Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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The uninitiated listener of non-Western music, and even of the folk music of Eastern Europe and perhaps of some Western Euro­pean folk music, is often struck by the curious, possibly unpleasant sound of some of it. It may sound out of tune to him, and he will have trouble reproducing the tones and intervals if he tries to sing it. Also, he will be unable to reproduce the tones correctly on a piano. The reason for this is that the tone system or scale of much non-Western music does not conform to the scales used in the music of Western civilization.
A scale may be defined as the pitches used in any particular piece of music such as a song. A tone system, on the other hand, is all the pitches used in a whole body of song or pieces in the same style. One way to describe a scale is to count the number of differ­ent pitches or tones that appear in it. From this kind of description are derived such terms as "pentatonic," which denotes a scale con­sisting of five tones; "tetratonic," a scale of four tones; "tritonic" (three tones); "hexatonic" (six); and "heptatonic" (seven). The tone system of Western European art music was, on the whole, heptatonic until the period just before 1900, the point at which the increase of chromaticism made it necessary to admit that twelve-tone scales began to be the rule. It is quite possible, however, to have pentatonic music that fits perfectly into the chromatic system of contemporary music; just play the black keys of the piano, and you have a common type of pentatonic scale. Thus the mere num­ber of tones doesn't really determine the character of a scale to any great extent; and the reason for the curious sound of some non-Western music is not to be sought in the number of tones used. But counting the number of pitches is something the casual listener can do without much trouble if he is willing to listen several times to the same record.
The distance in pitch between the tones is probably a more im­portant indicator of tonal character. Thus, we could have a penta­tonic song that uses the scale A-B-D-E-G, and another one that uses the tones A-BfcrB-C-D. Each uses five tones, but one uses large inter­vals, the other very small ones. Of course the number of interval arrangements that can be found in folk music is almost infinite, but the listener can decide whether intervals he hears are, on the whole, large, small, or medium, and get an idea of the character of the scale that he is hearing. The peculiar sound of some non-Western music is

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