Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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istic unit. Let us also briefly discuss the unity of the continent with regard to individual elements of music—scales, meter, intervals, and manner of singing.
The scales of European folk song exhibit great variety. Most typically, there are songs with only two or three different tones (these are most frequently children's ditties or game songs), there are songs with five tones (pentatonic scales), and others with six or seven tones. But the kinds of intervals, the distances in pitch, among the tones are not quite so diverse. The tendency is for Euro­pean folk songs to use intervals that fit into the diatonic system, a system of tones that we can find by playing the white keys of the piano. The diatonic system consists of major and minor seconds and of intervals produced by adding seconds. Throughout Europe, it seems that the most common intervals in folk music are the major seconds and the minor thirds. Unfortunately we do not yet have statistics to prove this definitively, but a thorough inspection of a few representative song collections would be convincing. Other in­tervals are also found, of course, and occasionally there are intervals that do not fit into the diatonic system and which could not even be reproduced approximately on the piano. Also, in folk singing the intervals are not sung with the degree of precision found on the piano, and deviation from a standard norm seems to be somewhat greater in folk than in cultivated music. Nevertheless, adherence to the diatonic intervals seems to be one of the great general character­istics of European folk music. It goes without saying that there are exceptions, and these, indeed, constitute one of the fascinating as­pects of our field.
Going into a bit more detail, we find that a great many of the songs that use seven tones can be explained, as far as their tonal ma­terial is concerned, in terms of the medieval church modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Aeolian, Mixolydian, Locrian, and Ionian) that are used to classify Gregorian chant (in slightly different form) as well as other medieval and Renaissance music. This fact has led some scholars to believe that the styles of European folk music actually originated in the chants of the church. "While we must concede the possibility of a great deal of influence of church music on folk song, it seems useful to consider these modes as only a system for classify­ing folk song. As such, it can be used to classify only those songs which actually have seven tones. For instance, Example 3-3 could be considered a Mixolvdian tune.

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