African instruments differ from early African American banjos in that the necks do not possess a Western-style fingerboard and tuning pegs, instead having stick necks, with strings attached to the neck with loops for tuning.[10] Banjos with fingerboards and tuning pegs are known from the Caribbean as early as the 17th century.[10] Some 18th- and early 19th-century writers transcribed the name of these instruments variously as bangie, banza, bonjaw,[12] banjer[13] and banjar. Instruments similar to the banjo (e.g., the Japanese shamisen, Persian tar, and Moroccan sintir) have been played in many countries. Another likely relative of the banjo is the akonting, a spike folk lute played by the Jola tribe of Senegambia, and the ubaw-akwala of the Igbo.[14] Similar instruments include the xalam of Senegal[15] and the ngoni of the Wassoulou region including parts of Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, as well as a larger variation of the ngoni developed in Morocco by sub-Saharan Africans known as the gimbri.[citation needed]

Early, African-influenced banjos were built around a gourd body and a wooden stick neck. These instruments had varying numbers of strings, though often including some form of drone. The five-string banjo was popularized by Joel Walker Sweeney, an American minstrel performer from Appomattox Court House, Virginia.[16]

Although Robert McAlpin Williamson is the first documented white banjoist,[17] in the 1830s, Sweeney became the first white performer to play the banjo on stage.[16] His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth string. This new banjo was at first tuned d'Gdf♯a, though by the 1890s, this had been transposed up to g'cgbd'. Banjos were introduced in Britain by Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels, in the 1840s, and became very popular in music halls.[18]

In the antebellum South, many black slaves played the banjo and taught their masters how to play.[19] For example, in his memoir With Sabre and Scalpel: The Autobiography of a Soldier and Surgeon, the Confederate veteran and surgeon John Allan Wyeth recalls learning to play the banjo as a child from a slave on his family plantation.[19]

Other Languages
беларуская: Банджа
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Банджа
български: Банджо
català: Banjo
čeština: Banjo
Cymraeg: Banjo
dansk: Banjo
Deutsch: Banjo
eesti: Bandžo
español: Banyo
Esperanto: Banĝo
euskara: Banjo
فارسی: بانجو
français: Banjo
Gaeilge: Bainseó
Gàidhlig: Bainsiò
galego: Banjo
한국어: 밴조
հայերեն: Բանջո
hrvatski: Bendžo
Bahasa Indonesia: Banjo
Ирон: Банджо
italiano: Banjo
עברית: בנג'ו
ქართული: ბანჯო
Кыргызча: Банджо
Latina: Banio
latviešu: Bandžo
lietuvių: Bandža
magyar: Bendzsó
македонски: Бенџо
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဘင်ဂျို
Nederlands: Banjo
Nedersaksies: Banjo
日本語: バンジョー
norsk: Banjo
norsk nynorsk: Banjo
occitan: Banjo
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Banjo
Plattdüütsch: Banjo (Instrument)
polski: Banjo
português: Banjo
română: Banjo
русский: Банджо
Scots: Banjo
Simple English: Banjo
slovenščina: Banjo
српски / srpski: Бенџо
suomi: Banjo
svenska: Banjo
Tagalog: Bandyo
Türkçe: Banjo
українська: Банджо
Tiếng Việt: Băng cầm
中文: 班卓琴