Hamilton College Library Online Exhibits

New and Complete Method for the Banjo with or without a Master (1869 edition)

by Frank B. Converse

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  • This book covers more advanced music theory concepts than Banjo Instructor, including appoggiaturas, accents, and turns, as well as barre and chords (not all the songs are monophonic).  It covers transposition, but cursorily (58).
  • This was the first banjo tutor to describe guitar style in detail. Thomas Briggs had alluded to this style within Briggs' Banjo Instructor (1855), in the instructions for the song "Annie Lawrie" [sic]: "use either the Banjo fingering, or snap the first, second, and third string with the first, second, and third fingers of the right hand, as in playing the Guitar" [2]. Converse's own reminiscences, furthermore, prove that guitar style had been a performance practice long before this book was published. He recalled George Swaine Buckley pulling the banjo strings "a la guitar" in a minstrel show around 1852 [3], and he had also seen "Hi" S. Rumsey demonstrating a "slight" knowledge of guitar style while playing interludes between plays performed by "Garry" Hough's theatrical troupe [4], which visited Converse's hometown of Elmira, NY before Converse left in 1855 to perform with McFarland's Theatrical Company in Detroit [5].

Music Notes

  • The musical contents are organized into "stroke style," "guitar style," and "miscellaneous."  Songs in the first two sections are further organized into keys, such as A major, G major, or F# minor; in the first section the scale is shown as each new key is introduced.
  • The stroke style's D major section contains one song each in B minor and B Aeolian (26). The minor sections contain songs in both harmonic and natural minor (Aeolian), while the stroke style's E minor section also contains a song in E Dorian (26).
  • In the stroke and guitar style sections, most songs begin with a brief exercise of the basic musical material for the song (notable rhythmic or melodic patterns, for example).
  • There are three sets of duplicated or varied songs: "Luke West's Walk Around" (20, 61), "Brigg's Favorite Jig" and "Briggs' Jig Varied" (64), and "Spring Jig" and "Snodgrass' Favorite Jig" (22, 72) [6].
  • There are a variety of time signatures, including 2/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8, 3/4, and the unusual 4/8.
  • There are some "elevated" pieces of music arranged from popular European classical music, including the march from Norma (53) and a Strauss waltz (75). Also notable is an arrangement of "La Marseillaise" (84).
  • The book includes four songs for voice and banjo.
  • There are some attributions to Converse as composer or arranger (14 of 83 songs, about 17%), but no other attributions.

     [1] Frank B. Converse, Frank B. Converse's Banjo Instructor, without a Master: Containing a Choice Collection of Banjo Solos, Jigs, Songs, Reels, Walk Arounds, etc., Progressively Arranged, and Plainly Explained; Enabling the Learner to Become a Proficient Banjoist without the Aid of a Teacher (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1865).

     [2] Thomas F. Briggs, Briggs' Banjo Instructor: Containing the Elementary Principles of Music, Together with Examples and Lessons, Necessary to Facilitate the Acquirement of a Perfect Knowledge of the Instrument (Boston: Oliver Ditson, n.d. [1855]), 31, accessed July 28, 2011, http://www.banjofactory.com/page%2031.jpg.

     [3] Frank B. Converse, "Banjo Reminiscences Addenda," The Cadenza, accessed July 18, 2011, http://thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collections_files/Converse_Reminiscences%204.pdf, 6. Since the Cadenza'spage numbers are not always visible in the scans of Converse's "Reminiscences," the page number I give is of the PDF document.

     [4] Frank B. Converse, "Banjo Reminiscences, II," The Cadenza, accessed July 18, 2011, http://thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collections_files/Converse%20Missing%20Page.pdf, 1, http://thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collections_files/Converse_Reminiscences%201.pdf, 4. See n. 3 re: page number.

     [5] Frank B. Converse, "Banjo Reminiscences, III," The Cadenza, accessed July 18, 2011, http://thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collections_files/Converse_Reminiscences%201.pdf, 5. See n. 3 re: page number.

     [6] The first part of these two songs is the same. Thanks to Joseph Weidlich and his wonderful "Minstrel Song Cross Reference Index, 1851-1865," The Early Minstrel Banjo: Technique and Repertoire (Anaheim Hills, CA: Centerstream, 2004), 257.

New and Complete Method for the Banjo with or without a Master (1869 edition)