An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section P1)

PA at one time, a "Public Address" system meant those horns that blared incomprehensible announcements in bus and rail stations. Today the PA system is sophisticated, with high power ratings, huge speakers of great clarity, and a sound board that with related equipment can do almost anything. Despite that, it often sounds as if it should be in bus or rail stations blaring incomprehensible announcements. The personnel are at fault - it isn’t always possible to locate trained operators.

palmer (UK) a pilgrim, tramp, vagabond.

Palmer, Roy a Birmingham, Eng., school headmaster who has a profound interest in all aspects of folklore. He has published numerous collections of British songs, including "The Ballad History of England", "Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs", "The Valiant Sailor" and many others.

panchromatic. a free use of the twelve-tone equal tempered scale. i.e., without a tonal hierarchy. syn. atonal.

pandiatonic. the use of the tones of a diatonic scale without a tonality or hierarchy.

panegyric a poem or speech in praise.

panpipes an ancient instrument consisting of a row of graduated pipes fastened together. They are moved back and forth in front of the player’s mouth, and the sound is produced by blowing over the end of a pipe, just as you would produce a tone from a pop bottle. The sound is about as interesting, but recordings by panpipe players such as Zamfir have sold in the zillions.

Pantomime-Although a pantomime in Britain has come to indicate a children's Christmas entertainment, making use of traditional and topical elements in a mixture of fairy-story, comic routine and popular song, the word originally indicated a performance entirely in mime, in this sense having a long history. In this second and original sense pantomime is sometimes found as part of a descriptive title of a musical work or part of a work originally so intended.

pantonality. see atonality. Schoenberg's preferred term over atonality.

paper-trained able to read music; formally trained. These individuals are held in a certain amount of awe, unless their training makes them stiff and a bit boring when they try to play folk music, in which case they might be held in a certain amount of disdain. The term can be used either way, with the sense depending on the speaker’s perception. If notation is used at all, it’s only as a guide to learning a new piece. Doing an actual performance from notation is seen as restrictive, a musical straitjacket. Among those who feel this way, singing from a book may be the ultimate sin (see Rise Up Singing).

parallel 1. Parallel harmonies occur when identical melodies are played a specific interval apart. In folk and sacred harp singing, parallel fifths and octaves are common harmonies. The parallel harmonies don’t go on for long, since they tend to sound like a dirge if used for more than a few notes. See also bitonal. 2. A minor chord or key with the same name as a major is called a parallel or "opposite" chord or key - C minor would be the parallel to C major. Aka "tonic minor"; see also relative minor.

parallel-fifths and -octaves. a part-writing problem where two voices move in parallel perfect-fifths, octaves or unisons (see parallel-motion). When they occur in polyphonic music, one voice sounds as if it has dropped out, and the voices are no longer independent. Additionally, the notes that are parallel sound accented. Students often don't understand the restriction on the use of these intervals in part-writing. Parallel-octaves and fifths are only wrong if the student doesn't perceive that they are there. Since traditional part-writing exercises deal exclusively with developing the perception and writing of independent voices (parallel-fifths and octaves are the opposite of independence), they are avoided.

parallel-harmony. chords whose voices (may be implied) are in parallel motion.

parallel-keys. keys having the same tonic; e.g., C major and c minor.

parallel-motion. partwriting in which two voices move in the same direction by the same amount or interval.

parameter. an aspect with variable characteristics, e.g., harmony is a parameter maintaining its identity even though it may be constantly changing.

Parchman Farm a prison farm in Mississippi; it was visited in 1939 by Lomax, Alan, who collected a large number of blues and hollers there. It was also immortalised, if you can speak of immortalizing a jail, by White, Bukka in his "Parchman Farm Blues".

parent set.a set that contains all others. An example is a scale that contains all the diatonic chords in a key.



parlor ballads not true ballads, but songs written with a piano arrangement and sold for family singing in Victorian times. The lyrics are often sentimental, and by today’s standards, somewhat overdone. Some of them are still played today, a tribute to the composer’s skill at writing or borrowing beautiful melodies. See Moore, Thomas for some typical examples.

Part-A part may indicate the line or music intended for a particular performer. Earlier choral music, for example, was written in separate part-books, one for each part, as is the modern practice with orchestral parts, rather than in the full vocal score now usual. The art of part-writing or, in American, voice-leading, is the art of writing simultaneous parts according to the established rules of harmony. A part-song is a vocal work in which different voices are used, as distinct from a song in which all sing the same melody.


partial in general, a harmonic.

partials. all the frequencies comprising a tone or sound; a fundamental and its overtones.

Partita-Partita is another word for suite, used, for example, by Johann Sebastian Bach in the title of a set of keyboard suites or in the three Partitas for unaccompanied violin.

partition. (set-theory, linear) a division or section delineating a structure, e.g., subsets of a tone row, exposition of a fugue, etc.

parts of music in western tradition, there are three parts to music: rhythm, melody and harmony. Rhythm is the beginning - it was no doubt how the first music was played, with someone beating a stick on something. Melody occurs when there is a variation in the notes sung or played, although it could be argued that one long drone is theoretically a melody. Those two will do nicely for a wide variety of music. However, the icing on the cake is harmony - an instrument playing multiple notes, an instrument accompanying a singer, multiple singers, etc. The first harmonies would have been unison (multiple parts doing the same melody in the same key), and octaves (because men and women naturally sing an octave apart). The next step in harmony probably occurred when people tried singing different parts - the usual harmonies in folk music are the fourth and the fifth. It’s been said that harmonies might have happened because somebody had trouble singing in a particular key, and shiftedtheir key to suit the voice. Over the centuries, the simple parallel harmonies have evolved into a remarkably complex system (which, as Flanders and Swann might have put it, "I’ll tell you all about - some other time.").

part-writing. the motion of voices with respect to one another. Traditional part-writing deals exclusively with independent voices and, therefore, outlaws parallel-octaves and fifths.

passacaglia. (syn. chaconne). a slow theme-and-variations in triple meter with the theme recurring in the bass.

Passacaglia-The passacaglia is a baroque dance variation form on a short melodic formula usually occurring in the bass. It is similar in form to the chaconne, in which a recurrent bass pattern forms the basis of the composition, implying a recurrent harmonic progression. The two forms are sometimes confused by composers. Famous examples of the passacaglia include Johann Sebastian Bach's C minor Passacaglia for the organ. Something of the form appears in the last movement of the Fourth Symphony of Brahms, and passacaglias occur in Berg's opera Wozzeck and in Britten's opera Peter Grimes.

passing note a melody note or decorative note that is not part of the harmony; that is, it does not urge a chord change, and is usually unaccented (it falls on a weak beat or an upbeat).

passing-tone. a nonharmonic-tone that proceeds by step from one harmonic-tone to a different harmonic-tone.

Passion-The four accounts of the suffering and death of Christ, as given in the first four books of the New Testament, were customarily sung during the Catholic rites of Holy Week to plainchant, with a division of parts where direct speech is involved. It became customary in the 15th century to allow the singing of the parts of the crowd (= Latin: turba) in the biblical narrative in polyphonic settings, with a gradual extension of the polyphonic element in the next century. The best known settings of the Passion are the surviving Lutheran settings by Johann Sebastian Bach of the accounts of the Passion in the Gospels of St. Matthew and of St. John.

Pastorale-Pastorale is a musical expression of a genre familiar in European literature from Hellenistic times or earlier, an idealisation of the rural, in literary form, in the lives and loves (often fatal) of shepherds and shepherdesses, and then, by extension, of the country in general. The word may be used as the title of a piece of music suggesting a rural idyll. In Italy it was associated particularly with the dance-form, the Siciliano, used to suggest the scene of shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem at the birth of Christ. Such pastoral movements formed part of the Christmas concertos of Corelli and his contemporaries and imitators. Adjectivally used, the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, in true Wordsworthian fashion, offers emotions experienced on a visit to the country, recollected in what passed for tranquillity in his life.

patent see sacred harp.

pattern picking a simple, mechanical repetition of guitar fingerpicking. Sometimes it’s just a stage wait until the complicated stuff begins, and sometimes it’s an indication that the guitar player has never taken fingerpicking past the beginner stage. The most tedious pattern picking is the beginner’s thumb-and-three-finger type, in which the thumb plays a bass note and the fingers play the top three strings. It goes bass-1-2-3, bass-1-2-3 over and over. Sometimes the guitar player plucks the top three strings simultaneously, in which case the sound is a boring bass-plink-bass-plink. This is not to say that pattern picking has to be simplistic. Guitar pickers can take it to quite a height, varying from the flowing accompaniment style of, say, Tom Paxton or Tom Rush, to the complexities of someone like Leo Kottke. By contrast, non-pattern pickers would be someone like Travis, Merle.

Patton, Charlie (~1887-1934) influential in the Mississippi Delta style of blues; he was called the "Founder of the Delta Blues" or "King of the Delta Blues" and recorded for Paramount and Yazoo. He recorded 70 titles from 1929 to 1934.

Paul, Les (1915- ) (Lester Polfus) began in country music as a comedian/musician; he teamed in 1947 with Colleen Summer, who became his wife and took the stage name Mary Ford. Les experimented with multi-tracking, and he and Mary had hits with (among others) "Nola" and "How High the Moon" in the 50s. In 1952, the Gibson guitar company began marketing Les’s guitar design as the famous "Les Paul" model. He also recorded a number of albums with Atkins, Chet.

Paupers, The see Mitchell, Adam.

pavane (also "pavan") a (baroque} court dance, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in duple meter and was usually paired with a faster dance such as the galliard.

Pavan-The pavan (= French: pavane), a stately duple metre dance of the 16th and early 17th centuries, appears in various English spellings, paven, pavin and other forms. Coupled with the quicker triple metre galliard, it was among the most popular dances of the time. The origin of the word is attributed either to the Italian town of Padua or to the peacock (= Italian: pavone). Well known examples include the English composer John Dowland's Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans or Ravel's nostalgic Pavane pour une infante défunte, (Pavan for a Dead Infanta).

Paxton, Tom (1937- ) perhaps the most famous songwriter to come out of the 60s folk revival except for Bob Dylan. He started performing in Greenwich Village in 1960, and his songs were recorded by other people at first (such as "Marvelous Toy", "Going to the Zoo" and "Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound"). He made his first album in 1965, the first of seven for Elektra. Some of his most enduring songs are "Last Thing on My Mind", "What Did You Learn in School Today?", "Bottle of Wine", "Did You Know John Hurt?" and "Ramblin’ Boy". His topical songs (criticizing the government, the Vietnam war, war in general, etc.) are particularly well-written. He has always been very popular in England and said that his British career was ahead of his American one. He continues to perform.

paying your dues (from jazz argot) jazz musicians in times past who endured economic and other hardships between brief successes were said to be paying their dues. The phrase isn’t used much now, but had some popularity in the 60s and 70s from young, white, middle-class musicians. "I’m workin’ in a car wash between gigs, man, just payin’ my dues." This usage is rather silly.

pc. [1,4] (set-theory) abbreviation for pitch-class.

pc-set. Abbrev. for pitch-class-set (set-theory); a group of pitch-classes.

Peacock, Kenneth (1922- ) Canadian ethnomusicologist who has researched indigenous music and the folksong of Newfoundland. His field recordings have been made commercially available. He is also a trained composer, and has incorporated folksong into his works.

pedal 1. (n.) A general term for an effects box. 2. (adj.) The lowest notes of an organ, which are generally played with foot pedals. 3. The piano pedals for damping the strings or reducing the loudness. 4. Use of the damping pedal. 5. A sustained bass note over which the melody is played (also called "pedal point" or "pedal note"). 6. A sustained melody note - though this is technically "inverted pedal", which is better known in folk as a drone.

pedal steel a guitar that looks more like a table than an instrument. It’s always electric and fretted with a smooth metal bar. The pedals allow changes of string pitch for key changes and effects. It’s the heart and soul of C&W sound. Compare with steel guitar.

Pedale-(abbreviated Ped.) pedal.

pedal-tone. a nonharmonic-tone that is stationary through a chord change, usually occurring in the bass.

peeler policemen in Ireland were called peelers from the 19th century on, after Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), a British statesman and Prime Minister who founded the Irish Constabulary. The term is used often in Irish songs, and there is a tune in the collection by O’Neill, Francis called "The Angry Peeler".

peerie (Scot.) odd, peculiar.

peg 1. The tuning peg at the end of the neck on stringed instruments. These are usually metal gear types, but can also be friction-fit, as on the violin or dulcimer. See also wrest pin. 2. The small tapered pin that fastens the strings at the bridge (if the instrument uses this system instead of a tailpiece).

pelf (UK) wealth.

pennywhistle see whistle.

pentachord a rare word synonymous with pentatonic scale. It’s also an ancient instrument with five strings, though the encyclopedias don’t elaborate.

pentachord. a chord or pc-set with five pitch-classes.

Pentangle British electric folk group formed in the late 60s and noted for featuring guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, who both made solo recordings for a number of labels. The singer was Jacqui McShee. They had an influence on many other musicians and paved the way for folk ensembles rather than solo acts.