Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi folks,

Here is another one I picked up for cheap.  The Carl Fischer Banjo Tutor, 1890/1895 (though could be earlier).

This one was reprinted again and again, sometimes with different titles. Pages were added and taken away.  

It was reprinted (in A notation no less) in 1959 as the "Langey- Carl Fischer Tutor for the Banjo (Five-String).".  That version has an interesting addition.  In the section on strings they have pasted over (in a different font) a paragraph about how steel strings are the proper ones to use. It then says "However, certain Five String Banjo players prefer all gut strings, with the fourth wound on silk."

This copy, of course, does not have any such wire string nonsense.

Nevertheless, this is one of my favorites and I am glad to have been able to scan an original to share.  This was the same book that I used to learn to read notation from.  It is filled with fun jigs, reels and short pieces.  Many are exactly as found in earlier books (Converse, Buckley, etc.).

This issue has a lot more stuff in it than the 1959 version.  Lots of good jamming pieces!

Find it here...


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Thanks Joel, I have the Langey Carl Fischer version which says "reprinted in 1959" and always wondered what it was reprinted from.

Boy, there's something for everyone in this book - even the Gilbert & Sullivan and Verdi fans in the crowd.
It's a real mix. There's a good representation of the fiddle repertoire standards of the late 19th century - a lot of them are set in the key of E here. Also lots of the sorts of tunes you often see in earlier fiddle collections. Better get a new cartridge for the printer! You find some good stuff Joel!

Thanks Joel for sharing.  This is a really great mix of tunes!

Thank you Joel!    :)

Ian, if I understand this notation correctly, tunes written in E would actually be in G. is that the way it works?

Wes - by that stage of the game, generally, yes. I suspect many of them were set in E just to make it easier to get your fingers around them, and so as not to force you up into the stratospheric regions of the fingerboard. In a lot of cases it doesn't actually put the tunes into the keys that fiddlers generally play them in. (I guess that's what tuning pegs and capos are for!)

Banjo music continued to be written in "A" and "E" into 1907 in the US.  After that, A notation was still published as long as it sold.  Despite the myths, sheet music was big business and the average banjoist from about 1880 on (the "boom" era) did read.

A major factor in perpetuation it was S. S. Stewart.  He lead the way in affordable music published for the banjo, everyone followed.

Converse, Baur and others had offered hand written music before 1879 and Instruction books post Briggs were for the most part all in "A." 

By SSS published music, "A" was standard and normal, even if the banjo was pitched higher, that is what people were already used to.  Other publishers followed SSS using the established key.

Since they were selling music to people who worked 12 hour days and 6 day weeks (the 40 hour 5 day week did not come about until the early 20th century) it had to be easy.  The system was established, teachers could teach it and there were enough books that anyone could learn (heck, I used them).

The English, on the other hand, published in "C" from the beginning of published music for the banjo on the other side of the pond.

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