How Crowdsourcing Located a Rare Music Pamphlet

The Little System - Playing the Piano by Ear

In February, Music Librarian Kristin Heath put out a call for a music pamphlet she was working to locate for a researcher.

Since this pamphlet seemed to have longevity and strong connections to the City of Bridges, I wondered whether a local library would have a copy. I instantly thought of the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University because of its academic rigor and outstanding reputation in the arts. I was absolutely amazed and delighted by the way Kristin embraced my search: her ideas were bold and creative - and, as you know, ultimately led to the pamphlet being found in just under six months! - Jody Wilson Jody Wilson, an independent researcher in San Francisco, had reached out to Heath at the beginning of the year for help finding “The Little System of Playing Piano by Ear,” by F.W. Little. The pamphlet was sold in local drugstores, music stores, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette office in the early 1900s, and then later by mail order.

Wilson was looking for the pamphlet as part of an independent research effort called "The Ragtime Project." He has been working with large and small libraries across the country to locate and scan every piano instrumental and vocal rag published in America from 1894 to 1924.

Since the pamphlet was published in Pittsburgh, Wilson decided to start his search at CMU because of the university’s reputation in the arts. When that search led him to Heath, she was happy to help.

  • Locate “The Little System of Playing Piano by Ear,” by F.W. Little, a pamphlet that describes a method for making a left-hand accompaniment for popular waltz tunes, printed in the early 1900s. The ragtime-era piano method book is listed in the Library of Congress catalog, where Wilson came across the title, but it’s not on the shelf and the copyright deposit has been lost.
How We Helped
  • Part of Heath’s role as music librarian involves what she calls “playing the detective” — tracking down pieces that can’t be found in online databases or the Libraries’ music collection. After Wilson reached out, Heath began investigating potential places the pamphlet could be.
  • Heath mentioned her search for the pamphlet in a story published on the Libraries’ news page in February. The story was also included in the Libraries’ February newsletter.
  • Minnesota pianist Francisco Gomez had picked up the pamphlet at a garage sale in Minneapolis about two years earlier, interested in resources for aural training. While researching the author F.W. Little, he came across the Libraries’ news story and reached out to Heath.
  • Gomez’s edition of the pamphlet was published in 1939 — when it was sold for $5 a copy — and includes an introduction by the author that addresses potential piano students. The document is 23 pages, and includes 20 diagrams of keyboards that depict different keys and scales.
  • Heath connected Gomez with Wilson, and he forwarded a scan of the pamphlet to both of them. Heath also plans to share the pamphlet with faculty from the School of Music who became interested in its contents.
A Few Words of Introduction - Helpful to the Students getting these instructions, by Fred W. Little Ads in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette