A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
That's right boys and girls, I have found a way for people to learn classic banjo with no education in music!!
You will use no notes and you will need no teacher! It is guaranteed to have you playing all the latest melodies and accompaniments with just a few minutes effort.
Impossible you say? This tried and true system of learning banjo without notes was invented (as is generally known in music circles in the United States and Europe) and copyrighted over twenty years before its publication by Henry C. Dobson.
Countless people have used this method to play banjo without ever playing a single note!
This Simple and easy to use method uses a series of open and shut circles placed on lines that illustrate the strings of the banjo (the spaces are not used, except when they are used for rests-- but you don't need to know about that because rests are not always used). Next to some of the dots are fret positions, or the left hand finger used to stop the string, or both, or none-- it is Simple. Dots and circles connected by a slur are to be played in quick succession. Easy!
Remember to "commence playing the note (but not using notes) nearest the figures at the left hand side of the music, and play in rotation."
All done!! Now you can play banjo!
You might find it helpful to know how to play the pieces before you start to lean them from this method.
Those who wish to acquire a thorough knowledge of this popular instrument should buy a different book from the author.
As always, this is public domain so do whatever you want with it, or not. Kidding aside, it is pretty cool to see these simple methods. I spent more than a few minutes with it last night and only had slight success. I think it might be because I was trying to use a worthless imitation of the Dobson Patent banjo.
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"Play in rotation"? Dear Dog, had I known to rotate, I should have become famous much, much earlier!
I was having some fun with this but the instructions are not exactly clear-- all that I wrote was included in the book. I can see why this was made fun of.
As far as the content-- it is usable but leaves out just enough information to make it hard to figure out.
Has anyone other than myself spent a few minutes to master this book? I'd like to hear how you made out.
I have seen excerpts of a tab book that Frank Converse (hand) wrote for one of his students and we know of at least two copies. That one is more 'traditional" (what we are used to seeing) in format. I'd love to get my hands on that one.
I have the earlier version (1877 Simplified Method?) and it is similarly inscrutable.
I haven't played thru this one, but IIRC (and looking at the tunes in this one). There are a lot of "closed" notes without numbers. I understand that one is supposed to 'assume' that un-numbered closed notes on the 1st and 2nd string are always the same two notes...unless there's an X, which is the pinky on the 3rd fret. However, these "assumed positions" are never discussed for the 3rd string (I think it is for the 3rd string on the 2nd fret).
The whole thing reads like somebody with a notational background wrote it and never really gave it to anyone to actually try to use it. You go 'blind' editing your own stuff.
I'll play thru it...and then re-comment.
Ok, I just spent an hour or two playing out of this book...per the instructions.
Please note that nowhere does this volume state that it is designed to be used "without a master". I wouldn't want to foist this off on someone with no musical background at all...and I don't think it was designed for that purpose.
It isn't all that bad. Like many of the tab books from the 60s and 70s (1960s...), the rhythm is rudimentary at best. Better, actually than one famous clawhammer book.
IOW, you really need to know the tunes first. The usage of slurs to indicate rhythm (ie, as a designator of note value) is very confusing. Notes on the same line look like they're tied rather than of some shorter rhythmic value. You can't tell if the faux tie indicates two quavers or a triplet or a dotted pair...unless you know the tune.
So...I stumbled around on the first time thru. Didn't remember the explanation for the "S" (for snap), etc. Then I re-read the instructions, gave myself a forehead slap...and had a better time the next time thru.
Issues: the unmarked "closed" note on the 3rd string is always the 2nd fret. Never mentioned but it works fine. Also the unmarked "closed" note on the 4th string is the 2nd fret...same problem but it works.
I ran across a couple of tunes where tuning the 4th to B isn't mentioned. Pretty obvious when you start playing though.
Rhythms must be guessed at. "Waltz" in the name is pretty obvious but you have to suss out others (like some of the jigs) based on the number of notes in a measure. Then there's that goofy tie/slur thing that means you play those notes faster...sheesh.
I cannot play "Tit-Willow" without hearing John Wayne singing it (from "The Shootist") in my head.
Yes, "without notes or a teacher" is on page 7. I don't think he wanted to advertise that on the cover. Those were the days of mobs and pitchforks, etc. Hiding it on page 7 is giving yourself plausible deniability. "No, no, the publisher copied that from my earlier treatise, this was never meant to be masterless..."
"Do you wish to sit on the rail while we pour the tar, sir? The feathers are on their way. Yes, all the pitchforks are freshly tuned to a perfect A..."
The preface is simply hyperbolic advertising. "If you really want to learn, buy my other book too..."
Joel Hooks said:
Ol' Henry advertised his "simple method" relentlessly, going so far as to promise "a tune a day".
I think there was a bit of a different angle other than deniability. I think they were dancing on the line of sales ethics and up-selling scams.
The idea is that you buy into the bait-- learn the banjo with no effort whatsoever in minutes. You buy a book and a banjo from a pawn shop. You set to work but you don't get anywhere with it. So you call on the Dobson School and ask about lessons, and the simple method.
"Oh, yes, that is fine if all you want to do is play around a little-- but you will never be any good. The only way to get good is to learn by music." (up sell).
You show up for the first lesson...
"Oh, that banjo is no good, you need frets, you best leave it with me and I'll fret it for $__."
(I find it strange that they have instructions for how to fret a banjo in pretty much all their books.)
"If you want good tone you need a silver spun rim, best leave it with me."
"You are going to need more brackets and hooks."
"That head is no good, you best let me change it."
"This banjo is just not going to work, you should have bought one of my Genuine Patent banjos to begin with, here buy this one."
I think the entire thing was a money squeeze. A long con to extract money out of the fish. The "simple method" was just one piece of that.
Henry bounced back and forth between England and New York. I guess he would wear out his welcome and skip town. Con artists are anything but lazy. I can see him establishing this whole "system" as a come on. Part of the long game.