Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I am curious if anyone has any information about the role of the fiddle (not classical "violin") in popular music during the 19th century/minstrel period, particularly in relation to the banjo. For example, was the fiddle played in minstrel shows or other forms of popular music or "folk" music? Was it paired with the banjo, as is common in Old Time music (or later with Bluegrass)? Are there tutors, like for the banjo (or any such historical record/ historical teaching materials)? What songs were played and what tunings were used?  Would a modern fiddle be historically accurate or is there a "period" fiddle? Any information would be appreciated.

 

Genford

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Thanks, Mike!

I just realized I had a list of titles with me on a flash drive. Ok, here they are. I found all of these online, most are on google book but a few may have been from university collection sites.

Howes New Violin Without a Master- 1847
Beckel's Easy Violin Player- 1852
Winner's New School for the Violin- 1869
Jewett's National Violin Teacher- 1851



Mike Wilkins said:

...Though I must say that I have not seen a photo from 1865 or earlier showing the crook of the elbow position or chest position that one sees in old time music. But I have not seen every photo in the world, so if anyone has a pic I would love to see it.
Would any of these qualify?  I just did a quickie googling:
Thank you for sharing these images!. #1 may be a bit post war, hard to tell, pretty crazy fiddle angle for sure but not the old time positions I had in mind. #2 is certainly post CW, and in my humble opinion I wouldnt consider this an extreme position, not too far off the neck or shoulder. #3 most likely prewar by a few years, again not what I would call too different. #4, now this one is interesting! Nice early image. More of the chest position I had in mind in my earlier comment. Now I can say Ive seen one photo! Thank you again. Fun discussion, though I wonder when the banjar players are going to tire of our fiddle discussion!

OK Mike, here's one that definitely qualifies:

Ooops! That's my fiddlin' man!   Sorry!   

(this banjo player never tires of at least one fiddle subject)  lol!   ;D

Genford, you should check out the "Internet Archive" and have a look at "Howe's Violin Without a Master" It's laid out a lot like the old banjo books, with instructions at the beginning followed by about a million tunes of all sorts (mostly Scots/Irish). Once you're in the Howe section look at some of his other books listed there.

Great picture. Joe Grant, a fiddler friend of mine, said his grandfather once advised him to, "Hold your fiddle low, son — that way folks won't expect so much of you". Joe took his advice, plus he made a good song out of the line.

Strumelia said:

OK Mike, here's one that definitely qualifies:

Ooops! That's my fiddlin' man!   Sorry!   

(this banjo player never tires of at least one fiddle subject)  lol!   ;D

Ian, is this (I think I attached it) the one you speak of?  It is "Violin Without a Master" but I'm not seeing "Howe's".  Also, its pub date is 1850.


Also attached (I think) is the contents of Marches, Waltzes, Polkas, etc.  Which might be of interest to fiddlers wanting to create a list of period tunes.

Attachments:

Ian, I just LOVE that advise- my husband will love it too- thanks!  

I took this phot when my husband was deep in thought, trying to scratch out a tune he half-remembered.  He was mildly annoyed that I was taking his picture...lol.   He uses several fiddle positions to play, depending on how many hours he's been playing.   :)



Ian Bell said:

Great picture. Joe Grant, a fiddler friend of mine, said his grandfather once advised him to, "Hold your fiddle low, son — that way folks won't expect so much of you". Joe took his advice, plus he made a good song out of the line.

I can't take exception with much of anything that has been said so far so will only add.  On the quality of the players - L M Gottschalk, the great, early American composer said of the playing of Frederick Buckley (Buckley's Minstrels),"a great deal too good for the audience".  Anyone with a big enough ego to go on stage wants to be better than they are & while the great classical players of the late 19th century who recorded in the early 20th century were quite different than what is expected today one expects that they made an impression on the audiences & popular musicians who herad them perform.  I'd suggest trying to develope the style you already have to suit the music rather than make a vein attempt to adopt something with which you will never be comfortable.

Besides the books mentioned (forgive me if I duplicate) I'd suggest John Carrol's tune book (c.1810), Aird's "A Selection of Scotch, English,Irish & Foreign Airs" (Glasgow1778), "Jackson's Celebrated Irish Tunes" Dublin 1790, Neal Gow's Collection, "Buckley's Violin Tunes" NYC 1854 &, most improtantly for tunes & style, Dan Emmitt's hand written manuscript, apparently for his own use.  It is in the Ohio Hist. Soc. if my memory is correct & copies are floating around out there.  Once you figure out his personalized markings it is very helpful.  Finally, learn to use a proper Scotch snap, essential to the style.  I think what sets minstrel fiddle apart from other things is the use of the Scotch snap with African syncopated rhythms.

Finally, the instrument.  Fiddles haven't changed much in 400 years.  What we call a modern neck set developed in Milan in the 1770s.  Neck sets & lengths that were similar were already in use in England (a very likely source for fiddles on the East coast in 1820) & elsewhere.  The earliest chinrests are credited to Spohr c.1810 (a small raised lip clamped on the edge).  The bridge seen in the painting "Left & Right" by WS Mount is common for the period & currently obtainable.  Gut strings were the order of the day with a wound G.  Unwrapped As & Es were still in use well into the 20th century.

Enjoy the journey, Tom Verdot

 

"I'd suggest trying to develope the style you already have to suit the music rather than make a vein attempt to adopt something with which you will never be comfortable."

 

Thomas...very good advice!

 

Excellent advice and thanks for the additional resources.  I don't have a style yet, per se.  I am just starting out learning Old Time fiddle, but thought I might incorporate some techniques and learn some old minstrel/19thcentury folk tunes.   It would be a nice addition to go along with the banjerring (did I just coin a new word? lol)

Thanks again, all.

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