Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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veloped in Africa than have some other features or elements of music (such as melody and form). To some extent we may say that African rhythm is also more highly developed than the rhythm of other cultures. The latter statement must be made with caution, for certainly it would be possible for a composer of Western music to put together a piece with a rhythmic structure much more complex than that of any African piece. He could do this—especially with the techniques of electronic music. But the level at which African mu­sic seems to be rhythmically more developed is that of listener and performer perception. It is doubtful whether a Western listener could, without special training, perceive and reproduce the most complex structures in Western music, especially without a score, simply from sound. With training he might, of course, learn to match the performance and perception of African musicians. But this sort of training is not present in our culture, while it is—though not always formally—a part of African Negro musical training, for both the listener and the performer.
The rhythm of African music must be approached from two views. First, we are interested in the rhythmic structure (and its complexity) in a single melodic line. Here the rhythm and meter are usually not too difficult to understand. Metric structure with regular beats is common if not universal. Once beats are established it is pos­sible to identify that widely discussed element, syncopation, which results from the regular articulation of notes at points other than the beginnings of beats. A distinctive feature of West African music that seems to have been carried over in Negro music of the New World is the ability of musicians to keep the same tempo for minutes and hours. Waterman refers to this ability (which no doubt is learned, not inherited) as the "metronome sense." We will never know, of course, whether such strict adherence to tempo has ever been prac­ticed in Western music. Certainly in Western cultivated music in the twentieth century it is not found, something one can easily prove by playing a symphony recording and keeping time with a metronome. The rigid adherence to tempo may have made possible the consid­erable variety of rhythmic motifs and patterns in African music, for the musician who has a steady beat in his mind, and who does not deviate from it, can perhaps more easily elaborate the details of the rhythm. The compelling nature of rhythm is recognized in West African terminology, where the term "hot," applied to rhythmic

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