Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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whole, fits more or less into the diatonic scheme that is also the basis of most Western art and folk music.
There have been attempts to identify a truly "African" scale. Ballanta-Taylor, an early West African scholar, believed that the basic scale of West African music has 16 tones per octave. State­ments regarding the importance of pentatonic scales in Africa have been made. But the consensus of scholars is that there is no single system, that exact measurements of intervals would produce—at least in vocal music—a clustering about the intervals found also in diatonic scales, and that in many ways the kind of melodic structure in Africa corresponds to that of European folk music. As in Europe, we find songs with few tones—ditonic and tritonic scales—in Africa. There are pentatonic tunes with minor thirds and major seconds, and there are pentachordal ones as well. There are heptatonic songs, and there are occasional chromatic pieces. There are, moreover, intervals that do not fit into the diatonic scheme, such as neutral thirds (these are found also in Europe). There is, finally, a reported tendency in the heptatonic songs to use the intervals of minor third and minor seventh above the tonic. The interest in this feature stems from our desire to explain certain phenomena of jazz (the lowered seventh is a "blue note"), but it seems doubtful that these intervals constitute a special feature common to all African music. The fact that glides and ornaments are common in some African singing techniques also adds to the difficulty of defining a specific scale structure. Thus we must content ourselves with the generalization that African scales are varied but that as a group they seem to be closely related to those of Europe.
Types of melodic movement also exhibit great variety. In one area, Central Africa, we find the following kinds described by Bran-del:5 melodies clustering around a nucleus of one or two tones; melo­dies based on the perfect fourth, and descending directly from one tone to another a fourth below it, or making use also of the interven­ing tones; melodies built on the tones of the triad, and others using a whole string of thirds with only occasional use of intervening tones;

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