Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Mid 19th Century Minstrel Tambourine

A great reproduction made by Dave Kirchner in Maryland. Goat skin head.

Views: 602

Comment by Strumelia on November 6, 2018 at 11:00pm

Yes, I was about to ask the same question.    :)

Comment by Mark Weems on November 7, 2018 at 9:56pm

Richard, thank you for the link to the Tambourine Tutor. I had no idea that something like that was published in London in 1800. I just don't know how much that represents what was going on in folk tambo playing in early America. Somehow I doubt the gentleman below holding his 20 inch tambourine on his leg studied "Dale's Instruction for the Tambourine" or would have even wanted to.

Comment by John Masciale on November 8, 2018 at 10:36am

There are a lot of sheet music covers showing the tambourinist punching the tambourine in a side to side motion.

Comment by Strumelia on November 8, 2018 at 12:22pm

John, so true.. lots of period American illustrations showing a very animated punching technique used in minstrel performances, often with quite large tambourines.

I think that list of music published in London by Dale is quite telling as to the kind of music of the time that he was working on and perhaps intending future tambourine sales for. I'm seeing various early (1800-1830ish) pianoforte arrangements which mention tambourine in a colorful way (Gypsy references in the title for example) or else which actually call for a tambourine accompaniment. I'm guessing that shortly before the banjo was introduced to European white audiences by Sweeney in the 1840s, the tambourine was a favored quaint rustic ethnic folk instrument that was colorfully incorporated into formal music publications intended for entertaining white audiences in concert settings. 

Dale's intro speaks of his patented tambourine invention (was this a bushing or handle device that facilitates the spinning of the tambourine for more elaborate playing effects/flourishes?) and how his invention perfects the tambourine so that it becomes "an instrument of science to be performed upon in concert".  

Interesting how he describes (almost unrecognizably, but there it is for sure) thumb rolls done with the middle (2nd) finger, in two directions. Some things never change!

He instructs "carrying the hand over the gingles so as to make them run round"- that clearly means either making the zils spin (soundlessly?-not likely) or running the hand directly across or against the zils to make them sound in some way. He's not describing merely hitting the hand on the skin head near the zils (he does that elsewhere).

Comment by Tom Taggart on November 8, 2018 at 1:04pm

Interesting. I am another person who didn't realize how versatile the tambo can be.

Comment by Mark Weems on November 8, 2018 at 1:24pm

I think this discussion is very important as the tambourine and the banjo are the two prime instruments of early Minstrel ensembles. We need to think more about how they interacted. But as far as clicking of jingles goes, I find it impossible to believe that for over three thousand years of tambourine history, no one ever thought to click a jingle with their finger until the late 19th century.

Comment by Strumelia on November 8, 2018 at 2:11pm

The Dale instructions for spinning the tambo remind me of banjo spinning.

Here's a very elderly but still entertaining Uncle Dave Macon (b.1870) spinning his banjo with his son Dorris on guitar: 


Uncle Dave was one of the last banjo players truly from the age of vaudeville (vaudeville being the last popular venue for minstrel shows, vaudeville itself dying off in the early 1930s).

And the spinning-of-skins-stretched-over-frames tradition continues...




Comment by Mark Weems on November 8, 2018 at 5:45pm

Richard, I understand the "safe space" value of documented evidence for the scholar, but the folk tradition rarely lines up with what is found in codified classical presentations represented by tutors and manuals. For instance, the early banjo tutors show one standard tuning to present tunes. Old-Time folk banjo players use scores of tunings. Likewise, if someone studied Carcassi's Guitar method (popular here in the U.S.) and determined that that was the way rural folk musicians were playing their instruments, they would be sorely mistaken. While I find Dale's interesting, I don't necessarily see how a professional military tambourine player from a Janissary influenced band in England in 1779 has a whole lot to do with what Uncle Joe was doing on a James River Virginia riverboat in 1837, any more than a Colonial English Fife and Drum Corp sounds like a Mississippi drum and cane flute band. Perhaps your upcoming book will clarify. I am certainly open to learning new things. Welcome to the site.

Comment by Strumelia on November 8, 2018 at 7:08pm

Richard you have put forth a formidable amount of posting immediately after joining. To be honest, it feels somewhat abrupt to me. Perhaps you could come up for air for a minute and introduce yourself to us in some way?  That would be nice! 
Many of us here on this site actually know each other for years, in real life, through gatherings, through personal videos, and over many an enjoyable and savored discussion. I for one would enjoy hearing a little bit about you and your musical likes, interests, and background. Such gestures of introduction make for an enjoyable and friendly site experience for all.

Comment by Mark Weems on November 8, 2018 at 8:29pm


You need to be a member of Minstrel Banjo to add comments!

Join Minstrel Banjo


John Masciale created this Ning Network.

© 2022   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service