An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section P2)

pentatonic scale a scale or mode made up of five notes within an octave. The black keys on a piano yield a pentatonic scale. On the white keys, this would be C D E G A, the usual form. The octave might be included to give C D E G A C, and other octaves can be included while leaving the definition intact, such as G C D E G A. This form is common but not exclusive; others are: C D F G A , C E F G B , C E F A B, C D F G Bb, C D Eb F G Bb, C Eb F Ab Bb.

They can also be pitched differently - taking G as the first note for the first example gives

G A B D E.

Part of the C D E G A noted above is used in a million children’s games:

Ring(G) a(G)-round(E) the(A) ros(G)ie(E)

The pentatonic scale is the foundation of folk musics the world over; by choosing different starting notes, it’s possible to play tunes on it that sound like the music of Scotland, Africa, the Orient, and many others. See also hexachord for a medieval six-note scale that survives today in sacred harp singing.

"The House Carpenter" is an example of a pentatonic melody using the C D E G A mentioned above:

Well met, well met, my own dear love,


Well met, well met, cried he,


I’ve just returned from the salt, salt sea,


And it’s all for the love of thee.


If you can talk about a pentatonic scale having a "key", then this one would be D, since that’s the keynote (in the modal system, it would be called the "final"). The C note provides a flatted seventh, producing the same sound as the Mixolydian mode.

pentatonic. a common scale type consisting of five pitch-classes. There are many types of pentatonic scales, but the so-called "black-key pentatonic" is actually a mode, and is the most common mode in the world's music. 2.The pentatonic or five-note scale is formed by the black notes of the keyboard, or the white notes C, D, E, G and A - two whole tones, a minor third and a whole tone. This form of scale is the basis of folk melodies in many countries, from China to Scotland, and occasionally occurs, in passing at least, in the work of 20th century composers. It is an important element in the educational music of Carl Orff and in the choral method of the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

People’s Songs after WWII, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Agnes "Sis" Cunningham, Burl Ives, John Hammond, Lee Hays, Alan Lomax, Irwin Silber and others were looking for a new way to carry on the folk tradition. From Joe Klein (see books): "Seeger suggested a loose-knit union of songwriters to stage occasional hootenannies, provide a library of protest songs for unions and other progressive groups, and maybe even send people out to perform at meetings and on picket lines. The organization would be so ecumenical as to include, in addition to the old regulars, some less radical sorts like Oscar Brand, Tom Glazer, and Josh White.... so People’s Songs was born." After the incorporation of People’s Songs in NYC in 1946, they began to publish "The People’s Songs Bulletin", with the aim of providing songs for the labor movement. As the Cold War anti-communist hysteria increased, the members found themselves red-baited by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the force behind the blacklist of any performers thought to be too left of center. People’s Songs was forced to close in 1949 by the prevailing uncomfortable atmosphere, but many of the participants vowed to open a new magazine dedicated to folk music, though with a more general approach. They did so in 1950, producing the first edition of Sing Out!.

perch (UK measure) 5.5 yards (aka "rod" or "pole").

percussion any instrument played by striking it. The term calls drums to mind, but strictly speaking, also includes instruments such as the piano and hammered dulcimer, which is a nice bit of academic hair-splitting. There must be dozens of percussion instruments other than drums, such as wood blocks, triangles, bells, etc. 2.The percussion section of the orchestra includes all instruments that are played by being struck, including the piano and celesta. Originally consisting of a pair of kettledrums or timpani, appearing normally with a pair of trumpets, in the orchestra of the later 18th century, a military importation, the percussion section was significantly enlarged with the allegedly Turkish fashion of the later 18th century, involving the occasional use of bass drum, cymbals and triangle in an imitation of the Janissary band. Liszt shocked audiences by including a triangle in the orchestration of a piano concerto, dubbed a triangle concerto by a hostile critic, and gradually other percussion instruments were added for occasional effects, including even, by Erik Satie, the typewriter.

Perendosi-dying away (in intensity and tempo.)

perfect interval the fourth, fifth and octave are called perfect intervals, possibly because they have a unique sound compared to the others. They’re also the easiest to determine by ear. The term is rarely used in folk music. Note that "perfect" does not mean "pure", although many musical dictionaries use the terms interchangeably. A pure interval is one derived from harmonics, and consists of simple integer ratios; a pure fifth, for instance, is an interval of two notes with a pitch ratio of 3:2 or 1.5 (in our current equal-tempered scale, the fifth is flatted just a little, to 1.498).

perfect pitch the ability to tell if a note is concert pitch, which refers to the A440 pitch standard. Most people have (or can learn) a good sense of relative pitch once they use a tuner or instrument for reference, but the people who can automatically tell the pitch of a note without an aid of some kind are a mystery. No one really understands how they do this. (Information is hard to come by, but there’s a good discussion of the topic in "The Psychology of Music", Diana Deutsch, Academic Press, 1982.) It’s been proposed that people with perfect pitch have learned to recognize the stimulation of certain nerve bundles in the inner ear and that’s how they identify a note, but this should mean that more people should have the ability. It’s also been demonstrated that pitch recognition can be learned through attempting to tell the pitch of tones, though much practice is required. In any case, few people have the facility; sources that say that "trained musicians have perfect pitch" usually mean perfect relative pitch. Eventhat is questionable, since everybody has limits to their ability to distinguish small pitch differences (see pitch discrimination). Leaving those with a perfect pitching record aside for a moment, it should be pointed out that pitch is our subjective reaction to frequency, and the two are not locked together. As described in the entry for pitch discrimination, there’s a certain minimum difference that we can detect - books on psychoacoustics differ somewhat on the exact value, but most people with good ears can detect only differences greater than about 5-10 cents, which is a bit less than 10% of a semitone. Another thing is that pitch perception drifts at the frequency extremes; the lowest and highest octaves of the piano sound a bit off if tuned exactly using electronic tuners. Piano tuners compensate for this by ear (and call it "octave stretching").

Performance practice-Performance practice or performing practice (= German: Aufführungspraxis) indicates the attempt to perform music in the way envisaged originally by the composer. The second half of the 20th century has brought a significant interest in musicology and the technology and scholarship necessary to the construction of copies of earlier instruments and to the study of methods of performance on these instruments. The study of performing practice extends from the study of music of the earliest periods to that of relatively recent periods of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

period period players, whether musical or dramatic, strive to reproduce exactly the performances from times past, including the use of original instruments (or reproductions). "Period" is sometimes known as HIP - Historically Informed Performance. The term can refer to anything from early Gregorian chant to the fairly modern, although the usual sense is something that’s centuries old. The production of replica period instruments is a minor industry. Sometimes the instruments are designed to use the older scales, such as the scale of just intonation or the meantone scale. See also Internet folk for related Web pages, particularly the PEERS (Period Events and Entertainment) page and the page for the Society for Creative Anachronism.

period. a pair of balanced phrases, antecedent and consequent, or question and answer, that occur consecutively, are united by motivic similarities, and make up a complete statement.

permutation. (set-theory) any possible ordering of a set; e.g., the set G,E,C has 3 factorial (6) different permutations: 1.C,E,G , 2.E,G,C, 3.G,C,E, 4. G,E,C, 5. C,G,E, or 6.E,C,G.


Peter, Paul & Mary folk trio that was extraordinarily successful during the 60s folk revival and is still popular, though some folkies accuse them of producing concerts and recordings with an overwhelming sameness (one critic reviewed a concert by saying only "See last year’s review"). Aka "PP&M". The members were (and remain) Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey, and Mary Travers. They continue to perform. They’re best known for their recordings of "If I Had a Hammer" by Hays, Lee and Seeger, Pete (1962), " Blowin’ in the Wind" by Dylan, Bob (1963), Peter Yarrow’s "Puff, the Magic Dragon" (1963), "For Lovin’ Me" by Lightfoot, Gordon (1965), "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by Denver, John (1969), and Paul Stookey’s "Wedding Song" (1971). Some PP&M trivia: when NYC entrepreneur Grossman, Albert wanted a trio for his lineup of performers, he engaged Mary and Peter. His choice for the third member was Van Ronk, Dave. Dave turned it down (wisely, considering his bluesy style) and Noel Stookey filled in.


Petric, Faith (1915- ) writes the well-known "Folk Process" column for Sing Out!. She began to perform in public in the late 60s, and appeared at the Fox Hollow Folk Festival. She has been singing and playing guitar ever since, and makes good use of her enormous repertoire in her writings.

phase. a small time difference (usually less than 1/16 of a second) between overlapping sound events of the same content. If this is zero the sounds are said to be 'in phase'; if not, they are out of phase. Most often the sounds are cyclic or rotational.

phaser not the Star Trek weapon, but an effects box that sweeps adjustable filters up and down the audio spectrum to produce a sort of swooshing sound, much like a jet aircraft passing overhead. Generally used only with electric music.

Philharmonic pitch see pitch.

Philharmonic-The adjective Philharmonic and noun Philharmonia are generally used as adopted titles by orchestras or by music-loving societies of one sort or another. The words have no other technical meaning.

philibeg (Scot.) a kilt.

Phillips, Bruce aka "Utah" or "U. Utah" Phillips, Bruce is a singer/guitarist who specialises in songs about railroads, hoboing, cowboys and so on. His public performances are an event, drawing on his bottomless box of jokes, wisecracks, and puns. He records for Philo records.

phrase. a musical sentence, with a beginning, end, and a clear shape, usually melodic. Phrases in music are most often four measures in length. 2.A phrase in music, on the analogy of syntactical use, is a recognisable musical unit, generally ending in a cadence of some kind, and forming part of a period or sentence. Phrasing in performance has a less precise use, indicating the correct grouping of notes, whether as phrases in the technical sense or in smaller distinct units, corresponding to the various possible syntactical uses of punctuation.

Phrygian. a mode consisting of S-T-T-T-S-T-T. (S=semitone, T=tone)

Phrygian-cadence. a half-cadence in a minor key with contrary step motion to the dominant between the soprano and bass. Either the soprano or bass moves by a semitone to the dominant.

physical scale see pitch.


piano aside from the obvious (the instrument’s full name is pianoforte because it can play softly or loudly), it also means a marking on notation to indicate a quiet passage. Softest would be pianissimo.

piano rolls paper rolls for a player piano. By means of perforations they could record a pianist’s playing with remarkable accuracy. They are the only recordings by some past musicians, such as Joplin, Scott.

Piano trio-Piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet indicate works for the piano with varying numbers of string instruments. The piano trio is scored for piano, violin and cello, the piano quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello, and the piano quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello.

Pianoforte-The pianoforte, known generally as the piano, was developed during the 18th century. A keyboard instrument, it is distinguished from the harpsichord by its hammer action, with hammers striking the strings when keys are depressed. Dynamic change is possible by applying more or less force to the keys. The instrument underwent a number of technical changes during the century and in the years following became the most popular instrument of domestic entertainment.

pianola originally a trade name, this came to mean any self-playing piano. There were types built with a barrel-and-pin mechanism; the last commercial type to be sold was the player piano.

Piano-Piano (Italian: soft) is generally represented by the letter p in directions to performers. Pianissimo, represented by pp, means very soft. Addition of further letters p indicates greater degrees of softness, as in Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, where an excessive pppppp is used.

pibroch (Scots Gael "piobaireachd") a class of music in the repertory of the Highland bagpipes. It consists of various complex tunes that have been notated in the form of a standard and are thus stylised, if not immutable. There are competitions for pipers who play nothing but. See also neume. Some folkies of note, such as Scotland’s Gaughan, Dick insist that the pibroch is not folk music, even if it came from folk sources. The reason is that the pibroch, being notated once and for all, never changes and is not allowed to go through the folk process as songs do. Not everyone agrees. There was much debate about this in the late 70s issues of Folk Review.

Picardy third (also "tierce de Picardie") ending a tune that’s in a minor key with a major chord; that is, a tune in D minor would end with a D major chord. The sudden intrusion of the major gives a very positive feeling to the ending. Used occasionally in folk music. The origin of the name isn’t known for sure (perhaps from the Old French "picart", sharp), although the "third" part is easy: if you sharp the third note in the scale of A minor, the minor chord (A-C-E) is now major (A-C#-E).

picardy-third. the use of a major third in a cadence on the tonic in a minor key.

Piccolo-The piccolo (Italian: small) is the small flute, pitched an octave higher than the ordinary flute. Adjectivally the word may be applied to other instruments or groups, as in coro piccolo, small chorus. The violino piccolo, a smaller violin, is used by Johann Sebastian Bach in the first Brandenburg Concerto, where it is to be tuned a third higher.

pick 1. (n.) See flatpick. 2. (v.) To play a stringed instrument. The term is general: "Let’s pick!". It doesn’t matter if the other musicians are actually flatpicking or not.

pick o’er (UK) to weave.

pickup a contact microphone on an acoustic instrument, used to generate an electrical signal for use by an instrument amplifier or DI. In some cases, they’re magnetic coils that are mounted under the strings, or an actual microphone mounted within the body. The sound hole of an acoustic guitar is often blocked, which reduces the bass output and thus the feedback problems. While they solve the problems that go with microphones, they almost never sound as good as the instrument itself, since they emphasize only one particular section of the instrument (you can prove this to yourself if you have a guitar or similar - strum a chord and place your ear on some part of the instrument, and then move it around to various locations. The sound changes radically from part to part). In the worst cases, they ruin the sound. The guitar often goes from a rich powerful chord to the sound of an ultra- bright, overly-amplified ukelele. Properly fitted pickups can prevent this. Makers of superb acoustic guitars who agonize over every detail must shudder at what some of the shoddy efforts do to their products. Instruments like the concertina, accordion and melodeon often sound good with internal pickups, especially since PA people placing microphones aren’t always aware that sound comes out of both sides of the instrument. Instrumentalists and PA people who favor pickups will hotly contest this entry. They will say that the pickup increases volume, decreases feedback, and simplifies controlling the input levels. While these points are true, the listener wants to hear the performer’ssound and doesn’t care about quick fixes to make life easier for those onstage and behind the scenes. If the sound is unaffected or improved by a pickup, that’s one thing. If the sound is inferior to that of a microphone, the technical problems of miking can and should be solved.pickup band a group of musicians recruited on the spot for some impromptu playing; synonymous with scratch band.

piller (UK, also "pillar") pillory, stocks. See also timber stairs.

pin 1. (UK) door bolt. In songs, it’s often "silver-headed pin". Occasionally both terms refer to a hairpin, but this is usually made clear by the context. 2. A plastic pin used to secure an instrument’s strings to the bridge, if the instrument uses this system. Aka "bridge pin".

pipe see pipes or whistle.

pipe tune any melody performed on the bagpipes; it often refers to a military band using the bagpipes. The repertoire of the piper usually consists of traditional tunes, some taken from the military, but it’s of interest to note that Alan Reid of the Battlefield Band said that many of the best pipe tunes have been written in the last 20 years.

pipe-and-tabor see whistle.

pipes 1. Any of the family of whistles, flutes, etc. 2. See bagpipes. 3. Someone with a good singing voice is said to have "a nice set of pipes". 4. Actual tobacco pipes ("bacca pipes") placed crossed on the ground as part of a solo jig in morris dancing.