An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section C5)


crab-canon . a retrograde canon.

craw (Scot.) crow.

credenza a piece of furniture. See cadenza.

Creighton, Helen (1899-1989) began collecting folk songs in Nova Scotia, and during her career collected over 4,000 songs and variants, including the famous "Farewell to Nova Scotia". She has published nine books, and various artists have recorded many of the songs. She received the Order of Canada in 1976.

Crescendo- Crecendo (Italian: growing, becoming louder) is frequently used as a dynamic instruction to performers.

crescendo gradually getting louder; not, as some think, the final loud passage. Things don’t reach a crescendo, but often use a crescendo to get to a forte or a fortissimo. Opposite diminuendo.

Cristofori, Bartolomeo (1655-1731) (also "Christofori") the inventor of the piano mechanism that bears his name, and without which there wouldn’t be a piano. The Cristofori movement allows the key to launch and release the hammer with precision, giving a wide range of loudness. Previously, the direct-hitting hammers yielded narrow dynamics, rather like the limited loudness control of the harpsichord.

cross flute see transverse.

cross picking a style of flatpicking used to produce an interesting syncopation somewhat like fingerpicking. The rhythm can be done with flatpick strokes in a down-down-up pattern.

cross rhythm two different rhythms going at once. It could be two different time signatures (which is called polymeter), or syncopation in one of the parts. Opposite simple rhythm; see also polyrhythm.

crossed-voices. voicing in which the normal relative position of voices is violated, e.g., if the soprano goes below the alto, or the bass goes above the tenor.

cross-fingering on a flute or whistle (particularly the 3-hole whistle), the technique of lifting off a middle finger while leaving open the holes on either side, or blocking two holes while leaving one open above the fingers. This gives extra notes in the case of the 3-hole whistle, or sharps and flats on the six-hole type. Also called "fork fingering".

cross-harp see harmonica.

crossover a loose term referring to a tune or song from one musical idiom being blended into another. A tune from Western Swing, for instance, might end up in an old-timey performance, or a blues approach might be applied to British traditional. You never know.

cross-relation. a part-writing problem where two voices encounter a contradictory chromaticism, normally in succession.

crossroads the term turns up in blues quite a bit, especially in the songs of Johnson, Robert. The crossroads were a place of mysticism, and the saying was that anybody who could play as well as Johnson must have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in return for talent. According to the Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary of Folklore, crossroads have had superstituous connotations in most cultures - Europe, Asian, North American Indian, etc. Murderers and suicides were buried there, and it was the rendezvous point for witches - "anything could happen there. See also movies.

crotchet see notation, British.

croton the croton plant is a source of acrid oil once used as a laxative, so "croton coffee", as mentioned in the ballad "Buffalo Skinners", appears to be very unpleasant coffee, with side effects.

crown in the old British system, five shillings, one quarter of a pound.

Crudup, Big Boy (1905-1974) (Arthur Crudup) Mississippi blues man who recorded with rhythm sections and is credited with influencing performers of early rock-and-roll. One of his RCA albums is entitled "The Father of Rock and Roll"; this is obviously a PR exaggeration, but does show the importance of country blues as a predecessor of rock music. He didn’t seem to play much music after the early 50s, but resumed touring in 1966 until the early 70s. His songs, "It’s All Right", "My Baby Left Me", and "So Glad You’re Mine" were made famous by Elvis Presley; many others recorded his songs (Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart). Unfortunately his success arrived too late, and he died in poverty.


crwth (Welsh, pron. "crooth") also known as "crowd", this is a Welsh bowed lyre used by the bards. Three or four strings in its rectangular frame was common. Illustrations from the 11th century show it, and it’s probably much older than that. With the decline of the bardic tradition, it was largely gone by the 19th century. It’s all up to the period players now.

cue other than the obvious theatrical derivation, it also refers to a studio technique that lets the performers hear themselves - see foldback.

cuif (UK, also "coof") a goof, a loun.

cumulative songs (also "accumulative songs") songs in which a phrase is added with each repetition of the verse. The most famous example would probably be "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", which gets a new animal noise with each repetition of the list. Compare with incremental songs.

curtal a Renaissance woodwind, forerunner of the bassoon.

cut time 2/2, sometimes denoted by a "C" with a vertical line through it, rather like a cent symbol.

cutaway a guitar, usually acoustic, with a large notch fitted into the body where the neck joins, just below the first string. This allows the left hand to travel much further up the neck without hitting the guitar body.

cutty (Scot., also "cuttie") short. A "cutty sark" is a short shirt, a rather odd name for a ship and a Scotch.

cutty stool (Scot.) the stool of repentance in a church for the purpose of humiliating those who’d broken the rules, such as adulterers.

cycle any type of works usually performed together because of a commonality. Songs are often grouped into a song cycle; the arranger selects them according to lyrical or musical content. The word suite is similar.

cycle of fifths see circle of fifths.

Cycle-A song cycle is a set of songs intended to be performed as a group, as in Schumann's Dichterliebe (The Poet's Love) or Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey). The 19th century Czech composer Smetana wrote a cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast (My Country).

cyclic permutation. (set-theory) rotation of the order of a set by circling back to its begnning; e.g., the ordered set f#,g,a,d,e can be cycled to g,a,d,e,f# and to a,d,e,f#,g, etc. Rhythms and other parameters may be cycled; see also rotation.

cymbal a disk of metal shaped like an inverted saucer. A pair can be held in the air by straps and struck together, or a single one mounted on a stand for use in a drum kit. There are a number of different types for different sounds, usually with descriptive names such as "ride" or "shimmer". Some have rivets loosely attached for that extra jangle. A pair of horizontal cymbals mounted on a stand and struck together by means of a foot pedal is known as a "high hat".

Cymbals-Cymbals (= Italian: piatti, German: Becken, French: cymbales) are pairs of round metal plates, generally made of an alloy of tin and copper, which may be struck together. A single cymbal may be suspended and struck with a hard or soft stick. The instrument is of ancient origin, but its more modern use occurs first principally in the later 18th century, as part of the Turkish music used, for example, by Mozart in The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail). It found much fuller and more varied use in the 19th and 20th centuries.