Tenor Banjo

ten-er ban-joh
The tenor banjo is a string chordophone instrument that has a tambourine-like body and steel strings. Unlike a bluegrass banjo, this instrument has four strings instead of five and is most often strummed instead of plucked. The tenor banjo is most famously associated with jazz, folk and celtic music.
History of the Tenor Banjo
The tenor banjo developed from the banjo family of instruments that are thought to have been first developed in Africa where their origins lie in early string lute instruments with multiple potential ancestors. When the slave trade brought West Africans to the Caribbean, simple instruments that used a gourd-like fruit for the the body of the banjo began to surface. In the 1850s the instrument was developed and sold to white audiences who began playing the banjo as blackface minstrels. In the early 1920s and 30s, the four-string tenor banjo became popular in white communities as it was easy to play when strummed. It became a staple of dance hall bands and later dixieland jazz bands that used the tenor banjo to create a twanging rhythm. The loud sound of the tenor banjo allowed it to compete with other woodwind instrument in New Orleans jazz music. The tenor banjo experienced a descent in popularity as the steel-string acoustic guitar and other string instruments became cheaper and more common during the great depression. Today it is still strongly associated with early American jazz but also experienced a new lease of life during the 1960s when it was adopted into the playing of traditional Irish celtic music.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£170 - £800

Hear the Tenor Banjo

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How to Play

A string instrument played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a pick to create sound.

In Popular Music

The tenor banjo is popular in dixieland jazz and celtic folk music which is why it has been featured on pieces such as "Bill Bailey" and recordings by Irish artists including The Dubliners and The Flanagan Brothers. American composer George Gershwin famously included tenor banjo on his 'Rhapsody in Blue'

Famous Players

Barney McKenna, Gerry O'Connor

Close Relations

Plectrum Banjo, Bluegrass Banjo
Video Credit: MandoLessons
Understanding the Tenor Banjo


United States








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