Folk Music in The United States


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14                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

kinds of meter (3/8, 2/4, 5/8) within a short space of time, may
be accompanied by a simple melody, such as that in Example 31,
which uses only three pitches.

A melodic contour (the term used for indicating the general
movement of pitch, its ascent, descent, and overall pattern) can
sometimes be used as a unifying element. For example, the songs
of the Plains Indians often consist of two sections which have
the same sharply descending, cascading contour, but which differ
in other respects. (Example 18)

The relationship among the various sections of a composition
is often important in establishing unity and variety. We can clas-
sify the forms of folk and primitive music in various ways, but
one simple method is to indicate the presence or absence of
symmetry. Symmetrical forms are quite common, but certainly
not in the majority. One example is a type which consists of three
parts, the first and last being identical, as ABA. Another, com-
mon in several styles of European folk music, is ABBA. The song
in Example 27 even preserves symmetry within the sub-sections,
so that the letter-scheme ABA C ABA applies.

Asymmetric forms may be more interesting. They can be an-
alyzed most easily in pieces which can be divided into two main
parts, one of which outweighs the other in length, range, or other-
wise. In some songs, the first part is short, and the same material
is elaborated in the second. Some Plains Indian songs use this
arrangement, probably because the meaningful words appear
only in the second part. (Example 18) The opposite arrange-
ment, a condensing process, is found in Example 30, where the
total form is AB1B2AB2. The first part, A B1 B2, is condensed
to A B2 by the elimination of B1.

The over-all forms of folk and primitive music can also be
described by indicating the relationship between a section of
music and the one which follows it. Given one section, or phrase,
the music can then go on to new material, bringing about a pro-
gressive relationship; repeat the section, creating an iterative one;
or repeat material stated earlier, making a reverting one. Al-
though relatively few compositions fit exactly into any of these
categories, one of these kinds of relationship is usually domi-


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