Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

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ing about or describing folk music and the music of non-Western cultures requires special adaptations of the technical vocabulary nor­mally used for describing the music of Western civilization. Also, in order to distinguish the various styles of folk music throughout the world from each other, we should have some idea of what is com­mon to all or most of these styles. Here, then, we wish to talk about the music itself, not about the use that is made of it, or about the words of the song, or about the instrument used to play it.
What actually can be said about a piece of music? We can say that we like or dislike it, and why; but this is largely a matter of opinion. It would make more sense to say how it is put together. This can be done in very complicated ways, and there are some pub­lished descriptions of music that defy understanding even by trained musicians. On the other hand, a layman with no background at all can, by listening and repeated listening, find out rather accurately how a piece of music is put together. In the case of folk music, which tends to be simpler than the sophisticated music of the trained composer, analysis made by listening rather than by examining a score is not too difficult. And the reader of these pages is advised to listen to records of folk music as much as possible, because under­standing of music naturally comes much more easily through listen­ing than from reading about it. Furthermore, while we can say a great deal about music with words there is also much that we cannot express.
Perhaps the best way to begin analyzing a piece of music, either when one hears it or when one sees it written out, is to find the large subdivisions and the broad tendencies. Is the song made up of several large sections which contrast markedly? Are the sections of equal length? Does the tempo change considerably or suddenly in the course of the piece? Are any of the sections repeated? Or is the whole piece repeated several times? And if so, are the repetitions more or less exact, or are they variations of the first rendition? Do the sections correspond to sections or lines of the same length in the verbal text? These are the kinds of questions an intelligent listener might ask himself.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III