Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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According to Curt Sachs6 and others, the primitive instrumental styles of the world did not come about through simple imitation, on instruments, of the vocal melodies. To be sure, vocal music must have come into existence before instrumental. But instrumental music presumably came about through the elevation of noise-making gadg­ets to really musical artifacts, through the coincidences of acoustic phenomena accidentally discovered, and through visual criteria used by craftsmen. For example, the scales on flutes may be constructed not only with particular intervals in mind, but also with the visual effect of the spacing of the finger holes. If this assumption is correct, it should not be surprising that the instrumental music of European folk cultures often seems quite unrelated to the songs found in the same area and sung by the same people. Also, there seems to be more stylistic variety in the instrumental music of Europe than in the vocal music, perhaps because of the limitations of human voice and ear as compared with the relative freedom allowed the instrumental­ist, who needs to know only the right motions to make, but not necessarily how the music will sound before he plays it. Random improvisation and toying with the instrument may have a considera­ble effect on developing the styles of instrumental folk music.
Regarding the instruments themselves, we can make few gener­alizations about Europe. On the one hand, European folk instru­ments—especially the simpler ones—have much in common with some of the instruments of nonliterate cultures. Some—recorder-like plugged flutes, for example—are found on all continents. Instruments once thought to be as characteristically European as bagpipes are also found throughout Asia. On the other hand, the folk cultures of Europe have frequently taken over instruments from urban civiliza­tion. Thus some of the tvpical folk music instruments of Eastern Europe today are the ordinary violin (perhaps slightly modified) and the clarinet, in simpler forms. More interestingly, some of the older instruments from the cities such as the psaltery or dulcimer and the autoharp are still in use in folk culture.
In Chapters 4-6 we shall explore European folk music in some­what more detail. Unfortunately, even if comprehensive information were available we could not give the whole story on these pages. We
6 Curt Sachs, The Wellspri?igs of Music (The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), p. HOf.

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