An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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anacrusis (from prosody) starting a song or tune on the upbeat. Many songs begin this way. If the starting note or group of notes next to the clef add up to less than required by the time signature, it starts on the upbeat, with the downbeat coming on the first note after the bar line.

anapestic see foot.

Andante(Italian: walking) is a word used to suggest the speed of a piece of music, at walking pace. The diminutive andantino is ambiguous and means either a little faster or a little slower than andante, more often the former.

Andersen, Eric (1943- ) one of the early successes for a singer-songwriter in the 60s folk revival, Eric played most of the Greenwich Village venues and established himself as a performer. He is best known for two mid-60s songs, "Thirsty Boots" and "Violets of Dawn".

Anderson, Alistair see High Level Ranters, concertina.

Anderson, Pink (1900-1974) S. Carolina blues singer and guitarist. He began his career in 1918 with medicine shows, and by 1928 he was recording for Columbia. He made an album for the Riverside label; he was on one side and Davis, Rev. Gary was on the other. His songs, such as "I Got Mine", "Travelin’ Man", and "Every Day of the Week" were recorded by 60s revival singers like Rush, Tom and Kweskin, Jim.

anent (Scot., also "anenst") against, in the sense of one thing touching another. "The shovel’s over anent the fence."

anhemitonic devoid of sharps and flats, like staying on the white keys of the piano; opposite hemitonic. The pentatonic scale C D E G A is anhemitonic. The word is distinct from diatonic in that diatonic implies one key; any required sharps and flats are still present, and only the extras required for modulation (key changes) are missing.

anhemitonic. a scale or set that lacks semitones.


Animals a rock group that, with singer Eric Burdon, brought out the 1964 "Baby Let Me Take You Home", based on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" from the first album by Dylan, Bob. They followed this with "House of the Rising Sun" from the same source, which along with the Byrds helped initiate the trend to electric folk.


anon according to the usual definition of folksong given by musicologists, a song should have been in circulation long enough to have earned its Anonymous rating. This makes it a song of the people. Not everyone agrees. The songs of Stephen Foster, for instance, seem to be folk songs. Since the improvement in copyright regulations, the mass printings of sheet music, and the ubiquitous electronic media, names of authors tend to be firmly attached to songs. See also folksong, definition.

Anstieg. (Schenker: ascent) (English: mounting) the initial stepwise ascent to a tone of the tonic (3,5, or 8) where the descent in the Urlinie begins (see also Kopfton).

Anthem An anthem is a short vocal composition. In the Church of England the word indicates such a composition often using a non-liturgical text (i.e. not part of the official service). A full anthem is for full choir, without soloists, while a verse anthem makes contrasting use of solo singers. Both these forms flourished in the Church of England from the late 16th century.

anticipation a dissonant sound, produced by inserting into a chord a note that really belongs to the next chord, which is consonant. The technique accentuates a chord change. See harmony for more on these terms.

antimusic. music in which the purpose is to overthrow conventional associations, stereotypes, or expectations, e.g. Satie's Vexations.

antiphon a short refrain used in Gregorian chant between other, longer pieces.

antiphonal (adj., noun form "antiphony") referring to a musical form in which melodies alternate with each other; call and response singing is an example. Compare with homophonic, polyphonic.

anti-recruiting songs after the abandonment of press gangs in the early 1800s, the military attempted to secure new blood by sending recruiting sergeants accompanied by spiffy bands to lure the innocent with promises of the good life (see also shilling). This was light years away from the reality, and those who endured the experience came up with many anti-recruiting songs to warn others. Some of them detail the horrors of war and others settle the debate on the spot. This is from one of the best, "Arthur McBride", an Irish song: Well, says Arthur, I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes,For you’ve only the lend of them as I suppose,And you dare not change them one night if you chose,If you did, you’d be shot in the morning.And the little wee drummer, we flattened his pow,And we made a football of his rowdie-dow-dow,And threw it in the tide for to rock and to rollAnd bade it a tedious returning." These songs come from a time when the purpose of the military was to maintain imperial domination. Although there are songs glorifying the soldier and particular military victories, in general war didn’t go down well with the songmakers.

APG American Primitive Guitar - a current attempt to get away from saying "folk", which is seen as either too restrictive or too ambiguous. It usually implies finger-style guitar in the American folk tradition. It’s an unfortunate choice of words, since the techniques developed by fingerpicking guitarists have been anything but primitive.

Appalachia the English, Scots and Irish who populated the Appalachian mountain area in the 18th and 19th centuries brought many traditional tunes and songs with them. Their relative isolation meant the survival of a great deal of this music. There must be hundreds if not thousands of examples, but for a start: In the 1930s, Florence Reece set the famous labor song "Which Side Are You On" to the tune of an old English song, "Jack Munro", aka "Lay the Lily-O". The ancient English "Nottamun Town", thought to be lost in the UK, was found in the family repertoire of Ritchie, Jean. See also borrowing. The bluegrass banjo tune and song "Shady Grove" is the tune for the old English ballad "Matty Groves". Many of the tunes for the Child ballads collected by Bronson, Bertrand were found in Appalachia in the last few decades. The music of Appalachia has had a profound influence on folk music. It led to various banjo playing styles, the dulcimer, bluegrass, clogging styles, old-timey music, and much more. It could be said that its effect led to much of the folk revival in the 50s and 60s.

Appalachian bow see bow.

appoggiatura. a nonharmonic-tone that is approached by leap and resolved by step, normally in the opposite direction.

ArabesqueThe word 'arabesque' originally indicated a decorative pattern in Arab style found in painting or architecture. Its most common use in music has been as a descriptive title of short decorative piano pieces of the 19th or early 20th century. There are two well known Arabesques by the French composer Debussy.

arch-form. a musical form that is symmetric in time and climaxes in the middle.

architectonic. (literally, the architecture of music); formal structure in which large scale aspects echo small scale structures, particularly the organization of structures within structures; e.g. a binary subject in a binary form.

archlute a Renaissance lute used for solos and continuo. It had six or seven courses and sometimes had unfretted strings above the neck for bass notes in the manner of the theorbo.

archtop an acoustic or electric guitar favored in jazz - see f-hole.

Arco-Arco (Italian: bow) is used as an indication to string-players that they should use the bow, rather than pluck with the fingers (see pizzicato).

Arhoolie (US) 1. A record label prominent in the blues; see also race records. 2. An "arhoolie" is a field work song; see hollers.

Aria-An aria is a song or air. The word is used in particular to indicate formally constructed songs in opera. The so-called da capo aria of later baroque opera, oratorio and other vocal compositions, is an aria in which the first section is repeated, usually with additional and varied ornamentation, after the first two sections. The diminutive arietta indicates a little aria, while arioso refers to a freer form of aria-like vocal writing.

Ariosoin the style of an air or song.

Arkin, Alan best known as an actor, Alan started off in folk music, recording a solo album for Elektra (vocal and guitar), and becoming one of the original members of the Tarriers in the late 50s. He joined a group called the Babysitters in 1958, making several albums with them.

armband attendees of folk festivals can be spotted by a plastic armband (really a wristband). These are fastened to the wrist on arrival and can’t be removed without cutting them. It saves the organizers no end of trouble when letting people in and out of the festival grounds. Different colours segregate the riffraff from the aristocrats. Someone should write a song called "It’s Weird To Shower, Lord, With My Armband On". What with the minimum-waste consciousness, reinforced-paper armbands are now appearing. One-day passes may mean a handstamp, which is an utter waste of time since the ink disappears after an hour in the heat.

armonica see glass harmonica.

Armstrong, Frankie an English woman who began singing British ballads and blues in 1962. She sings mostly in the a cappella style, or at least with minimalist accompaniment, and is popular at both British and North American festival. Her voice is enormously powerful, bringing a sense of drama to ballads; the song most associated with her is "I’m Gonna Be an Engineer", by Seeger, Peggy. She recorded a number of albums for Topic.

Armstrong, Tommy a 19th-century miner in northern England who was known as "The Pitman’s Poet". He set many of his rough-and-ready poems to current and traditional tunes, such as the 1882 "Trimdon Grange Explosion" (which has a tune very similar to "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad") or "The Oakey Evictions". Many of his songs are sung and recorded yet, at least in the UK.

arpeggio (pron. "arr-pej-ee-oh") the notes of a chord played one at a time. "An arpeggio, maestro!" lets the singer find the key. Repeated arpeggios can also be an effective accompaniment style. In 18th-century musical dictionaries, they’re referred to as "harpeggios", which is a nicely suitable spelling..

array. (set-theory, linear) an arrangement of a series according to its quantitative values, e.g. smallest to largest.

art music art songs are classical songs, such as the lieder of Schubert, or folk songs performed in the style of European classicism. Some folk performers, such as Dyer-Bennett, Richard, performed traditional folk songs in the style of art music. These arrangements don’t always sit well with some folkies; the emphasis is on technique and may well bury the important lyrical and historical aspects (aside from the fact that they’re just not used to the sound). It has also been said that performing folk songs in the traditional manner (whatever the definition of "traditional manner" at the time) is a type of art music. This might be true - while anyone can learn three chords and perform the simple songs, some of the bigger ballads require a great deal of study, if only in the sort of presentation to use; even the definition of "folksong" has kept scholars busy for a lifetime (have a go at folksong, definition). The term is also used in a general sense to distinguish classical music from folk, pop, etc.

articulation. the manner in which notes are struck, sustained, and released. This includes legato, staccato, tenuto, etc.

Asch, Moses (1906-1987) Moe Asch was the founder of Folkways records. More then anyone else, he preserved a huge variety of American traditional music on disks, beginning in 1939 (1948 for Folkways) and continuing through the 80s. Through Folkways we have much of the music of Leadbelly, Guthrie, Woody, Houston, Cisco and hundreds of others. The catalog contained 2,200 entries, and remarkably, Moe never dropped a title because of low sales. After his death, the recordings were taken over by the Smithsonian Institution (see Folkways for the address). With Silber, Irwin, he was the co-founder of Oak Publications, the publisher of an enormous number of books on folk music, musicians, instruments, performance methods, etc.

Ashley, Clarence (1895-1967) "Tom" Ashley played banjo with country greats such as Acuff, Roy and Monroe, Charlie, and made a number of recordings in the 20s and 30s. In the folk revival he made two albums for Folkways with Watson, Doc and a solo album some time later. Two of his old-timey arrangements of traditional songs are standard in the repertoire of folkies: "The Cuckoo" and "The House Carpenter" (the latter is also mentioned in pentatonic scale).

ask (Scot.) newt, lizard.

Aspiratamente-breathy, flowing, smooth.

Assai (Italian: very) appears often in indications to performers of the speed of a piece of music, as in allegro assai, very fast, or allegro assai moderato, very moderately fast.

assonantal rhyme lyrics that depend on a resemblance in sound rather than a true rhyme (the Random House dictionary gives "penitent" and "reticence" as an example). This is common in all folk music lyrics, especially in the Irish tradition. The assonance oftens occurs in the middle of lines as well.

athwart (UK) across.

Atkins, Chet (1924- ) (Chester Atkins) an amazingly accomplished finger-style guitarist in the 50s and 60s. He was influenced by Travis, Merle, and had a number of albums; he took over RCA’s Nashville record productions and was greatly influential on the sound of C&W music during his position as A&R man.

atonal music that dispenses with the idea of a key and even the harmonies based on the triad, and just goes anywhere in the 12 semitone scale. Not encountered in folk, except perhaps by modern experimenters. Opposite tonality. . The word atonality refers technically to various forms of 20th century music not in a key.

atonality. noun for atonal.

Attacca go on immediately.

attack the beginning of a note or phrase; it can be slow or muted, or fast and abrupt. The choice of attack is determined by the content: a slow ballad might require an accompanying guitarist to pluck with bare fingers for a smooth attack, while guitar fiddle tunes might require a flatpick for a consistently fast attack.

AubadeAn aubade is a morning-song. A well known example is the Siegfried Idyll, a work written by Richard Wagner to be played for his second wife Cosima on the morning of her birthday.

auditory-perspective. the perception of the physical, geometrical location of sound sources.

Aufhaltung. (Schenker: delay) a prolongation before scale step #2 (part of the dominant chord) in the Ursatz that delays the occurrence of that scale step.

augmentation. a thematic variant that is played slower than the original theme.

augmented an interval whose pitch has been raised by a semitone. See also augmented chord.

augmented chord a chord built from the root, third and sharped fifth. For example, Caug (aka C+) would be C-E-G#. The augmented construction is also often used with a flatted seventh, as in C7aug5 (aka C7+5): C-E-G#-Bb.

augmented-sixth chords. tertian chromatic-chords that evolved from the minor key and normally appear in first-inversion. They can be spelled in thirds based on the second or raised fourth degree of the key, e.g. F# A-flat C in the key of C; thus the "root" is commonly chromatic. This chord would occur in first-inversion as A-flat C F#, and is called the Italian-augmented-sixth, which is enharmonic to an incomplete dominant-seventh chord. All augmented-sixth chords contain the interval of the augmented sixth or its inversion, the diminished third. Two other forms are common. One is the "German-sixth", e.g. F#, A-flat, C, E-flat, which has simply added the seventh to the "Italian-sixth". It is enharmonic to the dominant-seventh chord. The last form is the "French-sixth", e.g. D, F#, A-flat, C, another altered seventh chord. They all normally resolve to a dominant-function chord, hence their true function is revealed as basically subdominant or supertonic, dominant-preparation chords.

Ausfaltung. (Schenker: unfolding) a prolongation by means of the unfolding of intervals horizontally.

Auskomponierung. (Schenker: composing out) the unfolding of the tonic triad as the fundamental structure of a tonal work. According to Schenker, the first stage of composition consists of the Ursatz, or "fundamental structure". Latter stages are achieved by various means of prolongation.

Auswicklung. (Schenker: unravelling) the unravelling of intervals or chords in the Middleground levels.

authentic see cadence, mode.

authentic-cadence. a cadence harmonic formula consisting of a stop on tonic chord preceded by a dominant-function chord; e.g., V I, or vii6 I.

autoharp a harp-like instrument with a wooden sound board under the strings and bars across them. The bars are pressed down, with felt pads damping out the unwanted strings to form a chord. It can be played flat on a tabletop or held vertically against the chest. Either flatpicking or fingerpicking can be used. The autoharp was first patented in the US by Charles Zimmermann in 1881, and the first production run was 1885. By 1897, 300,000 had been made. The boom slacked off, although moderate sales continued. They came into their own once again during the folk revival. Although it’s primarily a chording instrument, virtuosos can produce complex and beautiful melodies on it. The keys available depend on the model and the number of bars fitted.

Autry, Gene (1907- ) a Texan influenced by Rodgers, Jimmie, he began recording country music in 1929. Known as "The Singing Cowboy", he played on the radio in Chicago in the 30s, recording "That Silver-haired Daddy of Mine". In 1934 he began making western movies, the first being "In Old Santa Fe". His theme was "Back in the Saddle Again", and other songs he made famous include "Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" and "Don’t Fence Me In". He had great success with the Christmas songs "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer". The last western he made was in 1953, and although he had no music hits after that, he did television work into the 60s.

ava (Scot., pron. "a-vaw") of all, at all.

avant-garde. a style or music considered to be experimental or advanced.

awl a cobbler’s tool for making holes in leather. Kennedy, Peter pointed out that cobblers and tinkers in traditional music seemed unusually skilled at getting into a lady’s bedroom, so the awl is very often metaphorical.

axis. (set-theory) a line or point used as a divider in a symmetric operation. Axes can exist in time, pitch, or other dimensions. e.g. a melodic inversion resulting from a reflection transformation around an axis of pitch. e.g. an upward line: c,e,f,f# can be reflected downward with an axis on c as c,a-flat,g,g-flat. If the axis were c# the inversion would be d, b-flat,a, a-flat.

Axton, Hoyt (1938- ) a guitarist/singer of the folk revival in the 60s, Hoyt is now known mainly as a songwriter. His "Greenback Dollar" was performed by the Kingston Trio in 1963 (after the replacement of Dave Guard by John Stewart), and his "The Pusher" was recorded by Steppenwolf and used in the film "Easy Rider". He’s difficult to categorize, since his songs have been recorded by many people in various styles from folk to country to rock.