Search through today's Most Popular authors, titles and publishers.
Add as many books as you'd like to your sample shelf.
Each day, you'll receive the next sample on your shelf by email.
Publisher For Dummies
eBook Kindle Edition
In This Chapter
* Getting to know different kinds of banjos
* Exploring the banjo and all its parts
* Discovering how to be a good player
If you take a trip, you'd probably like to know where you're going (after all, you don't want to end up like those guys in that Deliverance movie, do you?). If you're new to the banjo and don't yet own an instrument or if you're wondering about your eventual musical destination, this chapter is definitely the place to start your Banjo For Dummies trip. The key is in the ignition, so put this thing in drive!
In this chapter, you spread out your banjo road map and start planning what I hope will be a wonderful, lifelong musical journey with the five-string banjo. I discuss what makes the five-string banjo different from other kinds of stringed instruments, and you can also take a look at the various kinds of banjos available today. I name the parts of the banjo and summarize the musical skills you can master in this book on the way to becoming a good player.
Getting into Banjo
Something about the five-string banjo brings out strong feelings in people. Folks who like the banjo usually really like it. What is it about this instrument that inspires such passion, and how can you tell if you've been bitten by the banjo bug? This section explores the answer to these questions.
Loving that amazing sound
You know the sound of the banjo when you hear it: the bright, rhythmic waterfall of short, cascading notes that can conjure up just about any emotion (but usually happy first comes to mind for the typical guy on the street). The banjo is usually associated with folk, country, and bluegrass music, but these days, you can also hear the instrument in jazz, rock, and even classical settings.
Over the years, I've asked hundreds of amateur and professional players why they initially got interested in the instrument and the usual answer is "I fell in love with the sound." I think an equal attraction is the lure of hearing a lot of notes compressed into what seems like the smallest of musical spaces. In the hands of a skilled player, the banjo is an instrument that's capable of amazing virtuosity.
Becoming a true believer
Banjo players usually remember well the precise moment in time that they became hooked on the instrument. For me, growing up as a suburban teenager far from significant hills of any kind, that moment was when I was watching Roy Clark play banjo on Hee Haw and thinking to myself, "If I can somehow sit through this show every week, I think I can eventually learn 'Cripple Creek.'" I didn't especially like country music at that time, and I'd never heard of folk or bluegrass music - but I really loved the sound of the banjo.
Growing up in the 1970s, I could also hear the banjo as a background instrument on hit songs from the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Neil Young, and James Taylor. Hearing the banjo in these contexts made me believe that the banjo must be cool if those musicians used it on their recordings, despite what my friends thought about this disturbing turn in my musical tastes. And, of course, I was also influenced by the popularity of "Dueling Banjos" during these years (I didn't realize until years later who was depicted playing the instrument in this movie). I already knew a little about playing the guitar, and I decided that I wanted to try and teach myself to play banjo.
After enrolling in a community college beginners' banjo class, I discovered an entire musical subculture of folk and bluegrass music where the banjo was not only welcome, but was also pretty much the most revered instrument of them all. Getting to know others who felt the same way as I did about the banjo really helped to get me hooked.
Almost 40 years later, I'm happy to report that the banjo is more popular than ever. Musicians have continued to push the musical boundaries of the instrument, and these days, about the only folks who think the banjo is good for just one musical style are those television producers who still insist on having banjo music in the background of their pickup truck commercials.
My own youthful enthusiasm for the banjo evolved into a wonderful lifelong relationship that is still growing strong. I get a joyful feeling every time I play a tune on the banjo. I'm also amazed at how my love for the instrument has opened the door to many new and wonderful experiences (such as graduate school, international touring and teaching, and this book!) and is at the basis of many of my most cherished friendships. Even if you never become as obsessed about the banjo as I am, I believe that the banjo can improve your life and make you a happier person if you give it the chance.
Identifying Different Kinds of Banjos
Banjo For Dummies is your complete guide to musical adventure on the five-string banjo. I focus on the five-string banjo because this instrument is by far the most popular type of banjo being played today and is the kind of banjo that is used to play bluegrass, folk, and country music. The five-string banjo is also currently carving new niches in jazz, rock, and classical music.
However, in the first half of the 20th century, the most popular banjos were four-string tenor and plectrum banjos. These banjos are really different instruments and shouldn't be confused with the five-string banjo. Understanding the differences between banjos is important, because before you begin your adventure, you need to make sure you're traveling with the right kind of equipment.
In the following sections, I compare and contrast the different instruments in the banjo family, so you don't mistake one type of banjo for another.
Five-string banjo: The subject of the book
The short 5th string is what makes the five-string banjo different from other types of banjos and from just about every other instrument in the known universe. Most of the time, you know immediately that you're looking at a five-string banjo when you see a tuning peg (a geared mechanism that keeps the string in tune) that's sticking out almost halfway up the neck (the long narrow piece of wood where you fret strings with the left hand; for more on these terms, see a later section on the parts of the banjo). This tuning peg holds the 5th string of the banjo (see Figure 1-1).
The 5th string is a crucial distinguishing characteristic of the five-string banjo, both in the instrument's appearance and the sound of the music. The 5th string is not only shorter than the other four strings of the banjo, but this string is also the highest in sound (or pitch). The 5th string on a banjo lies within easy reach of the right-hand thumb, which you use to play this string in all kinds of banjo music. Having the highest-pitched string next to the string with the lowest pitch is unusual in comparison to how pitches are arranged on the strings of a guitar (as you can see in Figure 1-1), but this is one of the things that makes the banjo sound so great! This characteristic of the banjo is also one part of the instrument's ancient African ancestry (for more on this, see Chapter 7).
Tenor and plectrum banjos: Look for another book
In the early decades of the 20th century, folks loved the quality of sound of the banjo so much that they attached different kinds of necks to the banjo body to create new instruments with different numbers of strings. These hybrid instruments were tuned and played differently from the five-string banjo.
Tenor and plectrum banjos are examples of this phenomenon. These four-stringed instruments are commonly used in traditional jazz and Dixieland music, don't have the short 5th string, and are usually played with a flatpick instead of with the fingers.
Although these banjos have the same tone and general appearance as the five-string banjo, tenor and plectrum banjos use other tunings and playing techniques and are viewed as different instruments by banjo fans. These days, you may encounter a tenor or plectrum banjo when you hear a Dixieland band or the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, go to a mummers' parade, or catch an old Lawrence Welk rerun on television.
Don't confuse these types of banjos with the five-string variety! The five-string banjo is by far the most popular kind of banjo played today and its music is almost certainly what attracted you to the instrument. However, confusing the appearance of a five-string banjo with the four-string tenor or plectrum type of banjo is easy. You see, the bodies of these instruments are the same, but the necks reveal the difference (see Figure 1-2). You can't play five-string banjo music on a four-string tenor or plectrum banjo - these instruments aren't interchangeable! You need a five-string banjo to play five-string banjo music.
Knowing the Parts of a Banjo
Unlike a guitar, violin, or mandolin, a banjo is an amalgam of wood, metal, skin, and/or plastic held together by rods, nuts, screws, and brackets. You could call it the Frankenstein of musical instruments, but I like to think of it more like the Bionic Woman. All banjos share the common characteristic of having a replaceable membrane made of plastic or animal skin (called the head) that is stretched tightly across the body of the banjo (called the pot) to form the top of the resonating body of the instrument (see Figure 1-3).
Five-string banjos come in three basic different styles: open-back, resonator, and electric banjos. Musicians select the kind of banjo they play based on their musical style and their personal tastes. Chapter 9 explains the differences between these kinds of banjos, along with tips for making an informed purchase.
In the following sections, you get to know the banjo from head to toe. You also discover how the instrument captures the energy of a plucked string and turns it into that unmistakably great sound that banjo players love. You can refer to Figure 1-4 to see exactly where these parts are located on the banjo.
Looking at the neck
The neck is one of the two main sections of the banjo (the pot being the other; see the section "Checking out the pot"). The neck is the long piece of wood that supports the strings and tuners. Necks are usually made of maple, mahogany, or walnut.
To get a better feel for the banjo, take a look at the parts of the banjo neck:
Checking out the pot
The other major section of the banjo (other than the neck; see the preceding section) is the pot, the round lower body of the banjo including all of its constituent parts:
Thanks for reading! Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.
Just enter your email address and password below to get started:
Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!