An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section B4)

bothy (Scot.) a small cottage or bunkhouse.

bothy band 1. An informal band put together for dancing or singing, originating in the farm bothies of Scotland. These bands, put together by farm workers, preserved much Scottish traditional music. 2. When capitalised, the name of a popular Scottish folk group specializing in traditional music.

bottleneck style used mainly with blues playing, the guitar is usually tuned using open tuning and the player wears a short length of hard tubing on the lefthand little or ring finger. Sliding the tube on single strings or all of them produces a sharp, metallic whine that can glide up and down in pitch. It may have originated as a low-cost imitation of the pedal steel, Dobro, or Hawaiian guitar, which are stopped with steel slides. The hard tubing may be an actual bottleneck, a piece of pipe, a wrench socket, etc. Occasionally a tableknife handle can be used, the disadvantage being that the player can’t fret the guitar. This latter is called "knife guitar" and is rather loud and raucous, but well-suited to songs in the same vein.

bottom strings the phrase refers to pitch, not physical location. The same applies to top strings.

bourree (with an acute accent on the first "e") a baroque dance in duple time, with four-measure phrases and syncopation.

Bourrée-A bourrée is a duple-rhythm French dance sometimes found in the baroque dance suite, where it was later placed after the sarabande, with other lighter additional dances.

bouzouki (pron. "boo-zookie") an instrument from the Greek tradition, similar to a mandolin but much larger than the bluegrass mandolin and with a longer neck. It’s a close relative of the lute. The stringing varies, though four two-string courses is a common method. The bouzouki is becoming popular, since it combines the agility of the mandolin with the richer sound of the guitar. A common tuning for the bouzouki in folk is in fifths, GDAE, one octave below the fiddle or mandolin.

bow (pron. "boe") 1. (n.) A length of wood perhaps 18"-24" long. Horsehair is stretched along it and rubbed with rosin to increase the friction. Used to play the violin family and a few other instruments. A good-quality bow is surprisingly expensive. 2. (v.) To apply the bow to a stringed instrument. There is also a variant sometimes called the "Appalachian bow". The strings are soaked in water to lengthen them considerably, and the bow is forced into a tight arc, probably by steaming it. The floppy strings can then be used to simultaneously bow all four strings on a violin, or all the strings on a dulcimer, etc. Rarely seen.

bowdlerize (from Thomas Bowdler, who hacked up Shakespeare in the 18th century) to censor or edit in a heavy-handed manner. A bowdlerized folk song is all dressed up in its Sunday best, ready for presentation to the delicate sensibilities of the general public. An example would be "Sweet Betsy From Pike", who originally crossed the mountains (or prairies) "with her lover Ike". In schoolbooks, this becomes "her husband Ike". Pete Seeger quotes another example. The sea shanty "Hangin’ Johnny" goes like this: "They call me Hangin’ Johnny,Away, boys, away,They say I hangs for money,So hang, boys, hang! Oh, first, I hanged my granny (etc.)" According to Pete, this appeared in a school anthology as "Smiling Johnny": "They call me Smiling Johnny,Away, boys, away,Because my smile is bonny..." Thanks to bowdlerizing, a lot of people have come to see folk songs as childish and naive. This sort of thing drives folkies crazy, but it’s difficult to stop. See also Baring-Gould, Sabine, genteel, rewrites.

bower (UK) an arboreal shelter, a rustic cottage, or a lady’s boudoir (especially in a castle).

bowl mandolin a mandolin with an elliptical back; also called a "watermelon" back.

box a melodeon or accordion.

Boys of the Lough a British group specializing in Irish and Scottish traditional songs and tunes. They have played every major venue and have many recordings. They’re noted for their virtuoso fiddler, Aly Bain, and singer/flutist Cathal McConnell.

bracken (UK) ferns, bushes, etc.

brae (Scot.) a hill or uplands.

Bragg, Billy (1957- ) a UK singer and electric guitarist who seems to mix punk rock and folk; his performances (and his accent) are rough at best, but his songs are thoughtful and creative. Left-leaning, he recorded "World Turned Upside Down", which is by Rosselson, Leon, and composed "Between the Wars". He has played a number of folk festivals in the UK and North America.

Brand, Oscar (1920- ) born in Winnipeg, Oscar became a US citizen in 1942, although he has performed extensively at Canadian venues and hosted folk music programs for the CBC in the 60s. He has more than 70 albums on a wide variety of song topics, and has published song collections. He worked with People’s Songs in the late 40s. He has hosted the New York radio program "Folksong Festival" for over thirty years. "When I First Came to This Land" and "Something to Sing About" are two of his best-known compositions.

branle (Fr. "branler", "to sway". Also "bransle") A dance, popular in France in the 16th century, and based on medieval round dances; also, the music for that dance. The OED says that it’s "possibly" the origin of our word "brawl".

brass horns such as trumpets, trombones, bugles, etc. They’re metal and the sound is produced by the vibration of the player’s lips in a mouthpiece, as opposed to horns which have one or more reeds (properly woodwinds, such as the sax).

Brass-The brass section of the orchestra includes metal instruments where the sound is produced by forcing air through a cup-shaped or conical mouthpiece. The brass section usually consists of trumpets, trombones and tuba and French horns.'

braw (Scot.) comely, fine, handsome.

braxie (from the argot of the UK travelling people, also "braxy") putrid. In the well-known "Tramps and Hawkers", a "braxie ham" was any type of meat taken from a long-dead animal and purified to some extent by packing it in salt.

break 1. A solo, whether other musicians are playing along or not. "You take the break after the second verse and I’ll take the break after the fourth." 2. An intermission between sets, aka interval.

breakdown any rapid dance tune, as in "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".

Brechung. (Schenker: arpeggiation)

bree (Scot.) brow.

breeks (UK) breeches, trousers, or hose.

breve see notation, British.

Brickman, Marshall one of the members of the Tarriers and one of the regulars in the 60s Greenwich Village folk scene. He later became a film writer and director; with Woody Allen, he won an Oscar for "Annie Hall". His banjo playing, along with that of performers like Weissberg, Eric, was influential in the development of the banjo style.

bridge 1. The piece of wood at the end of the strings on a stringed instrument, at the opposite end from the nut. It holds the bridge saddle, which terminates the vibrating section of the strings, and often, the pegs that anchor the strings. 2. A second melody in a tune or song that separates the main melody from its repetition. It adds interest. Sometimes it’s said that the bridge is a stage wait until you get back to the good part. Also a short musical phrase linking two other parts. Compare with chorus, turnaround, rondo.

bridge pin see pin.

brig (UK) bridge (the river bridge, not the musical bridge).

bright a PA or instrument that has a tad too much treble is said to be bright. Sometimes it means just the right amount of brightness. Musicians, who hear instruments close up all the time, prefer treble a little brighter than others.


bring it home called out by a musician to indicate that a group is to play the last verse of a tune. Also "play it out", "play it on home", "take it home", etc.

Brio-Brio (Italian: vivacity, fire or energy) appears as an instruction to performers as, for example, in allegro con brio, fast with brilliance and fire, an indication used on a number of occasions by Beethoven.

Brioso-with vigor.

broadside (also "broadsheet", "stall ballad"). Balladmongers used to write new lyrics to old tunes on contemporaneous topics and sell the printed sheets among the public at markets, hangings, etc. In the latter case, there would inevitably be a song claiming to be the condemned’s last words - see goodnight ballads. Many of the better efforts passed into the tradition, and many were revived thanks to the efforts of collectors.

Broadside magazine first published in 1962, Broadside was brought out as a showcase for the new songwriters produced by the folk revival. The labor was provided by Agnes "Sis" Cunningham, Gordon Friesen, Pete Seeger, and Gil Turner. Authors published included Eric Andersen, Bob Dylan, Richard Farina, Tom Paxton, Malvina Reynolds, and many others. By 1972, they had published over 1,000 songs.

broken chord the notes of a chord played one at a time; synonymous with arpeggio.

broken token there must be dozens of examples of this type of song. A young man about to leave for sea or the military gives his true love one-half of a token (a coin, say) to remember him by. On his return years later, he is so changed as to be unrecognizable, so he engages his love in conversation in hopes of finding out if she’s been true to him. When he discovers that she has, he produces his half of the token to prove his identity and they live happily ever after. Not the most realistic of stories, but some of the songs have great tunes. Examples are "Johnny Riley", "Plains of Waterloo", "The Crookit Bawbee", "A Pretty Fair Maid", and "Sweet Jenny of the Moor". "Adieu, My Lovely Nancy" almost qualifies as a token song, since the lovers exchange rings, but it lacks the play-acting of the sailor’s return; similar songs include "Pleasant and Delightful" and "British Man-of-War".


Bromberg, David (1945- ) after studying classical music, David dropped out of university to play guitar in Greenwich Village. His backing of a number of people led to several years as guitarist for Walker, Jerry Jeff and it’s his playing that you hear on Jerry Jeff’s famous "Mr Bojangles". Since then, he has backed up just about everybody (including Bob Dylan, Doug Kershaw, Tom Paxton, Pat Sky and many others) and is one of the most influential instrumentalists in folk music. He has recorded a number of albums of his own solo work, as well as being on everybody else’s.

Bronson, Bertrand (1902-?) collected and published multiple versions of the tunes for the Child ballads in his 1976 "The Singing Tradition of Child’s Popular Ballads" (Princeton University Press). Child seemed unconcerned with tunes, publishing only a small sample in his collection. Many of Bronson’s tunes were collected in this century in the US, a lot of them in Appalachia, although some are from much older UK manuscripts. He is also the author of several books on English literature. See electric folk near the end of the entry for a Bronsonian quotation on the subject of changing traditional folk songs. Much of the content of song family (and many other entries) was inspired by his book "The Ballad as Song", (University of California Press, 1969), and a quote from it appears at the end of collectors.

broom a flowering plant in the northern UK.

Broonzy, Bill (1898-1958) (William Lee Conley) "Big Bill" Broonzy was an influential country blues singer and guitarist. Many of the songs he did are still sung today, including "Key to the Highway", "Ananias", "Big Bill Blues", "Joe Turner Blues", "Mindin’ My Own Business", "See See Ryder" (see Easy Rider), and others. He had a large following in Europe, and played with Seeger, Pete, Terry, Sonny, McGhee, Brownie Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Blake. In 1939, he performed at Carnegie Hall when Hammond, John produced a concert of "Spirituals to Swing". Despite his European success, he wasn’t able to support himself by music in the US until the early 50s. He claimed to have recorded about 250 songs, of which he wrote 100. He was also a member of "I Come for to Sing" (see Stracke, Win).

Brothers Four another of the groups generated by the folk revival, they formed in 1959 and had great commercial success in the college circuit. They had a hit single with "Greenfields" in 1960. They weren’t brothers, although they did belong to the same college fraternity.

Brown, Willie (1900-1952) a delta blues musician was recorded in 1933 by Henry Speir, who made trips to the south for that purpose; Speir sent the records to the American Record Company (ARC, a company dealing in race records).

bubblegum a disparaging term from the 60s and 70s, referring to pop music perceived as being so frivolous that it would only appeal to pre-teens, or someone of a similar mind.

bucht (Scot.) a pen in the corner of a field, used to hold animals during milking.

buckdancing see clogging.

buckwheat see sacred harp.

Bull, Sandy a multi-instrumentalist who mixed folk, classical, jazz, and Eastern music on acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, oud, etc. He was probably the first folk-oriented performer to popularize multi-tracking. His "Fantasias" and "Inventions" albums on Vanguard (1963 and 1965) were well-accepted by most folkies, although he remained a musician’s musician, with little general fame.

bully (UK) brother, fellow, mate, buddy. This turns up in a lot of old shanties and is quite different from the current meaning. It also has the meaning of "pickled", as in "bully beef".

burden (also "burthen") a recurring line after each verse of a song. It may be sense or nonsense syllables ("To me right fol diddle..."). It is more often called refrain or chorus. Sometimes there is no distinct chorus, but the second and fourth lines are repeated in each verse and sung by the audience, as in "The Two Sisters" ( Child 10): Singer:

"There were two sisters lived in a hall,"Everyone: "Hey, with the gay, and the grindin’"

Singer: "And along came a knight and he courted them all,"Everyone: "By the bonny, bonny bowers of London."

burn (Scot., also "bourn") a brook.

Burns, Jethro see Homer and Jethro.

Burns, Robert (1759-1796) the great Scottish poet also collected folk songs and tunes. He set many of his own poems to these tunes. Songs that are part of the folk tradition include "Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie", "My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose", "For A’ That" (aka "Is There For Honest Poverty"), "Ae Fond Kiss", "Ye Jacobites by Name", "Parcel of Rogues", " Ca the Yowes", "Dainty Davie" and, of course, "Auld Lang Syne". See also the last part of Lass of Roch Royal.

busk 1. See busking below. 2. (Scot.) to get up, arise.

busking performing in a public place for donations of money. Any busy area in a city will usually attract street performers (buskers) who sing, play, juggle, etc. See also hurdy gurdy, barrel organ.

but (Scot.) the front room or kitchen, esp. in a cottage.

but and ben (Scot.) room and board, kitchen or parlor, in and out.

Butterfield, Paul (1942-1987) harmonica player and singer who founded the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1964. They played a loud electric version of the old city and country blues, bringing them to a wider audience (despite some objections from purists). Best known for the song "Born in Chicago". They recorded for Elektra, and appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 (see Grossman, Albert for comments on this). After they disbanded in 1972, Paul continued to play harmonica for a large number of other performers.

button accordion in general, a melodeon, although there are true accordions with buttons.

buzzwords every subculture, profession and hobby has its jargon, usually for the purpose of (a) defining oneself as a member, (b) making an implied humorous comment about something, and (c) inflating oneself to appear to be an old hand at it. This file is full of buzzwords. However, the use of them in sense © is the funniest, especially since the buzzword-droppers often use them inappropriately. Some examples might be - A guitarist in the company of non-musicians who begins slinging terms related to guitar playing. "I like to emphasize the change to the subdominant." Someone introducing a song by saying only "This is Child 37." People who call loudly to a concertina player "Is that an Anglo or an Anglo-German?" The owner of a handmade instrument who looks at a commercial product and sniffs "Oh, a Martin. Not bad for mass-produced." To an acoustic guitarist: "I see you play unplugged."

Byrds one of the first electric folk groups (along with the Animals) to cause a fuss among traddies who favored the acoustic approach. They had a hit record with "Tambourine Man" by Dylan, Bob in 1965. This was followed by "Turn, Turn, Turn" (a setting of words from Ecclesiastes by Seeger, Pete) in 1966. The original members were Roger McGuinn, Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, and David Crosby (later of Crosby, Stills, and Nash). They continued to record for some years, with successes like "Eight Miles High". After the popularity of "Tambourine Man", it wasn’t long before others followed suit and experimented with electric folk, including Bob Dylan himself.

byre (UK) cowshed.