Traditional & Folk Music - Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section M3)


Minor Minor (= Latin: smaller) is used in musical terminology to describe a form of scale that corresponds, in its natural form, to the Aeolian mode, the scale on the white notes of the keyboard from A to A. Two other forms of the minor scale are commonly used, the melodic minor and the harmonic minor. The melodic minor scale is a form of minor scale that uses the natural minor form descending, but sharpens the sixth and seventh degrees ascending. The harmonic minor scale uses the natural minor with a sharpened seventh degree ascending and descending.The intervals between the first note or tonic (key note) and the third, sixth and seventh degrees of the natural minor scale are described as minor (that is, C to E flat , a minor third; C to A flat, a minor sixth; C to B flat, a minor seventh). C to D flat forms a minor second. A minor chord or minor triad consists of a bottom note with a note a minor third above, and, optionally, a note a perfect fifth above the bottom note. In this way the chord or triad C - E flat - G is described as minor. 2. A group of three modes, the most basic of which is the natural minor, or Aeolian, consisting of T-S-T-T-S-T-T. The harmonic minor consists of T-S-T-T-S-T+S-S. It may be derived from the natural minor by raising the subtonic by a semitone. The melodic minor mode differs as its direction changes. Ascending, it is T-S-T-T-T-T-S, but descending it is the same as the natural mode. The ascending form of the melodic minor scale may be derived from a natural minor scale by raising each of the sixth and seventh degrees by a semitone. 2.

minor-chord. a chord whose triad is minor (see minor-triad).

minor-seventh chord. a chord consisting of a minor-triad with an added minor-seventh; e.g. D F A C.

minor-triad. a triad consisting of a root, minor-third, and perfect-fifth.

minstrel in past centuries, a minstrel was anyone making a living from music, especially someone who was a traveller. Their social positions varied from street singers to members of a royal court. One step up was the troubadour, a somewhat more lofty position: the ranks of troubadours (skilled musicians of social rank) included nobility, and even kings. The job seems to have been predominantly male. In medieval France, the minstrels were called jongleurs. A step up from the troubadour was the trouvere, who was pretty much the equivalent of a professional composer, since they weren’t noted for public performances. The trouveres were first documented around the 12th century. The travelling minstrel shows of the 19th-century US were the forerunners of vaudeville. Although the shows are often associated with the south, in fact they began in New York City. An offshoot were the medicine shows, sort of minstrels with a sponsor. In the US in the 19th century, the shows featured both black performers and white people in blackface singing plantation songs and spirituals (often ersatz). It’s of interest to note that black people often wore blackface, with its exaggerated eyes and white-outlined mouth. In early years, particularly the 1820s through the 1830s, many of the songs written by the performers were based on much older stage and folk songs from the UK (which had a blackface minstrel show tradition as well). The "big four" in the mid-19th century US minstrel tradition were Emmett, Dan, Frank Bower, Dick Pelham, and Billy Whitlock. As this died away, the minstrel show became a way of making a living for many of the black people. Some of its alumni went on to greater fame in blues music, such as Rainey, Ma, Handy, W.C., and Smith, Bessie. Some of the minstrel songs ended up in (or back in) the folk tradition, with "Golden Slippers" by Bland, James being one example. A highly readable work on the entire topic of the minstrel-show tradition is "Dan Emmett and Early Negro Minstrelsy", Hans Nathan, University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. See also goliard. 2.The word minstrel has been used loosely to indicate a musical entertainer, providing his own accompaniment to his singing. The medieval minstrel, a secular musician, flourished between the 13th and 15th century, generally as an itinerant singer.

Minuet-A minuet (= French: menuet; German: Menuett; Italian: minuetto) is a triple metre French dance popular from the second half of the 17th until at least the end of the 18th century. It appears as an occasional element of the baroque instrumental suite and later as a movement in the pre-classical and classical symphony and allied forms, gradually replaced by the scherzo. The minuet usually has a complementary trio, a contrasting section in similar metre, a baroque dance, usually in 6/8 time and moderate in pace.

minus sign in chord books, indicates a minor chord, such as "A-", although "m" or "min" is more common.

mirliton if you’ve ever heard "Dance of the Mirlitons" from the "Nutcracker", but couldn’t find mirliton in any dictionary, here you are: it’s a kind of kazoo - a cylinder with one end closed with a stretched diaphragm. Humming into it produces a buzzing noise that follows the tune (sort of).

mirror. (set-theory) 1. an exact contour-inversion. An interval or interval series whose direction is reversed, e.g. D up to F is mirrored by D down to B; 2. a mirror-chord.

mirror-chord. (set-theory, nonlinear) a chord that is reflectively symmetric, e.g., B, D, F when mirrored is B, D, F.

mirror-set. (set-theory, nonlinear) a pc-set whose intervals are symmetric by reflection around a pitch-axis. See also mirror-chord.

Miserere-Miserere (Latin: have mercy) is the first word of Psalms 50, 54 and 55, and the word appears on numerous occasions in Latin liturgical texts. There is a famous setting of Psalm 50 (= 51 in the Hebrew and English Psalter) by the early 17th century Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, the property of the Papal Chapel, written down from memory by Mozart at the age of fourteen, during his visit to Rome in 1770.

Missa-The Latin word Missa, the Catholic Mass or Eucharist, is found in the title of many polyphonic settings of the liturgical texts. The phrase Missa brevis, short Mass, was at first used to indicate a Mass with shorter musical settings of the Ordinary. It later came to be used on occasion for settings that included only the first two parts of the ordinary of the Mass, the Kyrie and the Gloria. Mass titles, particularly in the 16th century, are often distinguished by the musical material from which they are derived, sacred or secular, as in Missa Adieu mes amours, or Missa Ave Regina. The Missa Papae Marcelli, the Mass of Pope Marcellus, is the setting of the Mass written by Palestrina, supposedly to preserve polyphony from condemnation by the Council of Trent.

missing fundamental see fundamental.

Mitchell, Adam Canadian singer-songwriter who started in the folk revival of the 60s. He joined "The Paupers" when it was formed in 1966, doing vocals, guitar, and drums. They were signed by agent Grossman, Albert, and enjoyed some popularity until disbanding in 1969. He then embarked on a solo career, with his best-known song being "Je T’aime, Marie".

Mitchell, Joni (1943- ) born Roberta Joan Anderson in Alberta, Joni came to folk music through the coffeehouses of Calgary and Toronto’s Yorkville in the 60s. She was successful, and played the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1965 doing her own compositions. She continued on to considerable fame as a pop star. Her best-known songs in the folk genre are "Urge for Going", "The Circle Game" and "Both Sides Now". She was married to US folksinger Chuck Mitchell, 1965-66.

mixdown most albums are recorded on multiple tracks, from 4 to 24. It’s necessary to blend them into the left and right stereo final mixdown.

Mixolydian. a mode consisting of T-T-S-T-T-S-T.

mod-12. (set-theory) modulo 12 arithmetic, i.e., that with a cyclic base 12 as in a clock. particularly useful for describing and analyzing music in the equal tempered twelve-tone scale. each 12=0 as on a clock.

ModalModal scales are found in various forms. Plainchant, the traditional music of the Catholic liturgy, makes use of eight modes, the church modes, with names derived from very different, earlier Greek modes. The first church mode is the Dorian, the third the Phrygian, the fifth the Lydian and the seventh the Mixolydian. These are the so-called authentic modes, their range from D to D, E to E, F to F and G to G respectively. Each authentic mode has an associated plagal mode using the same final note, but within an octave range that starts a fourth below the final and extends a fifth above it. These plagal modes take the Greek prefix hypo-, as in Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian and Hypomixolydian. Theorists later distinguished two further pairs of authentic and plagal modes, the Aeolian, A to A, and the Ionian, C to C. The Locrian mode, B to B, is inaccurately named, but was early distinguished as Hyperaeolian. Early polyphony, reaching a height of perfection in the 16th century, is modal, and its techniques continue to be studied as modal counterpoint, a necessary element in the training of a musician. These listed modes and a variety of other modes may be distinguished in folk-music, while composers of the 20th century have constructed their own synthetic scales or modes.modal (adj.) referring to anything in a mode.


modal tuning an instrument open tuning, used when the tune is in a mode and the instrumentalist wants to avoid certain chord notes that seem inappropriate to the mode. For instance, a guitar might be tuned in fourths and fifths, eliminating the third. For example, EAEAAE would give a stark droning sound when strummed. The guitar tuning DADGAD (see also Graham, Davey) is another of use in playing modes. The third of the scale (normally F# on the first string, second fret) is eliminated, unless the player wants it in. This one is equally suited to playing in normal keys as well as modes. The term is often incorrectly used to mean an open tuning that gives a major chord.

modal-modulation. changing from one mode to another; e.g. changing from C Mixolydian to C major.

modal-rhythm. a fixed, pre-established, repeating rhythmic pattern that is used for the rhythmic organization of a composition; e.g. long-short-short-long-long from the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

mode the word can mean any type of scale, but in folk musicology, it refers to specific types. At one time, the only scale available had no sharps or flats - like staying on the white keys on the piano. This is still true of some diatonic instruments like the whistle or harmonica. It’s possible to play in other keys by simply moving the keynote, but the changes in the tone/semitone sequence result in a scale different from the expected major (the do-re-mis). These new scales are called modes. Note: there are two systems for describing modes, and although they’re the same musically, they shuffle the names around. These are known as the Greek modes and the ecclesiastical modes; the latter are the ones used in Gregorian chant. In this file, modes always refer to the ecclesiastical naming. Suppose you stay on the white keys of the piano and play a scale starting on a G note. Because the scale of G wants the seventh note (F) to be sharped, what you hear is a major scale with a flatted seventh. This is the Mixolydian mode, widely used in folk music and the usual scale for the dulcimer. "Old Joe Clark" is an example of a Mixolydian tune. Since folk instruments are often chromatic, the intricacies of the modes these days are confined mostly to theorists (and obsessive folkies and dictionary writers). This is not to say that they aren’t widely used: musicians who play diatonic instruments such as the whistle, harp, or pipes use them extensively. For a superb discussion of modes as they apply to Scottish tunes, see Jack Campin’s Web page, where you’ll find not only lucid explanations but the music itself in the ABC player format: See the end of this entry for a list of the modes. These are "authentic" modes, which simply means that they’re confined to the span of an octave. There is another series called the "plagal" modes, which are the authentic modes increased by a fourth below or a fifth above. They have the same names, but with the prefix "Hypo", as in "Hypodorian". You might think that simply extending the scale wouldn’t have much of an effect, but it does noticeably change the type of melodies available. In folk music, it’s common for the melody to spend a lot of time around the dominant note, which is a fifth above the starting note of the mode (which is called the "final" note, because the song usually ends on it). In the plagal modes, the melody could go exploring below the final. The Dorian mode is of particular interest. It begins on the D note of the white keys. Tunes in the Dorian mode sound like a mix of major and minor scales, and never quite settle down to either one. The mode is equivalent to the major scale with a flatted third and a flatted seventh. A good example of the Dorian mode is Gordon Lightfoot’s "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". See pentatonic scale for a minimalist mode that’s the foundation of many folk musics the world around. For reference, the usual modes are listed below with the white-key starting note, plus a comparison with the usual major scale using that white-key starting note.


flatted 3rd, 7th


flatted 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th 


harped 4th 


flatted 7th 


flatted 3rd, 6th, 7th 




Note that the Aeolian is our minor scale and the Ionian our major. There is a mode based on B called the Locrian, and although you’ll find it in books for dulcimers, the Oxford Companion to Music says it "barely existed" (at least in the ecclesiastical modes). If you try it, you’ll soon find out why: it never seems to get anywhere, and has an irritating tendency to resolve itself into the key of C, despite your best efforts to keep it in B modal. Satie, Erik would have loved it. 2 Any interval or series based on a tonic used to construct a scale. Examples of the traditional modes include: major, minor, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc. These are all interval series; e.g. major is T-T-S-T-T-T-S, where T=whole-tone or whole-step and S=semitone or half-step. Notice that a mode is actually a series of gaps, or holes, between pitches and not the pitches themselves.

Moderato-Moderato (Italian: moderate) is used as an indication of the speed to be adopted by a performer. It may be used to qualify other adjectives, as allegro moderato, moderately fast.

modulation a change in key, usually within the same piece of music. This is rare in folk music. (However, there are often several changes in the time signature within the same song.) Occasionally someone will modulate up one tone, but this is a contemporary device. Sometimes fiddlers will set each tune in a medley to a different key just to keep your interest up. G, D, A and E are favorite keys for this, since they correspond to the open strings of the fiddle. There are some folk songs that have unusual chording that might pass for modulation. For instance, "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" in the key of G has the progression G-F-C-Bb-G-D-C-D-C-D-G. Whether or not the brief excursion into F-C-Bb could be called a key change is debatable - it could be argued that the unusual chords are simply used to harmonize with accidental notes.

modulation. 1. a change of key. 2. a smooth, gradual change from one state to another, e.g., tempo, key, meter, timbre, etc.

moldy figs traddies who feel that folk (or other) music styles were set in concrete centuries ago, and they don’t want anything to change, ever. See also commercialised. Authorities often work up a head of steam over changes in musical tradition. Here’s a quote from someone discussing musicians who: "fuss with the measuring of the timing, aim at new notes, prefer to invent their own music instead of singing the old... They cut up melodies with hockets, smooth them with descants, and sometimes force upon them vulgar [extra voices]" Pope John XXII, 1245-1334 AD ‘Twas ever thus. (Pope John just didn’t quit - see organum). Also on changes to tradition, it’s worth quoting from the book "The Ballad as Song", by Bronson, Bertrand: "Last year’s blooms are not this year’s, though they spring from the same root. For each season there has to be a fresh re-creative effort; and in the day of Burns, thanks to a living tradition, as good versions were burgeoning as perhaps had ever flowered."

Molto-Molto (Italian: much, very) is often found in directions to performers, as in allegro molto or allegro di molto, molto vivace or molto piano.

Moment-form. (Stockhausen) a form in which short time segments are controlled by some process or constant, e.g., the repetition of a pitches of a chord, or the subtraction of elements until reaching silence; used in Stockhausen's Momente.

money there isn’t much, not in folk music. There are performers who can make a living at it, but they are generally fairly famous in folk circles or have a lucrative gig such as children’s folk. The majority would agree with the joke: "Did you hear about the (insert least favorite minority) folksinger? He was only in it for the money." See also commercialised, gig.

monitor it’s a curious fact of physics that a performer is unable to hear much on a stage that uses a PA system. This makes vocals and instrumentals go off pitch and out of sync. To solve the problem, loudspeakers are placed at the foot of the stage, pointed at the performers. Thus the inevitable festival cry "More guitar in the monitor, please." If the monitors are unsuitable or not there, singers will often cup one hand loosely over the ear. This reflects more of the voice back to the ear and greatly improves the control of pitch. Best (and perhaps only) monitor joke: Canada’s Al Simmons, while hosting a night at Ontario’s Mariposa Folk Festival, asked "Can I have a little banjo in the monitor, please?" He then bent over, reached into the front of the monitor speaker, and pulled out a tiny banjo. "Thank you," he said.