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Plucked stringed musical instrument of African origin. It has a tambourine-like body, four or five strings, and a long fretted neck. The fifth string (if present) is pegged at the fifth fret and acts primarily as a drone plucked by the thumb. In its original form, the banjo had only four strings and lacked frets. Slaves introduced the instrument to the U.S., where it was popularized in 19th-century minstrel shows and thence exported to Europe. It has been an important American folk instrument, especially in bluegrass, and it was used in early jazz.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on banjo, visit Britannica.com.