An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section V)


vamp to play a chord progression over and over, perhaps as an intro or a simple accompaniment, or a timewaster until the other musicians are ready to jump in and play along.

Van Diemen’s Land an island off Australia, now called Tasmania. It was another place where people were sent because of the transports and is mentioned in many songs.

Van Ronk, Dave (1936- ) Dave Van Ronk’s recordings and appearances in the late 50s through the 80s exposed white audiences to the wealth of country blues and traditional songs that were formerly only available on old race records or specialty labels. While his voice is rough and some of his arrangements overly loud, in general he has a charming style. His finger-style guitar is complex and an inspiration to a whole generation of pickers, despite the fact that he claims to be a singer rather than a guitarist. He has also recorded a wide variety of songs by contemporary authors. Most of his albums were solo efforts, though he made a few with a jazz band (Red Onion Jazz Band), a jug band (Ragtime Jug Stompers), an electric band (Hudson Dusters), and even a full orchestra (to mixed reviews).

van Zandt, Townes (1944-1997) US singer-songwriter who was something of a cult figure in the 70s among folkies. Best known for his "Close Your Eyes and I’ll Be There in the Morning", "Greensboro Woman", "Snow Don’t Fall", "If You Needed Me", and "Pancho and Lefty". The latter two were hits for Emmy Lou Harris and Willie Nelson, respectively. He had a large number of albums on labels such as Tomato, Poppy, and Sugar Hill. There was a revival of his music in recent years among the folk community. He died of a heart attack in January, 1997.

variant if a song is a good one, the folk process will ensure that it appears all over the place in slightly different forms, but with each form retaining enough of the original that it’s not considered a different song. Each of the versions would be a variant. See song family for examples of this. The song "Gypsy Laddies" appears as "Raggle Taggle Gypsies", "Black Jack Davy", "Gypsy Dave", "Johnny Faa" and others. Even the sanitized "Whistling Gypsy", aka "Gypsy Rover" (written in modern times by Irish writer Leo McGuire) is a variant. See folk process and historical accuracy for more on this song family.

Variations-Variation form involves the repetition of a theme in changed versions. It is possible to vary the melody, its rhythm and its harmony, or to vary by addition. Early variation forms include the chaconne and the passacaglia, originally dances based on variations on a simple repeated bass or chordal pattern. Later examples of variations include Elgar's well known Enigma Variations and the Handel, Haydn and Paganini Variations of Brahms.

vaudeville the travelling minstrel shows of the 19th century US led to vaudeville’s established variety-show circuit; it was popular until modern times - presumably television was its undoing (the Ed Sullivan show was said to be vaudeville’s last gasp). Vaudeville was the US equivalent of Britain’s music hall. It borrowed heavily from the folk tradition for song ideas (see Casey Jones). Sometimes the rewritten songs ended up back in the tradition. See also New Vaudeville Band.


Verismo- Verismo (Italian: realism) is used in connection with the attempts at realism in late 19th century Italian opera, particularly with Mascagni's opera Cavalleria rusticana, followed by Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

Vertretung. (Schenker/Slatkin: see substitution).

Vespers-Vespers is the evening service of the Divine Office, elements of which have proved suitable for more elaborate setting than the normal plainchant. Particularly notable in this respect is the 1610 compilation by Monteverdi for his published Vespers in Honour of the Blessed Virgin.

vibraphone rarely if ever encountered in folk music. The vibes are an elaboration of the xylophone - tuned metal bars mounted in a frame and played with mallets. Vibrato can be obtained through a motorized mechanism of pipes and valves mounted under the bars. 2. A vibraphone is a form of metallophone with resonators below its horizontally arranged metal bars and a mechanism to allow a vibrato effect, giving the instrument a characteristic resonance. It has been used for special effects by a number of 20th century composers.

vibrato arm a lever attached to the bridge of an electric guitar. Pushing and pulling it rapidly changes the tension of all the strings at once and produces an enormous amount of vibrato. Musicians see it as something of a gimmick; it was popular in the 60s.

vibrato in singing or playing, to vary the pitch of a note up and down rapidly. Some electric guitars have mechanical arms to vary the string tension, allowing vibrato on whole chords. Vibrato and tremolo are often confused. 2. Vibrato is a technique of vibration used on various instruments and by singers, at one time used sparingly or not at all, but tending to over-use from performers anxious to conceal poor intonation. In strings-even pulsation or rapid vibration of the fingers of the left hand produced by a combination of finger and arm movement.


vihuela a Spanish stringed instrument dating from medieval times. Somewhat like a guitar, it has various stringings from five to seven double courses of unison strings in lute tuning. It’s used today by period musicians.

viol the viol family is the forerunner of the violin family. They are still made today for period players. They differ from the violin family chiefly in having six strings instead of four, and adjustable gut frets on the neck.

viola da gamba the forerunner of the modern cello, and it looks like a cello on a diet. It’s a member of the viol family. Used occasionally on folk recordings.

Viola d'amore-The viola d'amore, used principally in the 17th and 18th centuries, is a bowed instrument generally with seven bowed strings and seven sympathetic strings, tuned to vibrate in sympathy with the playing strings. The instrument has a peculiar resonance of its own and has a small but interesting modern repertoire.

viola like a larger violin, and with a deeper, warmer tone. The viola is tuned in fifths: C G D A, with the D being one tone above middle C. 2.The viola (= German: Bratsche; French: alto) is the tenor of the modern violin family, with a range that extends a fifth below that of the violin and starts an octave above that of the cello. Violas are built in various sizes and were at one time used for both the alto and tenor registers. Experiments were made, starting in the later 19th century, to produce an instrument of sufficient size to provide the desired resonance while remaining small enough to be manageable, and more recently a larger instrument, played downwards like a cello and not held horizontally like a violin, has been devised. Violas take the tenor part in the string section of the modern orchestra and in string quartets, while the solo concerto and duo sonata repertoire of the instrument, starting in the early 18th century, has been considerably enlarged in the 20th.

violin a violin and a fiddle are the same thing, though fiddle is the usual term in folk. Sometimes folkies with secret training will zip off a piece by Bach, and due to the awe this inspires, they become "violinists" for at least a day. The violin is tuned in fifths: GDAE, with the G being the one below middle C.

violin family there are four primary members of the violin family, differing only in size and the fact that the cello and bass are played in an upright position. From smallest to largest: violin, viola, cello, and bass. 2. The violin, a bowed instrument with four strings, is used to provide the soprano and alto parts in the string section of the modern orchestra and the string quartet. It was developed in something approaching its modern form in the 16th century, gradually coming to occupy an unrivalled position because of its remarkable acoustical properties and its versatility. Particular distinction was added by the great violin-makers of Northern Italy and of the Austrian Tyrol, while the later 18th century brought gradual changes of construction of both bow and instrument to provide greater resonance.

Violone-The violone is the double bass of the viol family, although the word was once occasionally used with less accuracy to indicate the cello or any large viol.

Viol-Viols are bowed string instruments usually held downwards and therefore described as viole da gamba, (leg-viols), as opposed to instruments like the violin and its predecessors, held horizontally and described as viole da braccio, (arm-viols). Viols are made in various sizes, generally with six strings and with frets, lengths of gut tied round the neck and fingerboard of the instrument to show the position of the notes. Viols were the most important bowed string instruments from the 15th century, but were gradually superseded by instruments of the violin family, leaving only one form of double bass as a survivor. The revival of interest in earlier music has brought a marked revival in the fortunes of the viol, most recently in cinematic attention to the famous 17th century player and composer Marin Marais. In the 16th and 17th centuries consorts or chests of viols, sets of matched instruments of different size and range, were much in use, often as a means of domestic music-making. The viol is often incorrectly referred to in English as a gamba, an etymological solecism.

virelais a late medieval song style from France, similar to the ballade except that it has a multi-line chorus.

virginal an early harpsichord, small, and with one string per note. It was a copy of the compact clavichord, but with the then-new plucking mechanism instead of the clavichord’s metal knife-edge.

Virginal-The virginal is a small harpsichord of varied shape and size. The word was used very generally in England in the 16th and 17th centuries for instruments of this type, with a keyboard and a mechanism by which quills plucked the horizontally stretched strings. The etymology of the word is uncertain, although it allowed obvious scope for Elizabethan and Jacobean punsters.

Vivace-Vivace, lively, is commonly used as an indication of tempo.

Vivacity-vivacity, liveliness.

Vivo-life, vivacity.

vocables the sounds that make up words, without regard to meaning. Whether you sing "And did these feet in ancient times..." or "Ree-bop! Doodly aw!", you’re singing vocables. See also scat singing, mouth music, nonsense syllables.

vocal ranges in order of increasing pitch, the vocal ranges are bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano. Most men are tenors and most women are altos. There are subdivisions of the groups, such as mezzo-soprano, but these are not encountered in folk music. There are also overlaps: a tenor, for instance, can often reach a competent alto range, or even a soprano range by using falsetto. The ranges given in the individual entries are from a variety of musical dictionaries, of which no two agree. This isn’t too surprising, considering the flexibility of human voices.

vocal styles you’ll find an astounding range of styles in folk music. Some have the "bel canto" purity of the best pop singers, and some just let it wail. Bob Dylan’s early records caused one critic to say that he sounded like "a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire". When another singer released a similar sound, another critic said that he sounded like "Bob Dylan with his leg caught in barbed wire". At the other end of the scale are the operatic folk, like Richard Dyer-Bennett or Canada’s Alan Mills. England’s Jake Thackeray had one critic saying that he sounded like "George Formby doing Noel Coward". In between are the masses of superb folksingers who value expression above vocal rules, which is as it should be. An excellent folkmusic vocal is astoundingly complicated, although no rules have been written down as yet. It’s an impossible job to explain the magic of a Roscoe Holcomb, which is why it remains magic despite the breaking of every rule in the formal book.

Vocalise-A vocalise is a vocal work, whether an exercise or not, that has no words. There is a well known and frequently transcribed Vocalise by Rachmaninov, and vocalisation is also called for in an orchestral context with the chorus parts of Neptune in Holst's suite The Planets.



voice other than the obvious, this is also used in much the same way as register: to indicate a range of pitch. If an instrument has two reeds per note tuned an octave apart, for instance, you might refer to them as the upper and lower voice. In organ and synthesizer playing, it refers to a tonal effect applied to all (or a range of) the notes.

Voice-Voice is used technically in music to indicate a particular musical line, even if this is intended for an instrumentalist and not a singer. The American 'voice-leading' is the equivalent of the English 'part-writing', writing different parts or lines of music for simultaneous performance. 2. refers to virtual voices, which are even simulated in a single chord. The highest voice is called the soprano, the lowest is called the bass. If there are more than two voices, a second treble voice that lies below the soprano is called the alto, and a third voice, lying above the bass, is called the tenor.

voice-leading. the motion of a single voice. Traditional voice-leading is a restricted type called smooth voice-leading.

voicing. the registrational positioning, spacing, and doubling of notes in a chord and/or their placement in conventional vocal or instrumental ranges. Two types are common in four-part settings: (1) close voicing, the distance from soprano to tenor voices is less than an octave, and (2) open voicing, where the distance from soprano to tenor is an octave or greater. See also crossed-voices and doubling.

Volante-in a light flying manner.

Volti Subito(V.S.)-turn over quickly.

volunteers no folk club, Ale or festival would be possible without the volunteers who work long hours for free, taking care of everything from food to staging to finding a performer just the right thumbpick. Bless ‘em.

von Schmidt, Eric influential blues guitarist, singer and artist from the Boston/Cambridge folk scene of the 60s. His collection of blues and American traditional songs, plus his innovative guitar arrangements (many of which used open tuning) greatly inspired folk musicians like Tom Rush and Bob Dylan, who in turn inspired legions of beginning guitar pickers. He recorded a number of albums, including one with Farina, Richard. His career no doubt got a boost from Dylan’s mentioning him on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" on Bob’s first album ("I first heard this song from, uh, Ric von Schmidt..."). Dylan gave him yet another plug some years later - on Dylan’s "Bringing It All Back Home" album, the cover photo plainly shows a copy of Ric’s album, "The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt".