An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section B1)


bacca pipes see pipes.

back (v.) to play an accompaniment. "Back me up on this one, will you?"

backbeat to accent the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time (or the second beat in 2/2). The term (and the technique) is used much more in rock music than in folk, which prefers the stresses on the first and third beats. See also rhythm. Occasionally the term is used in a general sense to mean a distinctive rhythmic figure throughout a selection.

Background. the most fundamental structural framework of a musical composition. Frequently, this takes the form of I V I in the fundamental bass (Grundbrechung) motion, combined with scale steps 3-2-1 or 5-4-3-2-1 or 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 in the principal voice or Urlinie.

backup (n.) the accompaniment for another musician. "Play backup on this one, will you?"

Bacon, Lionel (~1910-1994) English morris dancer and author of "The Ring Book", a collection of music and dance notation for many of the Cotswold morris dances. Throughout his career, he was widely influential in stimulating the revival of the morris. In the 30s, he filmed some of the Cotswold teams, providing an important resource as the morris gained momentum in later years.

Badinerie-Badinerie (French: teasing), indicates a piece of music of light-hearted character. The best known badinerie is the lively last movement of Bach's Suite in B minor for flute, strings and continuo.

badman ballads folklore is full of examples of the romanticized outlaw, and folk music is no exception. After a few passes through the folk process, the badman emerges as a folk hero, even if his original part was as a small-time sleazy criminal. There seems to be something in all of us responding to these stories, if only a feeling that we’d like to get away with something, too. Lomax, Alan wrote "...we rejoice inwardly when the bandit or gunman strikes back in blind fury against the society and the conventions we secretly hold responsible for our sorrows." Examples are "Jesse James", "John Wesley Hardin" (not Dylan’s "John Wesley Harding"), "John Hardy", "Pretty Boy Floyd", "Dick Turpin", "Captain Kidd", "Sam Hall" and whole books full of others. The badmen were bank robbers, pirates, highwaymen, and burglars. There are limits, though. There are many songs about men who kill or attempt to kill women ("The Outlandish Knight", "Banks of the Ohio", "Maria Marten", "Pretty Polly", etc.), and these men are not glorified in the same sense as the badmen who can be turned into Robin Hoods (whether they actually gave away any money or not).

Baez, Joan (1941- ) "Joanie" began performing in the Boston/Cambridge folk hotbed in the late 50s; soon she was being billed regularly at the local clubs, and played the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Her first Vanguard album appeared in 1960, featuring her amazingly beautiful soprano voice and her guitar - her initial approach to folk music was that of the purist, concentrating on the American and British traditional vein. Within a few years, her albums were hits, and the title "Queen of Folk Music" was heard. She met Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village and had him make guest appearances during her concerts. His songs gave her a vehicle for her emerging protest stance, and in turn, she gave the rising star public exposure. As her successful career continued, protest took up more and more of her time. She founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in Carmel, California, and spent time in jail for civil disobedience relating to Vietnam war protests. She is the author of an autobiographical book, "Daybreak". She has over 30 albums, although the later ones are far from the voice-and-guitar approach of her early years. She continues to perform today .

bag 1. The treasury of a morris team. While the team dances, the Fool or other barker collects donations from the crowd by passing a hat or an inventively-modified piggy bank. The bag might be saved for a team trip or feast, or it might pay for the real ale. 2. The person in charge of this treasury. Originally "bagman", then "bagperson" and finally just "bag".

Bagatelle-Bagatelle, used as the title of a short light-hearted piece of music, was employed most notably by Beethoven in a series of such compositions for piano. The descriptive title was thereafter used by a number of other composers.

bagpipes there are three main styles of bagpipes played in folk music. The large, familiar pipes known as the Scottish, Highland, or war pipes are very loud and so tend to be used for ceremonial occasions or in bands, with Scotland’s Battlefield Band being one example. The air bag is kept full by blowing into a mouthpiece; the notes are fingered on a reeded chanter that looks something like a whistle. There are several drone pipes that sound all the time; one drone is tuned to an A note and the others an octave up. Due to the overtones from these pipes, there is a strong feeling of a parallel fifth. The chanter must also sound all the time; it’s difficult to play a genuine rest (although some pipers can manage it by tricky fingering of the chanter). Because of this inability to emit silence, players fill in rests with all sorts of grace notes, which is one of the reasons why a bagpipe arrangement of a familiar tune may sound a bit odd (as is the fact that the chanter has only nine notes and some substitutions are required for notes that aren’t there). People tend to either love or hate the Highland pipes. The Northumbrian Small Pipes and the Irish or Uillean pipes are compact and more convenient for accompanying traditional music. They’re played the same way, but the air bags are filled by a bellows pumped by the player’s arm. They have a lighter sound, are more agile than the Highland pipes, and can play true rests Incidentally, the bagpipes are not Scottish in origin, but have been found in many different cultures throughout history. See also pipe tune, neume, pibroch. 2.The bagpipe is an ancient instrument, at least in its most primitive form, and is still found in a number of countries. It is a reed instrument, with the reed sounded by air expressed from a leather bag. It generally makes use of a single pipe that can be fingered to produce different notes, with additional drones, pipes that produce single notes, a marked feature of bagpipe music and of its imitations for other instruments. The sophisticated and more versatile French musette, a bagpipe operated by bellows, gave its name to a baroque dance suite movement, marked, usually in the bass, by the continuing sound of a drone, a repeated single note.

bairn (Scot.) child.

Baker, Etta a finger-style guitarist who recorded instrumental music of Appalachia for the Tradition label.

balalaika the Russian equivalent of a guitar, at least in terms of popularity, although it’s said that its status as the state instrument of the former USSR was due to political control. It has a triangular body and three strings tuned EEA. It has never caught on in North American folk music like its cousin the bouzouki.

baldrick coloured bands crossed over the morris dancer’s chest and back in the form of an X. Worn over whites.

Baldry, Long John English performer who specialises in American blues. He started in the early 60s, but isn’t all that well known in North America except to blues fans, but has released a number of successful albums and singles. (In an interview, he said that he once needed a harmonica player for one of his tours, and hired a young show-biz beginner named Rod Stewart.)

ballad in pop music, the word can mean almost anything, but in traditional music it refers to a story song, with heroes and villains and a big bang-up ending. The ballad format is fairly tight. Musically, the ballad is strophic, with verses usually in a four-line form with or without a chorus. The scene is always set very economically: "As I roved out one morning / to take the sweet and pleasant air" may be all we get before the story begins. Traditional ballads shamelessly borrow images from each other all the time, so all hands are lily-white, all horses are milk-white steeds that are much faster than the brown ones, and all heroines are as fair as the morning dew (these are markers). While the narrative is usually spoken by an unknown person, occasionally the participants themselves tell the story (see dialogue). Most ballads have a nicely-balanced dramatic line, but others seem to be concocted by someone who can’t lay it on thick enough. People dropping dead by the dozen of shock or broken hearts turns up a lot. For a not-so-serious discussion of this, see fainting. The story can be almost anything: a tragic romance, a recounting of a historical event (not always accurate - drama rules), a supernatural tale, nautical adventures, disasters, etc. A good ballad is cinematic - it projects a widescreen movie in your head. Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span called traditional songs "a magic lantern on the past". See also historical accuracy. There are many subgroupings of the ballad types. See come-all-ye, badman ballads, goodnight ballad, and broadside as examples. 2. Ballad, derived from the late Latin verb 'ballare', to dance, came to be used primarily to describe a folk-song of narrative character or a song or poem written in imitation of such a folk-song. The title Ballade was used by Chopin to describe four piano-pieces of otherwise concealed narrative content, apparently based on narrative poems of ballad type by the patriotic poet Mickieiwicz, while Brahms in one of his Ballades transfers into music an old Scottish narrative ballad. The Ballade of French music and poetry of the 14th and 15th centuries denotes a different and fixed literary and musical form.

ballade 1. A late medieval chorus song from France, and of strict form - three stanzas with the same meter and rhyme, and a one-line chorus, or a four-line envoi. See also virelais. 2. A type of narrative piece for piano stylised by Chopin.

balladmonger someone who made a living writing and selling ballads, either as a songsheet ( broadsides) or as a booklet ( chapbook). The songs were often new words to old tunes, and the topics could be just about anything: current wars, someone’s last words ( goodnight ballad), love songs, etc. They sold them in the street, door to door, and from stalls at fairs ("stall ballads").

ballet (rhymes with "mallet") an older word meaning ballad.

ballett see madrigal.

Band, The see The Band.

bandoneon a rather rare type of concertina originating in South America. It’s large, and has the unusual feature of having the same treble note whether the bellows are pushed or pulled - but a different bass chord depending on the direction.

bandster (Scot.) a harvester, a bander of sheaves.

bandura (also "bandora", "bandurria", etc) a relative of the lute and guitar, with a flat back and top. The stringing varies widely, from six strings to as many as an autoharp.

bane 1. Death, destruction. 2. A poison. 3. (Scot.) bone.

banjo the folk banjo is almost always a 5-string, a longer version of the jazz or tenor banjo, which has four strings (and is favored by Irish traditional groups). The fifth or thumb string is mounted next to the bass string and is not fretted, but is usually tuned to the tonic or fifth of the key in use. See thumb string. The thumb string is generally plucked on the upbeat, giving the banjo its distinctive syncopation. It’s always played with a fingerpicking or frailing style rather than with a pick (as you would the four-string banjo). See also plectrum banjo. It’s a chromatic instrument, although the number of actual keys available depends on the tuning range of the unfretted fifth string. Mechanisms (hooks, sliding capos) are available to extend this range by pulling the fifth string down onto the fingerboard, allowing any key. There are two basic banjo styles, the frailing style, generally used for old-time songs and dance music, and the clawhammer or Scruggs style, generally used for bluegrass as well as other tunes. There are many tunings for the banjo, but the two most popular would be gCGBD and gDGBD, where the lower-case "g" is the thumb string. The "B" is one semitone below middle C. There are also fretless models available; these allow very smooth gliding tones. The lack of frets produces a warmer, plunky sound, somewhat like pizzicato violin. The banjo is said to be based on similar African instruments and is also said to be the only true American instrument, though native Americans would probably argue this point strongly. See also How to Play the 5-string Banjo.

banjo-guitar there have been many variations and mix-‘n-matches among the banjo-guitar-mandolin family (see banjolin). The banjo-guitar had a banjo body and a six-string guitar neck. Used by Sam McGee of the McGee Brothers.

banjolin (also "mando-banjo") a hybrid banjo strung with four short courses of strings like a mandolin, and with the same tuning. See also banjo-guitar.

Bar-In written Western music the bar-line came to be used, a vertical line through the stave, to mark metrical units or bars (= measures). By the later 17th century the bar-line had come to be used immediately preceding a strong beat, so that a bar came to begin normally with an accented note. The double bar or double bar-line marks the end of a section or piece. 2. (also bar line) vertical lines placed in music notation to delimit the right number of notes for the time signature. For instance, in 4/4 time, the time values of the notes between two bar lines will add up to four beats. The notation between two bar lines is called a measure. A bar and a measure are largely synonymous. The idea of setting the meter by bar lines is fairly recent in musical history.

bar band often, a local group will make a name for itself entertaining in bars by playing folk favorites in an up-tempo style ("Farewell to Nova Scotia", "Black Velvet Band", and "I’m a Rover Seldom Sober" would be Canadian song examples). When they’re booked into folk festivals, they invariably begin by blasting away at high volume with clever but canned patter. After a few songs, they realise that people are listening intently and they begin to relax. During the first few songs, however, folkies will nod and say "bar band" and head for the beer tent to give the band a chance to wind down from the hyper mode.

bar chord see barre chord.

bar line a vertical line inserted into music notation to denote a bar, which is also called a measure. In medieval times, they were inserted for readability rather than to delimit notes for the time signature.

Barbeau, Marius (1883-1969) the great Quebecois anthropologist collected and preserved 13,000 French and native folk songs and their variants. The Marius-Barbeau Medal is awarded for achievements in folklore.

Barbecue Bob (1902-1931) (Robert Hicks) a little-known 12-string guitarist and singer from Georgia. He recorded folk and blues songs in 1927-30.

Barcarolle-A barcarolle is a boating-song, generally used to describe the boating-songs of gondoliers in Venice, imitated by composers in songs and instrumental pieces in the 19th century. Chopin wrote one such Barcarolle for piano, and Mendelssohn provided four shorter piano pieces of this kind. At the end of the century and in the early 20th century the French composer Gabriel Fauré wrote thirteen Barcarolles. There is a particularly well known barcarolle in Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffmann (Les contes d'Hoffmann).

bard in the ancient tradition of Celtic areas like Wales, the bard was a storyteller and/or a musician. Much of the culture’s oral tradition was entrusted to the bards. There was (and still is, in revival form) an annual bardic festival, the Eisteddfod. Related terms: conteur, goliard, minstrel, scop, seanachie. Today the word has come to mean a poet or an exceptional storyteller with poetic elements (Shakespeare, for instance).

Baring-Gould, Sabine (1834-1924) the Reverend Baring-Gould did some original field collecting, publishing a number of textbooks in the 1890s. He saw no problem in reconstructing and editing to suit his own tastes, something that must have driven folklorists mad. Like many collectors of his time, he was convinced that folksong must be rural, and like Child, F.J., ignored the large repertoire of city and town songs. As Lloyd, A.L. pointed out in "Folk Song in England", Baring-Gould collected a version of "Strawberry Fair" and said that it contained a double-entendre that the old singers probably didn’t even understand, so he completely rewrote it. The dreadful obscenity was this: "Oh, I have a lock that doth lack a key...And if you got the key then come this way." Sexual metaphor is the very stuff of amatory folksong. There must be thousands of examples (see Foggy Foggy Dew). If Mr B-G wanted to keep this giggler from schoolchildren, that’s one thing, but he should have left the song alone. See also bowdlerize, genteel, rewrites.