Folk Music in The United States


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80                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

dent's reaction to it.

We, as members of western European culture, have been conditioned since childhood to a type of music which is very complex and specialized, and whose accompanying theory tells us that it is the best and highest type of music. When we listen to the music of other cultures, our natural tendency is to compare it, at least subconsciously, to our own music and to correct in our minds the sounds which we hear with our ears, so that they will conform to our ideas. But the non-Western systems of music, and those of folk music, are often quite different from ours, with different patterns in melody, rhythm, harmony. Their pitches cannot always be reproduced on our instruments, for primitive and folk music tends to use different scales from ours. And since our system of notation has evolved to take care of Western music only, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce with it the music of other cultures.

I have said that the transcriber of primitive music must be objective; but this does not mean that he is to become an automatic gadget which simply records and which eliminates the human aspects of music. Humans do not make good gadgets, and there are some mechanical devices which are much more accurate than the human ear. These, however, are only good for giving us a partial insight into the music. Electronic apparatus gives us the acoustic aspects of music, shows us vibration rates and overtones, but it omits the emotional and communicative sides of music. But mechanical transcribers do have their value, and I shall describe the two most important ones here.

First is the oscillograph, which records all the pitches, overtones, etc., on a rotating drum with a stylus, much like a thermometer which records temperatures over a period of time. What it writes is very difficult to decipher because it includes so much more than the human ear can perceive. What it records must be re-transcribed into ordinary notation in order to be useful.

The stroboscope is more useful, but it does not really transcribe. It simply enables one to ascertain the exact pitch of a tone to a degree much more accurate than that of a human transcription. It is useful for finding out the scale of a musical style, but it

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