Folk Music in The United States


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12                An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

playing the white keys of the piano), it is not surprising that
most European folk music also fits into this one system. Although
it does not always exploit this system exhaustively, most Euro-
pean folk music can at least be fitted into the tonal patterns
of Western cultivated music.

Primitive music is different, at least in its systems of pitch,
scales, and tonal patterns. Since it uses no cultivated system as
a model, primitive music is much more varied than folk music.
Usually it cannot be played on the piano or on other Western
instruments simply because the pitches which these instruments
can produce do not fit the primitive pitch arrangements. There
are, for example, intervals smaller than the half-tone, which is
the smallest in Western civilization. There are other intervals in-
termediate in size between those of Western music, for example,
a "neutral" third, half-way between a major and a minor third,
found in many of the world's areas. Matters of pitch, however,
constitute the greatest difference between folk and primitive mu-
sic. Their other elements, rhythm, form, and polyphony, can be
described with the same terms, there being a large degree of
overlapping between these two bodies of music.

Singing predominates in both, and in both instrumental music
is something of an exception. While there are cultures which
stress instruments, there are others which have none at all. The
amount of instrumental music tends to correlate roughly with the
complexity of the culture involved, and with its technological

Most folk and primitive music is monophonic, or strictly me-
lodic, without accompaniment or part-singing, and with only one
pitch audible at a time. There are some cultures which have no
polyphony or accompaniment, but all peoples have at least a
sizeable proportion of their repertory in the monophonic style.
It is interesting to find that the use of instruments tends to coin-
cide with polyphony. Furthermore, there seems to be no essen-
tial difference between folk and primitive cultures in the extent
to which they use polyphony; the influence of cultivated music
may, therefore, not have been a very great factor in developing
folk polyphony.

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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III