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28 STUDYING THE STRUCTURE OF FOLK MUSIC
systems have been devised, but most scholars have returned to the conventional one despite its shortcomings. It is one, after all, that can be easily mastered, and that is already understood by individuals who are acquainted with music. It can be used in folk song collections that serve the double purpose of being scholarly descriptions of music and providing music to be performed. Some transcribers have added special symbols to help where the conventional system of notation does not provide a solution. For example, intervals smaller than half-steps are frequently indicated by placing a "plus" (higher) or a "minus" (lower) above a note.
But careful listening to even a simple folk tune indicates that a considerable number of minor musical events take place in every second of singing. The question is whether we should try to capture each of these or whether we should restrict our notation to the main lines. The ethnomusicologist, careful and thorough, would like to capture all. If he has a talented ear and enormous patience, he will come up with a very intricate notation that can hardly be deciphered without a magnifying glass. This procedure was followed by Bela Bartok, the great composer who was also one of the most important scholars of folk music, and who collected vast numbers of Hungarian, Slovak, Yugoslav, and Rumanian folk songs. Example 2-5 shows one of his transcriptions of Yugoslav folk music. Below the melody in all its detail is a less complicated version of the song that gives only the main notes.
Of course, the important thing in transcribing is to be objective, to write down what actually occurs and not what the transcriber, with his ear used to a particular musical idiom (usually the Western one), may think he hears. And make no mistake about this: What you hear is conditioned not only by what sound is actually produced, but also by what sound your mind is attuned to and expects. Consequently, transcribing is a process that requires hearing and rehearing a piece; a minute of music may take two hours to transcribe.
In order to save time and increase accuracy and objectivity, several attempts have been made to devise machinery that would measure pitch and transcribe music. These range from a monochord— simply one stretched string with a graduated table to show vibration rates—invented by Jaap Kunst, to elaborate electronic devices based on the oscilloscope. The latter exist mainly in three forms, one invented by Charles Seeger and used at U.C.L.A., another developed