Folk Music in The United States

General Characteristics of Folk and Primitive Music

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General Characteristics of Folk and Primitive Music                17

Rather than having feet whose numbers remain constant in a line, most eastern European poetry keeps the number of syllables constant. There are lines with seven, eight, eleven, and other numbers of syllables. The musical meter also tends to change even within the line, but there is more likelihood of a rhythmic unit, equivalent in length to a line of text, to be repeated with each line.

There is sometimes a close relationship between the melodic aspects and the words of a song. The most interesting examples of this come from the so-called tone languages, in which the pitch of each syllable, in relation to its environment, determines the actual meaning of the words. Such languages are common, and widespread, as proved by the fact that Chinese and many African and American Indian languages have tone systems. Songs in these languages must in some way account for the melodic aspect of the words. Even though the music does not always reflect the exact pitch pattern of the words, it usually does not violate it too flagrantly. And the drum and horn signals of many African tribes as well as the whistle-speech of several primitive cultures are based on playing the pitch-patterns of actual words. In order to understand this kind of signalling one must be able to recognize specific words simply from their speech melody.

Most polyphonic music in folk and primitive cultures is performed by more than one singer or instrumentalist; each plays or sings one "voice," and it is possible to describe the styles of polyphony in indicating the relationship among these voices. In many polyphonic styles the musical material in each voice is approximately the same. There may be simultaneous variation of the same music (heterophony), performance of the same music at different times (imitation), which often produces rounds, or at different pitch levels (parallelism). The distance in pitch between the voices in parallelism has a great influence on the total effect of the music. Parallelism is probably the most common kind of polyphony. Rounds (canons) are found in Negro Africa, Melanesia, and western Europe. Heterophony is especially common in many Asian styles. But to these three kinds of polyphony, in which the voices are approximately equal in importance, we

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