Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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due to the fact that some intervals do not coincide with those we expect to hear. They don't fit in with our system of notation, or with our fixed-pitch instruments such as the piano. There is nothing abnormal about these intervals or scales; nor is there anything espe­cially normal or right about the ones that we are accustomed to. Each culture develops its own musical system, and the listener can easily get used to different systems and find each one sounding nor­mal and in tune within its own style. It is like learning foreign languages.
In some cultures there are intervals smaller than the half tone, that is, smaller than anything that can be produced on the piano. More commonly we find intervals intermediate in size between those used in the Western tempered system. Thus, the "neutral third," an interval found in various cultures, is halfway between a major and a minor third. Of course, in Western civilization we use several different pitch standards. The intervals on the piano are somewhat different from those produced on the violin. But we have a range within which an interval is considered "in tune." Although "A" is supposed to be 440 vibrations per second, a pitch of 435 or 445 would still, by most persons, be considered "A." Presumably a similar range of acceptability exists in the musical system—expressed, or unconsciously taken for granted—of each culture. And probably one may deviate from pitch more in some musical styles than in others and get away with it.
In many ways, the music of non-Western and some folk cul­tures sounds strange, confusing, and downright unacceptable to the uninitiated listener. There is a tendency in our earlier musical wrrit-ings, and in the present-day remarks of the uninformed, to assume that this music has no structure and no laws, that it is improvised. The frequent tendency to label it "chant" indicates an assumption by such writers that the music is simply a vehicle for ceremonial words, and that it has little interest of its own. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The intricacy of much of this music—its consistent and logical structure—makes much of it a marvel of artis­try. The simplicity is dictated by the fact that it must be memorized, and by the lack of notation available to the composer for the purpose of holding on to his ideas. Careful listening can, however, clear up much of the apparent confusion. Intervals that sound out of tune will not, once they are heard recurrently in several songs of one

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