Banjobio: My First Banjo

Folk music was big at my college, so it’s no surprise that I learned to love that banjo sound.

I knew little about playing music, and nothing about playing a stringed instrument, but I wanted to make that sound myself.  When a tenor banjo came up for sale, I quickly bought it.  The seller was a fellow student, son of a famous pianist, and a pianist himself.  He said that he’d lost interest: “The banjo is a percussion instrument.”  I said, “No, the banjo is a string instrument; the piano is a percussion instrument.”

The tenor banjo has four strings, tuned like a viola: A, D, G, C.  I assume “tenor” is because of this parallel to the viola, the tenor instrument of the violin family.

Being interested in singing folk songs and accompanying myself, I painstakingly removed the resonator that redirects sound from the back of the banjo out to the listener.  A resonator is not a folk accessory.

I had a small problem: I’m left-handed.  So I had to restring the banjo   the other way around.  No big deal.

This was my instrument for many years, playing a very small list of chords with the pads of my fingers, singing “Go, Tell Aunt Rhody,” and “Logger Lover.”

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