Folk Music in The United States

General Characteristics of Folk and Primitive Music

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General Characteristics of Folk and Primitive Music                 15

nant. Entire repertories can be classified in this manner. For example, since most songs of the Indian tribes in the Great Basin area have forms in which each section is repeated, like AABB or AABBCC, their style is basically iterative. Many Anglo-American songs have the form ABBA or AABA, so their style is reverting. But all three of the mentioned principles are strongly entrenched in traditional music.

General simplicity correlates with simplicity in form. The form type found in the simplest styles consists entirely of the repetition, with some variation, of a single short bit of music. And although a long piece is usually nothing but the manifold repetition of a short one, variations are often introduced with the effect of lessening the monotony.

The melodic aspects of folk and primitive music are perhaps what is most interesting and distinctive about them; and at any rate they have been studied most thoroughly and perhaps emphasized disproportionately. That there is a basic difference between traditional and cultivated melodic systems has already been said. It remains to discuss briefly the specific nature of folk and primitive melody. The scale of a piece of music is an enumeration of the pitches which are used and a statement of the relationship between them. Most examples of folk and primitive music do not use as many pitches as do the compositions of cultivated music. One of the most common kinds of scale uses only five tones, such as g,a,b,d, and e, and their duplications at other octaves. (Example 1) This kind of scale, called "pentatonic," is common in many styles throughout the world. The very simplest kinds of music have scales with only two or three tones, such as g and a, or e, g, and a. Not confined to the simplest of the world's tribes, these scales are also present in many children's songs, lullabies, and gambling songs in European folk music.

The use of unessential tones, or ornaments, is common in many styles of folk and primitive music. They appear between the more important notes, taking up no specific amount of time, and their inclusion is often optional for the performer. (Example 7)

The melodic contour also tends to be a characteristic of each area or ethnic group. Some styles have undulating contours, oth-

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