Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

If a new Minstrel Banjo book were to come out, what would be the ideal format? Notes, Tabs, or both? Are fingerings helpful?

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Tab is great for a beginning musician, or someone new to an instrument.  It is also a great medium for conveying how to play a piece.


With that said, not only would I like to see notation, but I would like to see chords as well.  This is important not for the individual player, but for when someone wants to play in a  group.  Having the notes allows other musicians to read/play the music as well.  Having the chords allows for more harmony, improvisation, and backup to the lead melody line.  At this point in time I would not buy a book exclusively with tabs, unless it had music in it that was not in my library, or additional reference material that was useful.


I have found that the G/D tuning for the notation is generally more palitable to other musicians.

I think my point may be missed.  Absolutely I was a numbers reader.  It was only because I wanted to read and learn from the era not about the era that I quit.  But I'm not the subject here.


There are likely, give or take, 50-100 people world wide that play "early banjo."  The active members of that community are represented here.  You will likely sell this many copies of your book automatically.  But... 50+ copies of a book does not pay publication costs.


I'll buy a copy, whatever the format.  In all honestly, I will most likely do the same thing that I did with the Stephen Foster book... read the notes, flip through it, then place it on the shelf.


But we are not the big market.  That is the old time banjoists. 

They don't want notation. Read the intro to the new Scruggs book (its not old time, but still). He says that the single most often suggestion that he got for the new edition was to remove the notation as it was not needed. Remove the notation!

This book would also be an interesting study for the oldtime regional isolationist school of banjoists who would like to draw a parallel from the fiddle to the banjo. Once again, they don't care about notation. Just ask 'em. Sure, they will tell you that they do publicly... but they really don't. The answer you will get will be a variation on "I think including the notation is a good idea, that way we can see both." What that really says is, "I don't read music, but I'll be wishey washy about that fact." And that is O.K..

The simple method has become the standard and I think republishing notation is a waste of ink and space. Go into any music store and look at the guitar methods. How many have notation? I bet the ones that used to have both have dropped it for numbers only. Clearly the market has spoken on this subject.

That said, it would be good filler if needed to balance the book and increase page count. In that case I'm all for it.

Point taken about the fingering.

I feel of one can plot their own fingering from notation, they... well, I'm just repeating myself.

While I do see Joel's point, and I agree that it applies to the majority of folks just getting into any style of music these days, I'd like to reiterate the fact that I don't use tab, at least not often. Since I grew up playing the trumpet and reading musical notation, I greatly prefer that over tab. I also appreciate fingering tips, especially on more difficult passages, and I appreciate chords, as someone else recently suggested. Now, to tell on my self, I also play mostly in an open G tuning. Chalk that up to 30+ years of bluegrass, I suppose. I'll probably experiment with and learn to use the more common minstrel tunings some day, but for now, I figure out a lot of music by ear or by looking at notation. My banjo tunes up to the open G just fine with nylgut strings, so I can use notation and find the notes where I'm accustomed to finding them. In fact, if a book were to have either/or, I'd prefer notation. That being said, the ability to access and download the notation (for free, since I'm paying for the book), would be a good option, also.

Just my 2 (or maybe it's more like 5 or 6) cents worth.



Further to 27th Feb....Yes to Chords.


Once the decision has been made as to what goes into the book etc. will the book be downloadable ?

or will we have to wait until a publisher decides to publish it ?

The former I have no problems with.    The latter, me being nearly geriatric, may cause problems if the publisher takes an age to decide to put it on the market.


Tabs are good for me as that is how I learn minstrel tunes. Notes would be helpful for my fiddling partners since many of the minstrel tunes are hard to pick up from the banjo. Fingerings not so important.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but several folks seem attracted to the tunes that you can sing? It also seems also that people like the catchy instrumentals that are not too difficult...like Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig, Grape Vine Twist etc. Do you like having some of the more challenging ones available, even if you're not quite up for it yet, or is it a waste? Is there much point in having those tunes above the 5th and 7th fret?
Songs are good, I would like to see more of them. I have learned many of the basic tunes and have now moved on to things like The Lion , Beacon and  Negro Sand Jigs. I would like to see more of the challenging tunes,they wouldn't be wasted on me
Tim Twiss said:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but several folks seem attracted to the tunes that you can sing? It also seems also that people like the catchy instrumentals that are not too difficult...like Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig, Grape Vine Twist etc. Do you like having some of the more challenging ones available, even if you're not quite up for it yet, or is it a waste? Is there much point in having those tunes above the 5th and 7th fret?
No you don't.  Read the cir. That I posted.  You do not need an original copy. One cannot recopyright PD works. Only the new additions are protected.

Dan'l said:

The period sheet (and tutor) music we source is long past copyright protection. It's public domain. You can still copyright the entire book so all the original content is protected.


One caveat: Google and others claim copyright of their scanned image of period music.  If you wanted to reproduce the period sheet music in this book you'd have to scan it yourself from an original printed sheet or tutor, or go ahead and pay Google and others a small fee to use their scans.


Can anyone tell whose scan was used?  Not obvious without CIA-style image and file analysis.  Their can be a small imprint (Google or other) showing on each scan, and the "properties" file metric of the scan is a signature of sorts (which goes away when printed). Personally, I think it is on the downside of ethical to monetize publications that have long ago become public domain. It's like patenting the human genetic sequence - claiming the work of the original creator.

This may add to the issues that Dan'l is raising: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5068002142390131270&...



As long as my Juris Doctor is still in the mail, I'll refrain from interpreting the law.  In this case I will only quote directly from the first hand documentation provided by the government office that regulates such matters.  Here are the exact words...


"To be copyrightable, a derivative work must differ sufficiently from the original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new material.  Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify a work as a new version for copyrightable purposes.  The new material must be original and copyrightable in itself.  Titles, short phrases, and formatting are not copyrightable."


Is a scan or photo not just reformatting?  Thus, the in Tuckahoe books, only the new introduction is under copyright protection, remove it and we can copy freely.


It continues...


"Compilations and abridgments may also be copyrightable if they contain new works of authorship.  When the collecting of the preexisting material that makes up the compilation is a purely mechanical task with no element of editorial selection, or when only a few minor deletions constitute an abridgment, copyright protection for the compilation or abridgment as a new version is not available."


Thats the work as a whole, not the individual images of an original musical score.


Google can claim all they want, the laws have been written to keep companies like them from claiming ownership of everything.


Dan'l, please provide links to the US copyright office supporting your interpretations, as we are a document reliant bunch here.


Sure would be good if you could come to the EBG in June, I'll buy you an Antietam Ale and clink glasses.


Joel W. Hooks Esq.

Dan'l said:

Deuces -


I wish that were the case.  What you're missing is that although the content of public domain work cannot be re-copyrighted (as you state), a new scanned image of it can be claimed.   What we think is logical and ethical doesn't count. 


This doesn't matter when you download scans for personal non-commercial use, and we do it a lot here. However if you use somebody else's scanned image in a book that will be sold, the original scanner has the right to challenge your using it, or collect fees.  (I'm not sayin' most would take the trouble of proving it's their scan and ask a fee, but I think Google Books would).


So, if you're going to have images of the original PD music in this book you have choices: (1) make your own scans from an original printed copy, or (2) take the chance that the scan you use isn't claimed as property--or if it is they won't press for them, or (3) get their permission to use their scans, maybe for a small fee.



Okay, this came to me tonight, clear as a bell. A Minstrel Fake Book- Lead lines (melody), chords and lyrics to the top tunes...maybe 30 or 40 of them. Written in concert D/G tuning. Tab included.

I am getting ready for a gig, and needed to hire a fiddle player. I sat down with a player tonight , and although she only knew a small handfull of the tunes, supplied with a simple melody line and chord changes, she was able to fit right in with unfamiliar tunes, just like The Real Book in jazz, to comp and support the melody.  

I'm going to start tomorrow. When I'm done I will simply comb bind this. I'll bring them to AEBG, although it should not take that long at all. If it is useful to me, perhaps somebody else will need one.

I have another project going with more complicated instrumentals, but that's another story.


SO what do you think? A Minstrel Fake Book. All the best tunes! Nothing definative or revolutionary, but an extremely useful tool.

While I find it difficult to tell whether or not you're being serious, I'd buy a copy. I like the idea.

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