Building a Truly American InstrumentSkill Level 4, Published on: Jan 11, 2019
Parts of the south in the United States are known for a kind of country music called bluegrass. And there is one instrument that is an important part of the bluegrass sound.
The banjo is a truly American instrument. It was brought to the United States by African slaves and then was adopted by people of the south to create their country music.
"Really, the banjo is the American instrument and it was made by both black and white cultures [that] came together to produce this instrument."
That is Christian Stanfield. He and his teacher, Tom George, have made the complex art of banjo making their lifetime project.
It began decades ago when Stanfield moved from Washington, D.C. to Memphis, Tennessee. He went to a dance party that featured folk music and the banjo. He says as soon as he heard the banjo, he fell in love. He borrowed one from a banjo player and got some good advice on where to buy one.
That man was Tom George -- one of the best-known banjo makers in the U.S.
Tom George knows a true banjo-lover when he sees one. So, when Stanfield asked to become his student, George quickly agreed. He taught Stanfield his banjo-making secrets … after dinner, of course!
"I would come over and his wife would cook dinner. And we would eat dinner and then we would go out in the shop and work for a couple of hours. And in three months I had a banjo that I had made myself."
Tom George, however, did not have a teacher. He taught himself how to build banjos.
"I wanted a banjo when I was a teenager, so I mowed yards around my neighborhood to raise money and I bought a banjo."
Today, George and Stanfield have a banjo-making workshop, an hour's drive from Memphis, Tennessee.
The banjo has two distinct parts: the round part and the straight part.
The round part -- the body of the banjo -- is made of wood bent around a form to give the instrument its round shape.
"I will re-saw it into smaller pieces like this. And I'll put it in a steam box and the steam will make it very soft. And then I will put it in this form and it will actually be able to bend without breaking, it'll bend around this …”
After the banjo is finished, Tom George carefully wipes it clean. It is ready to be played. And then the team can do the other thing they love to do -- play the banjo.
Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.
instrument (n.) - a device used to produce music
folk (adj.) - originating or traditional with the common people of a country or region and typically reflecting their lifestyle
shop (workshop) – n. a commercial establishment for the making or repair of goods or machinery
mow (v.) - to cut the standing plant cover from
layer (n.) - a covering piece of material or a part that lies over or under another : – v. to form or arrange parts or pieces of something on top of each other : to form or arrange (something) in layers
steam (n.) - water vapor kept under pressure so as to supply energy for heating, cooking, or mechanical work : (v.) - to apply steam to
distinct (adj.) - noticeably different
bend (v.) - to use force to cause (something, such as a wire or pipe) to become curved
form (n.) - the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material
Answer these questions about the article.
- What is the name of the kind of country music?
- What instrument is best for it?
- How many parts does it have?
Fill in the blanks
Fill in the blanks with the correct word listed below.
bend, form, steam, layer
- Good ______ is important for being good at sports.
- _____ coming out of your mouth means it is really cold.
- Cakes are made with a lot of _______.
- The house is just around the ______.
Have a discussion on following questions.
- Do you play any instruments?
- What is your favourite band?
- Would you like to know how to play an instrument?
- Which one is it?