An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section R2)

rhythm tapping your foot to a tune is following the rhythm. You can follow the beat, which is regular (and more difficult to do for beginners), or you can follow the melody, which is irregular. When it comes to actually figuring out the rhythm in terms of music notation, you’ll find that we’ve been led astray. A large number of songs have four beats per measure according to the book, but this isn’t really true: each beat is subdivided into the downbeat, which is when your foot taps the floor, and the upbeat, which is when your foot rises up. If tutorials would just tell people this simple fact, it would make everything a lot easier for beginners. To avoid an abrupt start, many songs begin on a upbeat, with the next word or syllable coming on the stronger downbeat. An example would be Greensleeves: "Alas, my love you do me wrong.." The "A" of "Alas" is an upbeat, with the "las" strongly accented by the downbeat. See foot of examples of rhythm and meter in the lyrics. Folk music from the English-speaking countries tends to have uncomplicated rhythms, such as double time (2/2, 4/4, etc.) and triple time (3/4, 3/8, etc.). See time signature. Occasionally musically illiterate traditional singers will vary the time signature to suit themselves, resulting in a melody with multiple time signatures in the same line (there’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact it results in a more interesting song than the usual regular tick-tock would produce). The "pulse" of the song is only peripherally related to the time signature. The note groupings produce a particular beat that may not be apparent from the written music. For instance, 6/8 produces a strong feeling of two beats per measure (see jig). Also, for songs four-in-a-measure, folk music accentuates the first and third beats:one, two,three, four. Pop and rock music, on the other hand, accentuate the second and fourth: one,two, three, four. The song "C’mon, let the good times roll" is a good example of the latter. Try counting the four beats and you’ll see the effect, which is usually known as "backbeat". See also cross rhythm, simple meter, polymeter, polyrhythm.

rhythm. any aspect of music having to do with time. Notice that since music must exist in time, all music is rhythmic.

Rhythm-Rhythm, an essential element in music in one way or another, is the arrangement of notes according to their relative duration and relative accentuation.

RI. [2,4] (set-theory, linear) abbreviation for retrograde-inversion.

riddle songs the best-known riddle song is probably "I Gave My Love a Cherry". There are many others - in some, Satan appears in a disguise and demands the solution to impossible riddles. A small child, who represents Christ, solves the riddles and Satan vanishes ("The False Knight Upon the Road"). In others, such as "Riddles Wisely Expounded", a man asks riddles of several women, with the one who can solve them becoming his bride (the earliest versions of this song are a contest between someone and Satan - see supernatural). In "Captain Wedderburne’s Courtship" (aka "Captain Woodstock"), the man desiring to sleep with the woman must successfully answer riddles.

riding the rods see hobo songs.

riever (UK, also "reaver") robber.

riff (from jazz argot) 1. (n.) A short melodic phrase that may be repeated, or a series of phrases. May be played as a solo or used as an accompaniment. Synonymous with licks. 2. (v.) To play these phrases.

Rigaudon-The French folk-dance, the rigaudon, is occasionally found in instrumental dance suites of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was normally in a brisk duple metre.

rill a word that only seems to be used to aid the rhyming in old folk songs ("mid the rocks and the rills"). It means a rivulet or brook.

rimshot when the drummer strikes the rim of a drum with a drumstick, producing a loud, abrupt sound. It’s often used to accentuate the weak beats offbeat.

Ring book see morris Ring.

Ring see morris Ring.

ringing if the volume or EQ of a sound system is turned up too high, but not high enough to cause full feedback, the result is often the generation of a tone whenever anyone begins to talk, sing or play, with the tone occurring only as the performer makes sounds. The cure is a reduction in level or proper adjustment of any feedback filters.

ringing the changes see change ringing.

Rinzler, Ralph deeply involved in the Newport Folk Festival and the Smithsonian’s American Folklife Festival, he brought much traditional American music to the public. During the 50s he played old-timey music and joined the Greenbriar Boys in 1959. He is considered a master of the mandolin.

Rise Up Singing a book of folk song lyrics published by Sing Out!. While it’s a wonderful resource with 1,000+ songs, it’s causing a flap at the present (1994). Since multiple copies are at every singaround, the argument against seems to be that the book is (a) enforcing a carved-in-stone approach to folksong (see collectors) or something similar, and (b) making people sing songs in a rigid, inexpressive manner as they read from the book’s lyrics, instead of taking the trouble to learn the mechanics of it and then sing from the heart. The argument for is that it’s a wonderful memory-jogger and an inspiration to learn new songs, and that the fault lies with the rigid singers, not the book. Since the same argument has been going on about collectors and other folklorists since they started work, there may never be a satisfactory resolution. An oddity: in 1973, Fred and Irwin Silber brought out "The Folksinger’s Wordbook", containing the lyrics for 1,000 songs. There wasn’t the slightest fuss.


ritard (also "ritardando", "retard") a slowing of the tempo. Often used to end a performance or introduce a bridge. The whole trick in group playing is to get everybody slowing down at the same rate. The opposite is accelerando (and presents the same problem).

Ritardando-Ritardando (Italian: becoming slower) abbreviated often to rit., is often used as a direction to players.

Ritchie, Jean (1922- ) Kentucky singer and dulcimer player Jean has been a part of the folk revival since the 50s. Her repertoire is a huge collection of American traditional music, much of it from her family. She has a number of albums and dulcimer tutorials, and is the author of "The L&N Don’t Stop Here Any More" under the alias "Than Hall". It’s interesting to note that the ancient English song "Nottamun Town", thought to be lost in the UK, was discovered in the repertoire of the Ritchie family. Bob Dylan used the tune for his "Masters of War". See also borrowing, Appalachia.

Ritenuto-Ritenuto (Italian: held back) directs a player to slow down at once.

Ritornello-The ritornello, a recurrent phrase or passage, is a feature of baroque form, where an aria may be punctuated by re-appearances of a short instrumental phrase. It became a frequent element in baroque solo concertos by composers such as Vivaldi, and works with operatic connotations.

ritual the folk subculture preserves many rituals, such as morris dancers greeting the sun on May 1 (see Hal-an-Tow, mummers plays, and various other seasonal ceremonies. Folksong has always been connected with these; see carol for further comments on secular songs for specific occasions. "The Boar’s Head Carol", sung at Christmas feasts, is one example. The song below, as sung at Queen’s College, Oxford, is from 1521 from Wynkyn de Worde’s manuscript, but there are versions from the 15th century. Steeleye Span released this as a 1970s single in the UK in an attempt to repeat their success with "Gaudete". It’s a fascinating blend of English and classical Latin: "The boar’s head in hand bear I, bedecked with bays and rosemary,And I pray you, masters, be merry, quot estis in convivio. (1)Chorus:Caput apri defero,Reddens laudes Domino. (2)The boar’s head, as I understand, is the rarest dish in all the land,Which thus bedecked with a gay garland, let us servire cantico. (3)Our steward hath provided this, in honor of the King of bliss,Which on this day to be served is in reginensi atrio." (4)1. as many as are in the feast2. The boar’s head I bring, giving praises to God3. serve with a song4. in the Queen’s hall The carol is sung, not only at Oxford, but anywhere people have an interest in British folk music - although few actually prepare a boar’s head. A Christmas turkey serves well.

Roberts, John see Barrand, Tony

Robertson, Jeannie (1908-1975) a Scottish traditional singer who was unknown until she was discovered in the early 50s. She knew a wealth of Scottish folk songs and folklore, and much of her repertoire was recorded, especially by Henderson, Hamish. She was awarded the MBE in 1968 for her contribution to folk music. Many record labels have released her recordings.

Robertson, Robbie see The Band.

Robeson, Paul (1898-1976) Singer, theater and film actor, activist - truly an amazing figure in the 20th century. He is well-known to the public for his powerful version of "Ol’ Man River" from "Showboat", or his 1943 "Othello", but few may know of his struggles on behalf of civil rights. Part of the reason for this was the blacklist - activists did not sit well with the witch hunters. He was a member of the original People’s Songs group. He went to Spain during the Civil War, and later lived in England - he wrote in his book "Here I Stand" that it was through his travels that he learned "the essential character of a nation is determined not by the upper classes, but by the common people..." He was to continue the struggle for freedom from his home in Harlem until ill health prevented it in the 70s. In 1973, a large group of theater people, artists, etc., held a celebration of his birthday at Carnegie Hall.

Robin Hood the index to the Child ballads lists 53 entries for Robin Hood. Along with King Arthur, this must be the most enduring folk tale in the world. The songs are not that popular in clubs and festivals at the moment, but historically speaking, we’re just going through a little lull (though Steeleye Span did record "Gambol Gold and Robin Hood" with an electric arrangement). The characters from the Robin Hood legend turn up often in morris dancing pageantry.

rock mixers the mixer is the individual in charge of the festival sound board or its equivalent in the recording studio. When the equipment is being run by someone from a rock or pop background, it’s immediately obvious to folkies. The rock mixer accentuates the instruments with a loud punchy sound, and sees the vocals as just one more part. Folkies prefer it the other way around, with the all-important vocal dominating. In a slow ballad, for instance, the instruments must provide quiet support to the singer. It takes an ear sensitive to the music to prevent them from becoming obtrusive. Since folk music is not a huge industry, performers tend to put themselves in the hands of rock mixers all the time, often with disappointing results.rococo refers to the art, architecture, etc., of the late baroque period, and is often taken to mean a lightening of the massive, ornate baroque style, but is also used in the sense of really excessive, since the lightening-up was occasionally done by adding lots of scrollwork and gold paint.


Rococo-, a term borrowed, as are so many other terms in musicology, from architecture and the visual arts, is used in particular to describe the light decorative French style as found in the work of Couperin and Rameau in the first half of the 18th century.

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

Rodgers, Jimmie (1897-1933) Aka "The Yodelling Brakeman" and "The "Singing Brakeman", Rodger’s songs, singing and guitar picking were enormously popular in the 20s and 30s, and have remained so since among folk and country fans. He had a tremendous influence on country music. His songs include "T.B. Blues", "All Around the Water Tank", "Apple Picking Time in Georgia" and "T for Texas". Not to be confused with Jimmie Rodgers, below with a "2" in his name to distinguish him from the above.

Rodgers, Jimmie 2 (1933- ) often confused with "The Yodelling Brakeman", which is why there’s a "2" in his name, this Rodgers had a hit in 1957 with "Honeycomb" and another later in the year with "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", which is by the Weavers via Leadbelly. In 1962, he had yet another success with "English Country Gardens", which is from Grainger, Percy via Sharp, Cecil. With all that folk going for him in the midst of the folk revival, he brought out a forgettable album of traditional songs. He seems to have been ignored (or confused with the other Rodgers) by all the pop and rock encyclopedias; this might have to do with his whitebread approach to rock and folk.

Rogers, Stan (1949-1983) Ontario singer-songwriter-guitarist who was tremendously successful singing his own compositions before his untimely death in an airliner fire. He wrote songs about historical figures, fishers, farmers, and workers of all types; he had a hit when one of his atypical love songs, "Forty-five Years From Now" was recorded by Mary O’Hara and released in the UK and Canada. Some of his best-remembered songs are "Northwest Passage", "Barrett’s Privateers", "Field Behind the Plough", "Make and Break Harbour", and "The Mary Ellen Carter", and many of his songs have been recorded by dozens of people. "Safe in the Harbour" by Bogle, Eric was written for Stan. His death was a tragic loss to the Canadian folk community.

Romanticism-Romanticism in cultural history is a word that defies precise definition. In music it is most commonly applied to a period or the predominant features of that period, from the early 19th century until the early 20th. Features of romanticism in music include an attention to feeling rather than to formal symmetry, expressed in a freer use of traditional forms, an expansion of the instrumental resources of music and an extension of harmonic language. Music also reflected other preoccupations, influenced particularly by the arts of literature and painting, and their preoccupation with the remote and exotic, whether historical or geographical, or both. Early German romantic opera, for example, is found in Weber's Der Freischütz, with its plot involving woodmen and huntsmen and the mysterious midnight magic of the forest.

rondeau writers on classical music often mistake this for an upper-class way of saying rondo. It ain’t.

rondo though it’s primarily a classical form, the rondo does turn up in folk music, though not very often. You need a good jam with a bunch of virtuoso fiddle, banjo and/or guitar players. It means nothing more than a theme and variations, of the form A-B-A-C-A-D and so on (the "A" part is called the refrain). You could say that the usual song structure of A-B-A is a rondo in its most basic form (see bridge). Not to be confused with the rondeau, which is a type of medieval chorus song, although it did lead to the rondo form. A classical rondo of latter-day fame is the theme from PBS’s "Masterpiece Theatre" (Mouret’s rondo from his "1st Symphonic Suite").

rondo. a sectional form whose sections follow the pattern: A B A C A D A....(B) A.

Rondo-Rondo (= French: rondeau) form involves the use of a recurrent theme between a series of varied episodes, often used for the rapid final movement of a classical concerto or symphony.

Rooftop Singers formed in 1962, the group consisted of Darling, Erik, Bill Svanhoe, and Lynne Taylor. They performed in clubs and coffeehouses, and had a big hit with "Walk Right In" (see jug band), popularizing the sound of the 12-string guitar. They recorded three albums for Vanguard before disbanding in 1967.

root the note in a chord that determines its name. For example, the root note of a C chord is the lowest C note in the chord. Often used interchangeably (and incorrectly) with tonic. It can also refer to the order of the notes in a chord - see chord inversion.

root. 1. lowest (or first) pitch-class in a Itertian spelling. Root is not the same as bass, tonic, key, or fundamental. Note the differences. In the chord B D F G, B may be the bass but it is not the root. Spelled in thirds, the root is revealed to be G. 2. the pitch in an interval which is emphasized by combination tones (Hindemith). The root of odd numbered scalar intervals is the lower pitch and the upper pitch for even numbered (scalar) intervals.

root-movement. the change of roots indicated by a directional-interval-class.

root-position. in tertian harmony, a chord with the root in the bass.

roots music a term that came into vogue after the 70s in an attempt to find a word that expressed more clearly what "folk" music was all about, since "folk" in popular usage had come to mean whatever the speaker wanted it to mean - usually any performer using an acoustic guitar. Roots music can be used to describe the folk music of a particular culture - "My musical roots are Celtic" - but it’s quite common for people to take up the roots of another culture. Someone from Japan might well be obsessed with bluegrass, and feel that this is the music that really stirs the soul. They may well know more about it than people born into the bluegrass tradition. On the other side of the coin are people raised with a particular musical tradition who pay no attention to it, and prefer whatever the pop media has to offer. While it’s a handy catch-all, the word is imprecise and sheds no more light than saying "folk" in the first place.

rosette the decorative ring around the sound hole of a guitar or other instrument. Luthiers often make these masterpieces of inlay. See also purfling.

rosin (pron. "rozzen"; also, "resin") 1. (n.) A hard, yellowish resin extracted from pine oils and rubbed along the bows of the violin family; it increases the friction of the bow on the strings and improves the volume and tone. Occasionally called "colophony". 2. (v.) To apply rosin. There is a fiddle tune and song with a punning title: "Rosin the Beau".

Rosmini, Dick guitarist and banjo player. In the 60s, he backed performers like Gibson, Bob, Camp, Hamilton, and Dane, Barbara. He made an album of instrumental folk tunes for Elektra, and dubbed the guitar sound for the film "Leadbelly" (see movies).

Rosselson, Leon a UK radical songwriter, composer of "World Turned Upside Down", "Palaces of Gold", "Stand Up for Judas", and many more. Songs of his have been recorded by such artists as Carthy, Martin. His political stance can occasionally give the impression of axe-grinding rather than persuasion.

round robin see singaround.

round singing a song in multiple parts, with each part starting somewhat after its predecessor, produces a round. Singing or playing melodies together, but with different starting points, is called "counterpoint" or polyphonic, and the folk or "campfire" round is the simplest form. Since the multiple voices singing different things coincide every now and then, they produce chords (which may or may not be consonant (see harmony) - some adjusting may be necessary). See also quodlibet, bitonal. The terms canon and the round tend to be used interchangeably - they both consist of two or more identical melodies, staggered as to when they come in ("entry" or "entry point"), but the canon can get more complicated since the following parts may be pitched differently from the first, producing parallel harmony. For instance, in sacred harp harmonies, the parallel fifth was a great favorite. The classical fugue is the biggy in the world of counterpoint. The parts can be completely different melodies, making for incredible complexity (but it’s a joy to hear when you grasp what’s going on). J.S. Bach was the Fugue King.

round. a circular canon.

rounded-binary. see: binary.

roundelay 1. A song in which a line or phrase is repeated. 2. A round dance.

row. (set-theory, linear) syn. series.

rubato a word with a complex definition. In general, it’s used in the sense of flexibility of rhythm and meter. Recordings of traditional singers made by collectors show extreme use of rubato, to the point that a traditional song often has several changes of time signature. 2.Rubato, (Italian: stolen), is a direction to allow a player a measure of freedom in performance. The phrase tempo rubato is also found.

rubbish though they might look like a Monty Python sketch, good morris teams are concerned with precision in their dancing. To prevent this from getting clinical, advice is given to errant dancers by other dancers in the sidelines shouting "Rubbish!". Well, it beats lectures and written exams. It works, too.

run an interesting little instrumental bit, used as fill between verses or as an intro. A bass run is one of many little instrumental cliches used to accent a chord change. For instance, a bass run from a G chord to a C would contain the notes G-A-B-C in the bass register.

Rush, Tom (1941- ) singer-guitarist who was greatly successful after beginning in the Boston/Cambridge folk scene. His wide repertoire included blues, ballads, train songs, love songs, etc. His finger-style guitar playing was copied by legions of folk revival pickers, including his open tuning rhythmic method. He was adept at re-arranging the songs of earlier performers (such as Lewis, Furry and Fuller, Jesse) and bringing them to the new, larger audiences of the 60s and 70s. He appeared at every major festival and folk club. Tom was one of the first to record the songs of Mitchell, Joni, doing "Circle Game" and "Urge for Going" (which was released as a single in the 60s). He has a large number of albums and continues to perform.