The banjo has a body similar to a tambourine with four or five strings. The strings cross above a pressure bridge and are attached to a tailpiece. These vibrate and also cause the stretched animal hide or plastic membrane to vibrate.

Some believe that the name banjo came from the Portuguese word bandore or a Spanish word bandurria. A few say that it may have been derived from a Senegambian word that refers to a bamboo stick that was originally used for the banjo’s neck structure.

History

The creation of the banjo can be traced back centuries. The origin of the very first versions of the banjo is indefinite. In the Mideast, Far East and Africa, it was common to see strings stretched across drums made of animal hide.

The first written citation of a banjo-like instrument is credited to Richard Jobson, an explorer. He mentioned it in the diaries or records of his journey in the Gambra River of Africa in the 1620. Minstrels in Virginia used two banjo players in a show in 1843. This started the spread of banjo’s popularity in the United States.

In the early 19th century, the five-string banjo was invented by Joel Walker Sweeney. He brought in the instrument to Great Britain during his tour in 1843. The banjo gained its name as an accompaniment of United States’ music during the First World War.

Four-string banjo

There are three major types of four-string banjos – plectrum banjo, tenor banjo, and cello banjo. The plectrum banjo is just like the regular banjo but it does not have a short drone string. It is typically played with a pick similar to that of the guitar.

The tenor banjo has a shorter neck than the plectrum banjo. It became popular and had seventeen frets and a length of nineteen to twenty-one inches around 1910. In the middle of the 1920’s, the tenor had 19 frets and was twenty-two to twenty-three inches long.

The rarest type is the cello banjo. It has the same range as the mandocello and cello and is tuned one octave lower than the tenor banjo.

Four-string banjos can be for choral accompaniment and single string tune playing. These can also be for duo style which is a mixture of the rhythm chords and single string tremolo and for chord melody style.

Five-string banjo

An American minstrel player from Virginia named Joel Walker Sweeney made the five-string banjo popular in the 1830’s. He was the first American who played the banjo in front of an audience.

The five-string banjo’s fifth and first strings have the same gauge but the fifth is five frets shorter. This causes difficulties in adjusting the pitch using a capo. A lot of banjo players prefers to use titanium or model railroad spikes to keep the string pushed down on the fret.

Modern Banjo

There many variations of the modern banjo. Increasing its popularity is the six-string banjo which is played like a guitar.

The modern banjo’s body, sometimes referred to as pot, has a metal ring, circular wooden rim, and a stretched head. The head is made of animal hide but could also be made of synthetic materials nowadays.

Electric banjos could also be seen in the modern day’s market.

 

The sitar is a stringed instrument that is played by plucking. It is dominant in Hindustani classical music and has been around starting from the Middle Ages. It uses sympathetic strings which is common in Indian musical instruments. It also has a gourd resonating cavity and an extensive hollow neck.

The sitar came into the western musical industry when Pandit Ravi Shankar used it in his works. Following this, The Rolling Stones also put the sitar into action in the song Paint It, Black.

Origin

The sitars came from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent during the late Mogul era. For hundreds of years, its predecessors, the Persian lutes, were used in the Mogul courts. It is stated by the Sangeet Sudarshana that the sitar was invented by Amir Khusru in the 1700’s. The Persian setar was his basis for naming this instrument.

There are a lot of theories about the origin of the sitar. Unfortunately, most of which are historically inaccurate and, thus, impossible.

The most common theory is that Amir Khusru invented the sitar around 1300 AD. This is a different Amir Khusru from the one stated above. The Amir Khusru of the 1300 AD was a popular personality and is an image for the Hindustani Sangeet. However, this theory has no historical basis because there was no evidence of the existence of the sitar before the fall of the Moghul Empire.

Another theory is that the ancient veenas like the rudra vina were the parents of the sitar. The rudra vina is clearly a stick zither which is in contrast with the sitar which is a lute. Other than that, the materials and construction of the two instruments were also different so this theory is not likely to be true.

Parts

The many parts of the sitar are the kuntis or tuning pegs, drone strings, tumba or gourd, baj tar or playing string, tarafdar or sympathetic strings, dandi or neck, parda or frets, gulu or cowl, ghoraj or bridge, tuning beads, tabkandi or face plate, and kaddu or resonator.

Playing the sitar

The instrument should be placed between the player’s right knee and left foot with the left leg under the former. This position allows the player’s hands to move freely without holding the sitar’s weight. The thumb is positioned on the fretboard’s top while the string is being plucked using a mizraab or pick. The player frequently only uses the middle and index fingers to pluck but he also occasionally uses the ring finger.

There is a technique called meanding wherein the player pulls down the main string over the lower part of the curved frets of the sitar. With this, the musician could reach a seven semitone range of notes set to a microtone.

The sitar in jazz music

The fusion of Western jazz and Indian classical music stems back from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. This was when expert musicians of the Indian classics like Rabi Shankar collaborated with jazz musicians like Bud Shank and Tony Scott.

A few examples of the use of the sitar in jazz music are the works of John Mayer, the Silent Trees Falling by Andrew Cheshire, and the Cloud Dance by Collin Walcott.