The banjo is a stringed instrument with four or five strings. When a musician plays the banjo, the strings cause a thin sheet of plastic or animal hide stretched over the circular frame to vibrate.
The first banjos were thought to have been created and used in Africa in the early 1600s. The instrument was introduced to America by slaves who were brought over from Africa prior to the Civil War.
During the Great Depression, the demand for happy music declined. Since the banjo was thought to be a happy-sounding instrument, it became almost impossible to find a banjo to purchase during this time. It was even difficult to find replacement strings for existing banjos.
In the early 1940s, a man named Earl Scruggs developed a new three-finger style of picking. He combined it with a folk style, and bluegrass music was born.
Today, Earl Scruggs is often called the “father of bluegrass.” Bluegrass banjos have five strings and are played “three-finger style” by picking the strings.
You have probably seen a musician play the guitar using a pick. Unlike most guitarists who strum with one pick held between their fingers, bluegrass banjo players wear finger picks.
Typically, bluegrass players will wear a plastic pick on their thumb and a steel pick on the index and middle fingers on their right hand. Finger picks help the banjo player amplify the sound of the music.