An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section A1)

8va-Notation placed above or below a note or notes to indicate that it is to be played ot sung an octave higher or lower.

a cappella (lit. "in the church style") a vocal work unaccompanied by instruments. Occasionally percussion is used without disturbing the definition. The common spelling of "a capella" is incorrect but widely accepted. It’s also commonly spelled as a single word: "acappella". A synonym, particularly in musicology, is monophonic. 2

A Dué-Both instruments on the same part are to play.

A Punto d'arco-play with the point of the bow.

A Tempo-in the original tempo.

A&R Artists and Repertoire; an influential position in major music publishing companies; good A&R people often greatly influence popular music - well-known A&R producers include Hammond, John, who shaped folk, blues, and jazz at Columbia, Dixon, Willie with his work in blues and R&B at Chess, and Atkins, Chet, largely responsible for the sound of Nashville recordings through his work with RCA.

a’ the go (Scot.) the latest trend, all the rage.

A440 see pitch.

A-A is the note of the musical scale used generally for tuning (= French, Italian, Spanish: la). Notes in English are given letter names, A,B,C,D,E,F & G.

Abbott, O.J. (1872-1962) Oliver John Abbott learned much of his vast repertoire of songs from Irish people he worked with in Ontario and Quebec at the turn of the century. After 1957, he recorded about 120 of them for Fowke, Edith. Folkways released some of the recordings. He sang at the Newport and Mariposa folk festivals, and many artists perform the songs he preserved.

aboon (Scot.) above.

absolute music music which has no associations outside itself; it does not attempt to narrate a story, provoke emotional responses, or portray characters, events, etc.

accelerando (also "accelerato") a gradual quickening of the tempo. Not all that easy to do in group playing, where everybody has to speed up at the same rate. Its opposite is the ritard. You’d think that there’d be a decelerando, but there isn’t.

Accelerando-Accelerando (Italian: becoming faster) is a term in general use to show that the music should be played at an increasing speed.

accent (n. or v.) the stress put on one or more of the beats (foot-taps) in a measure. It doesn’t mean that certain notes are louder, but that the arrangement of note timing in the meter makes you want to tap your foot at specific times. In most of folk music, counting beats produces this: "ONE, two, THREE, four." In most of pop or rock, the accents are "one, TWO, three, FOUR." See also rhythm.

accidental a sharped or flatted note that doesn’t belong in the scale. For example, F# appearing in the key of C would be an accidental. Accidentals are canceled by the next bar line; all Fs after that would be natural unless denoted by another sharp sign. Folk music is full of accidentals, including the augmented fourth mentioned above, the flatted seventh in blues, ragtime, etc., and many others, particularly songs in the old modes.

accidentals. signs used in musical notation to alter notes, e.g. sharps (#), flats, naturals; however, accidentals are not key signatures.

Accompaniment-An accompaniment is an additional part for a performer of any kind that is less important than another, which it serves to support and enhance. The piano is often used to provide an accompaniment to a solo singer. In instrumental works for, say, violin and piano the rôles may be reversed.

accordion (occasionally "accordeon") the accordion has been ruined for a lot of people by being extravagantly played by overdressed grinning showbiz types doing the quintessential cornball accordion piece: "Lady of Spain". Given the virtuoso instrumental talent in folk music these days, and a better sense of restraint, there’s hope for it. In the right hands, it’s an extraordinarily versatile instrument. The accordion has a chromatic piano-like keyboard, although you’ll occasionally see true accordions with buttons (not to be confused with the melodeon). All accordions and melodeons have lefthand buttons for playing bass chords. Because the accordion produces the same note whether you push or pull the bellows, getting up a snappy rhythm is more difficult than with a melodeon, which yields a bass chord rhythm as the bellows are moved in and out because a different note is produced on the push and on the pull.

accumulative songs see cumulative songs.

acoustic invariably misspelled "accoustic", this refers to instruments or performance styles devoid of pickups or other electronic gadgetry. In terms of acoustic versus electric, the best illustration would be the guitar. The acoustic guitar has a rich sound, but low treble output. The electric guitar, together with effects boxes and an amplifier, is capable of great sustain and loudness throughout its range, plus many special effects that aren’t possible on the acoustic guitar. An acoustic instrument fitted with a pickup might be referred to as acoustic-electric. A semi-acoustic guitar would be a guitar fitted with standard electric pickups, but with a hollow body - perhaps not as large as the full acoustic, but capable of some sound generation on its own (as opposed to the solid-body electric, which makes little or no sound without an amplifier). A purist approach can be pointless: electric basses are enormously popular, synthesizers may be incorporated into acoustic groups, electronic keyboards beat lugging a piano around, and vocalists sing into thousand-watt PAs. See unplugged.

action the height of the strings of a stringed instrument above the fretboard or fingerboard. The ideal is no height at all, but this causes a buzzing or snapping noise as the vibrating strings hit the frets or fingerboard. The proper height is an elusive goal: it’s said that there’s a luthier’s shop in NYC with a sign that reads "Will All Those Who Want Lower Action With No Buzzing Please Leave". For guitarists who are stuck: a workable height is to set the strings to the height of the thickness of two pennies above the 12th fret. One problem in fiddling with the action is that changes may affect the intonation.

action-notationmusical notation that directs the performer in a course of action without indicating the resulting sound. Syn. process-notation.

Acuff, Roy (1903-1992) a country musician well-known to the fans of the Grand Ole Opry show, and called "The King of Country Music". Over the years, his hits (often adapted from the folk tradition) included "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", "Wreck on the Highway", "I Saw the Light", and "Wabash Cannonball". Many of the songs in his repertoire are performed by folk and bluegrass musicians. He was also a record producer who had a great influence on the style of C&W.

Ad libitum-freely.

Adagio-Adagio (Italian: slow) is an indication of tempo and is sometimes used to describe a slow movement, even when the indication of speed at the start of the movement may be different. The diminutive form adagietto is a little faster than adagio.

Adams, Derroll (1925- ) singer and banjo player who travelled with Elliott, Jack in the 50s, then moved to Europe. He recorded several albums for Topic and was a major influence during the folk boom of the 50s and 60s. He is the composer of "Portland Town", also recorded by Jack. He made a brief appearance in the 1967 Pennebaker documentary about Bob Dylan, Dont Look Back.

ae (Scot.) one, only

Aeolian-mode. a mode consisting of T-S-T-T-S-T-T (T=whole-tone, S=semitone), equivalent to the natural-minor mode. Note the difference between mode and scale.

aerophone an instrument whose sound comes from a vibrating air column, such as a whistle. It’s one of the four types of instruments; the others are idiophone, membranophone, and chordophone.


afore before.

aggregate. (set-theory, linear) 1. any combination of all twelve pcs. 2. (Babbitt) a vertical combination of hexachords or smaller sets found in the use of combinatorial rows.


ahint (UK) behind.

air 1. Any pleasant, slow- or medium-paced tune that escapes other categories. 2. In general, any melody. 3. A form of madrigal (and properly spelled "ayre") that’s strophic - it has the same melody for each verse. 2. Air = Italian: aria appearing sometimes with the earlier English spelling ayre, means a tune or melody, for voice or instrument.

alane (Scot., also lane) alone.

Alberti-bass. a special type of chord figuration that alternates 1 5 3 5 and repeats as an accompaniment figure. It is very common in the music of the 18th century Classical style and is named after the composer Domenico Alberti, who used it frequently.

Albion Band an English folk-rock group started by Ashley Hutchings (supposedly because he felt from his work with Fairport and Steeleye Span that they were drifting away from English tradition). The membership varied during the 70s and 80s, and included his then wife Shirley Collins, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Tams, John Fitzpatrick, and Carthy, Martin. One of their works was the album "Morris On", electric arrangements of traditional morris tunes. (See morris on.)

album a collection of recordings in one package. It originally referred to a number of 78RPM records in one binder, then a vinyl long-playing record LP, and now a CD or cassette tape. Because of the dominance of vinyl LPs from the 50s until recently, the term often refers to them.

Ale a gathering of morris dancers from various cities and countries. It can be one day in duration, but is usually a weekend or long weekend. The daytime consists of dance tours of the host area, with the evenings full of musical performances, sketches, a cappella singing and country dancing. Well-named, since much real ale is on hand. Dancers and musicians will often form up impromptu sides after the evening’s festivities and head out for even more public dancing.

aleatory. (Boulez) the European term for chance music. John Cage is the primary proponent of the use of chance in musical composition. The meaning of aleatory, however, is different from chance. Aleatory, which was a European adoption of American chance, implies the use of chance with selected aspects of control; thus, it becomes no longer chance. The correspondence of Cage and Boulez is particularly enlightening about this difference. "Alea" was the original term used by Boulez in an essay he wrote which criticized the use of chance in musical composition, referring to, without naming, the practice of John Cage. Aleatory is also often mistakenly confused with indeterminacy, which refers to performance practice, rather than to composition. It is sometimes confused with improvisation, as well.

algorithm. (mathematics) a repeatable series of steps used to solve problems, etc., e.g., a computer program or a process used to analyze music. The manual analysis of music using a repeating series of steps is also an algorithm.

aliquot a term borrowed from mathematics by musicologists to refer to harmonics related to each other by simple integer ratios.

aliquot strings strings that sound through sympathetic resonance.

All Hallows Eve (UK, also "Eve of All Hallows") the evening of October 31, known these days as Hallowe’en, or just Halloween.

All Saints’ Day (UK) Nov. 1.

All Souls’ Day (UK) Nov. 2. See also soul-cake.


Alla-The Italian alla means 'in the manner of' (= French: ˆ la) and may be found in titles like that of Mozart's 'Rondo alla turca', Rondo in the Turkish Style.

all-combinatorial. (Babbitt) (set-theory, linear) a set in which any of its transformations (P, I, R, RI and their transpositions), may occur simultaneously with any other transformation without duplicating pitch-classes (pc) before all twelve pcs have occurred.

Allegro (Italian: cheerful, lively) is generally taken as fast, although not as fast as vivace or presto. Allegretto is a diminutive, meaning slightly slower than allegro. These indications of speed or tempo are used as general titles for pieces of music headed by instructions of this kind. The first movement of a classical sonata, for example, is often 'an Allegro', just as the slow movement is often 'an Adagio'.

Allemande is a German dance (the word itself is French) in 4/4 time, often the first dance in a baroque dance suite, where it is frequently followed by a courante, a more rapid dance. The allemande, which appears in earlier English sources often as alman, almain or with similar spellings, is generally moderate in speed.

Almanac Singers a group formed in 1940, consisting of Hays, Lee, Seeger, Pete and Mill Lampell, and later joined by Guthrie, Woody. They made several recordings, now available from Folkways. The membership varied (see Hawes, Bess Lomax), and after WWII the group dispersed, with many of them going on to fame: Lee Hays and Pete Seeger became part of the Weavers and Woody Guthrie became one of the most famous folksingers of all time (he left the group in 1942 to form the Headline Singers). See also People’s Songs.

altered-chord. see chromatic-chord.

alto one of the ranges of the voice. Most women are altos, and the term is usually "contralto". Men often sing in the alto range, and the term is generally "countertenor". The usual range is F below middle C to one octave above middle C. See also vocal ranges.

alto-clef. a C-clef that is placed so that middle C is the middle line of the staff. It is used for instruments that have an alto range, especially the viola.

Alto- The alto (= Italian: high) is the lower female or unbroken male voice, or male falsetto of similar range. The alto clef (see Clef) is a sign written on the musical stave to show that the middle line of the stave is middle C. It is now used for much of the music written for viola and other instruments of similar range. Female alto soloists are usually described as contralto rather than alto.

Amazing Grace now one of the most famous hymns in the world, this was written by John Newton (1725-1807), an Englishman who experienced a religious conversion and abandoned his work in the slave trade. It is set to a traditional American sacred harp tune, "New Britain", though the current version is closer to a gospel arrangement. It always had some currency in church music, but reached new heights of fame in the 60s, popularized by such singers as Baez, Joan, Seeger, Pete, and Collins, Judy, among many others. There was even a hit instrumental recording of it as a pipe tune in the early 70s by the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. It is now standard in the repertoire of pipe bands, with one of its most famous appearances being Spock’s funeral scene in the film "Star Trek II".

ambience. the background noise or environmental sound.

ambit. the range of pitches . It is suggested here that the International Pitch Notation, or IPN, (after the Acoustical Society of America) be the standard (A4=A440).

ambitus the range of a melody from lowest to highest note; it’s close in meaning to compass and tessitura, but it’s somewhat specialised, generally being used to specify the range of the authentic and plagal modes.

American Folklife Center see Library of Congress.

ametric. without meter. Gregorian chant is an example of music without a meter.


amp 1. Ampere, the unit of electrical current. Amperes are often in short supply in stage work, since the lights and sound equipment might well overload the available wiring. 2. See amplifier.

amplifier 1. An electronic device that in concert or studio work takes the output of the sound board and increases it enough to drive the loudspeakers. 2. An instrument amplifier ("amp") not only makes the signal from the instrument big enough to drive speakers, but allows control of the tone, reverb, and so on. An instrument amp without internal speakers is often called a head. Sometimes performers using an instrument with a pickup will dispense with the amplifier and plug the pickup directly into the sound board via a DI connection. The performer then depends on being able to hear the instrument through the monitor and main loudspeakers.