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Rare Books & Scores

The Center has a strong collection of older song books (both secular and sacred), hymnals, songsters, and instrumental tutors and tunebooks that illustrate the breadth of American vernacular music from the 18th century to the present. These books are organized into the categories described below. The collection includes approximately 9,000 items and is searchable online.

Search Our Collections

To limit your search to rare books and scores, use the Center's Advanced Search and select the check box beside "Rare Books and Scores" before performing your search.

Special collection songbooks must be retrieved by staff for use in the reading room. Researchers who are not able to visit the Center in person may make inquiries by telephone, letter, or e-mail. Research assistance and reproduction services are available.

In addition to these older, rare song books, the Center has more than 1,000 contemporary scores and song books in the general collection. These items are cataloged in the MTSU Walker Library Catalog, and are shelved in the Center's reading room.

Some Individual Collections

Gospel Song Books
This group includes volumes published by private, rather than denominational, presses to be used in congregational singing services and not in worship services. Notation may be conventional or in the seven-shape note form. Most are thin volumes with paper covers. The Center's collection of approximately 2500 individual volumes is believed to be the largest held by a non-religious repository.

Hymnbooks and Hymnals
This collection consists of books (often with music notation but sometimes text-only) that were primarily intended to be used in conjunction with a formal church service, and is divided into denominational books, which are associated with a particular religious group, and non-denominational. Approximately 1000 items are in this collection, and date from the early 19th century to the present.

Sacred and Secular Oblong Song Books
This group of approximately 1000 items is subdivided into sacred and secular examples, most from the 19th century. Many volumes are extremely rare.

Sacred Vocal Scores
This collection of approximately 250 volumes includes a wide range of vocal music, including anthems, music for choirs and other forms.

Secular Vocal Scores
This collection of about 1700 volumes is extremely broad. Included are examples of 18th-century British song books, minstrel items, hillbilly and cowboy tunes, and more.

These small booklets, pocket-size or larger, contain lyrics of popular songs of the 19th and 20th centuries without music notation. Typically included in songsters are topical or political songs, minstrel songs, parlor songs, and folk songs. Some songsters are associated with specific entertainers. The collection includes approximately 2000 items, most from the Kenneth S. Goldstein Collection of American Songsters.

Instrumental Music Books
This group of about 750 volumes consists largely of 18th- and 19th-century method books and collections of tunes arranged for specific instruments. Instruments represented include guitar, banjo, fiddle/violin, flute, accordion, harmonica, organ, and various others.

School Texts
Both singing school texts and volumes for regular school music instruction are included. These books typically have excercises and informational content as well as songs devoted to instruction.

Souvenir Booklets
Materials in this category are generally published for concerts or publicity purposes and are sometimes called “scrapbooks,” “picture albums,” or “family albums.” They do not usually include music, but often contain biographical or explanatory information about the performer, along with photographs and artwork.