Folk Music in The United States


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Collecting and Studying Folk Music


would be an endless task to attempt to use a stroboscope for every single note in a song. Only for uncertain or especially interesting pitches and intervals is it of practical value.

Some attempts at an ''instantaneous" music notator, into which recordings would be "fed" and digested into finished transcriptions of a highly technical nature, have not yet resulted in a model for general consumption. The most promising is one developed by Charles Seeger, designed, of course, to supplement rather than actually replace the human ear. Since music is, after all, performed by and for humans, the best instrument for recording it is, in spite of its limitations, the human ear and mind, even when a strange musical culture is involved. But the ear should be careful not to superimpose its own cultural and musical experience on what it hears. The transcriber has to be prepared to hear distinctions in pitch which do not exist, or rather, which are not significant in his own musical culture, and he must expect to hear rhythmic combinations and complexities which are beyond those he knows. In order to accommodate these dijSerences between exotic and Western music, some special signs have been devised to help him reproduce what he hears in our system of notation, and yet to avoid violating the music. But in spite of all these aids, transcriptions are merely symbols, approximations of sound. It would be difficult for a Westerner to take such a transcription, to sing it, and have it sound at all like the original performance. Nevertheless, transcriptions are useful and necessary for learning about folk and primitive music, for we can only get a part of the picture from the sound recordings alone.

The following symbols are most frequently used to represent features in primitive and folk music foreign to Western notation:

slightly higher than notated

slightly lower than notated

uncertain pitch

indefinite pitch

grace note, without rhythmic value

weak tones


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