Music of the Banjo

Instruments in a Banjo Orchestra (from left):

Piccolo Banjo, Second Banjeaurine, First Banjeaurine, Second Banjo, First Banjo, Guitar, Guitar, Cello Banjo.
Guitar sample Cello banjo sample First banjo sample Second banjo sample First banjeaurine sample Second banjeaurine sample Piccolo banjo sample

Listen to the instruments!

Click on any of the instruments in the photo above
to download and hear its music sample.

Hear a banjo orchestra!

"Let Her Go" by William A. Huntley

About the Instruments:

Piccolo Banjo

Created in the early 1880s, the piccolo banjo is tuned an octave higher than the banjo. Functioning much like its namesake, the tonal quality of this instrument brightens the overall sound of a banjo ensemble. S .S. Stewart advertised the piccolo banjo as "the life of the banjo club" and as having "the greatest quantity of musical tone concentrated in a small body."

2nd Banjeaurine

The 2nd parts were written as an accompaniment to the 1st parts and were usually less challenging to execute. This allowed a banjo group to expand its membership by including intermediate level players and gave those members the opportunity to learn, practice and become better players. Usually all the banjeaurines played the the melody or 1st part. "Let Her Go" is a rare example of having a 2nd banjeaurine and no 2nd banjo.
Listen: First and Second Banjeaurine playing together.

1st Banjeaurine

Invented by S. S. Stewart in 1885, the banjeaurine is tuned a fourth higher than a banjo. The melody is usually arranged to be played on the 1st banjeaurine although there were also pieces composed, such as "Excelsior Medley," a composition by Thomas Armstrong, with different sections highlighting different instruments.

2nd Banjo

Similar in concept to the 2nd banjeaurine, the 2nd banjo part accompanies the 1st banjo. Particularly in this orchestra section, the orchestra banjo’s large rim, either 12' or 13", is very effective in creating a strong rhythm and chord structure.
Listen: First and Second Banjo playing together.

1st Banjo

Since most banjo music of the 1880s and 1890s was published for 1st and 2nd banjo, the 1st banjo played the melody. With the arrival of the banjeaurine and the banjo orchestra, the 1st banjo part became either the melody, a variation of the melody or the leading voice of movement in a section. S. S. Stewart manufactured an orchestra model banjo, which offered players an instrument with a suitable tone for ensemble playing.

Guitar

Although used as a rhythm instrument, the guitar has a voice and movement that supports and adds contrast to the banjo sections. The guitar instruments of the 1880s and 1890s were small by today's standards but complimentary in tone and volume in a banjo orchestra.
Listen: Guitar and Cello Banjo playing together.

Cello Banjo

Marketed by S. S. Stewart around 1889, his advertisement read that "the bass banjo is to the banjo club what the double bass is to the orchestra." Tuned an octave lower than a banjo and fitted with a rim nearly 3" deep and 16" in diameter, the cello banjo accomplishes what Stewart advertised.