My collection and some samples
I have been collecting old song books and music sheets since mid-2008, buying them online, from used book stores, antique stores and from local music stores. I have amassed more than 3,500 titles, including many duplicates.
I started scanning them early on, with the intention of passing the printed copies to a university music library. One day I saw on a ukulele forum a request for a song I had scanned. It was from another ukulele player, so I uploaded the PDF of the old song. Then I found other requests for similar material. I put my collection online for anyone to download. It proved fairly popular.
That had other, unexpected consequences. First, the sheer number of files made it unwieldy to display. My first server, Hostpapa, complained I was using too much bandwidth, and choked my usage, despite having subscribed to their "unlimited bandwidth" package (which proved to be anything but!). They didn't inform me of that decision, either, and it affected other web sites and a forum/blog I was hosting. Really awful customer service. I moved my forum and some content to another server (GoDaddy) which has proven far more tolerant. However, I did not wish to tempt them into similar action, so I only provide a limited number of free files here.
By this time the collection consumed almost 400MB of PDF files, so I offered it on a CD. But I kept buying music and the collection kept growing. Pretty soon I had to offer it on a DVD. Along the way, with the help of a couple of others, I built an index of the songs in the books and sheets. More than 3,200 PDFs are on the DVD, and with all the songs in the books added in, it has roughly 7,400 individual songs!
There's so much on file now that I offer a separate, extended collection with the extra material (about 500 non-ukulele arrangements) and duplicates (400; mostly cover variations but a few different arrangements too) on a third DVD!
You can download this PDF file with the complete two-disc collection indexed.
Check my links page for advice on scanning old music if you wish to contribute any files.
I also ended up with many non-ukulele sheets and books, usually included in a lot of mixed titles bought on eBay. I have a smaller collection of guitar arrangements scanned - which can generally be easily adapted for ukulele by simply playing the chord shapes (especially easy for baritone uke). And over the years, I was emailed some items scanned by others, or given links to scans on public sites. I have incorporated many of these into the collection as well. Here's a sample of a playable song chorded for guitar that can be easily played on the ukulele: Roll Along Prairie Moon (1935). Try it!
The quality of the printed material varies from excellent to awful (as might be expected from well-used paper 70-100 years old). The latter includes parted covers, brittle, aging paper, taped pages and even pieces missing. But overall, the condition of most is good and the music remains readable. That's important because my goal was always to play, not merely collect.
I scan everything at 300 dpi, with colour cover and B&W inside and back (unless the back has an unusually attractive colour scheme as well). Some of the scans I've received from others are lower resolution.
The core collection is a selection of arrangements of songs for ukulele, voice, and usually piano. A few have dual guitar and uke diagrams. This material occupies a full DVD. There is also an "extras" folder with duplicates, items arranged for guitar, and many ukulele songs that did not get included in the main disc for lack of room. The extras are on the dual-layer disc, not in the main collection (see ordering for details).
I am a collector, but not for any intrinsic worth of the sheets: rather as vehicles for learning and playing - thus keeping alive - the music of yesterday. If you have any old song sheets you can scan and let me share with others, I would greatly appreciate it (see my notes on scanning on the links page). If you have song sheets you will sell or donate to the project, please contact me.
The vast majority of these song books and sheets are American. A few are Canadian, Australian and British, but by far the majority originated from the USA. I'm still looking for UK song sheets from that era, particularly those of George Formby (please contact me if you have any you can share or will sell).
I will try to post a few samples here on as regular a schedule as I can muster. These will usually be newer items, so that anyone who has purchased the collection will be able to download some of the new acquisitions. Others will be songs I like or am working on learning and want to share. I will try to offer at least two new titles every month. Below are the first four. Click on them to open the PDF (Adobe Reader or similar PDF reader is required).
To the best of my knowledge about a complex and contentious area of law, these songsheets and books are long out of copyright, at least as per my understanding of Canadian law. But laws change and vary from nation to nation and records are not always online. It is not easy to understand all the subtleties of international copyright, but I do not believe I am violating it.
Most of the material is between 75 and 90 years old (some of the piano arrangements are even older). My intention is always to keep this old music alive and allow new generations of ukulele players to share it, and especially to play it. Should I have transgressed, please let me know how and I will remove any offending piece(s) from the distributed collection.
These songs can also be played by guitarists (just adjust the fingering of the chords for the extra two strings) and tenor guitarists (no changes required for Chicago tuning DGBE).