An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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McGuinn, Roger Roger (Jim) McGuinn made a few appearances with the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio, but it is his association with the Byrds that is usually remembered. After embarking on a solo career, he wrote the title song for the film "Easy Rider". His Web page is listed under Internet folk.

McLaughlan, Murray (1948- ) one of the pillars of Canadian contemporary folk along with such names as Lightfoot, Gordon. The singer-songwriter-guitarist has made many recordings, and some of the songs were hits in both folk and pop circles: "Child’s Song", "Farmer’s Song", "Honky Red", and "Sweeping the Spotlight Away". He has three Juno awards and is currently (1994) the host of his own show on Canadian radio.

McLean, Don (1945- ) best known to the public for his 70s hits "American Pie" and "Vincent" (aka "Starry, Starry Night"), Don was involved in folk music all through the 60s, including a stint in the Clearwater Project and much club and touring work. Since his popular success, which he did not take too seriously, he has released a number of albums containing both his own and traditional material. On his success: he said in a number of interviews that the demand for "American Pie" annoyingly overshadowed much of his other work. He also said that the theme of "American Pie" is that commercialization corrupts inspiration.

McTell, Blind Willie see Blind Willie McTell.

McTell, Ralph (1944- ) (Ralph May) an English singer-songwriter and an excellent guitarist, popular in the 60s and 70s. He is probably best known for his 60s song "Streets of London", although it tends to overshadow many of his other fine works. He recorded for Transatlantic in 1968, and Reprise shortly after. A re-recorded "Streets of London" was in the UK top ten in 1974. He also recorded for Warners with Thompson, Richard, and Simon Nicol and Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention. He began his own label, Mays, in the 80s. His stage name comes from Blind Willie McTell.

meal-n’-ale (Scot.) a celebration.

meantone scale (also "mesotonic", "mean-tone") one of several attempts to fix the problems with the scale of just intonation, which is based on the harmonic series and goes sour when different keys ( modulation) are attempted, because the just or natural scale produces quite a number of different tones instead of the familiar tone/semitone of our equal-tempered scale. The meantone scale was popular from the late 1500s to the 19th century, particularly for organs - Bach seems to have used meantone organ tuning, since his choice of organ keys is consistent with the "good ones" in meantone - and it’s still used today by period musicians. Take a deep breath: The meantone scale sets the thirds to the same pitch ratio as in the natural scale, 5/4 (a pure interval). This is done by jumping four fifths and falling back in octaves as required (for instance, C G D A E, in the same way as the circle of fifths used in the Pythagorean scale). The trick is that the pure fifth (3/2) has to be flatted very slightly, since the C-E from four pure fifths is a little over 5/4. The fifth is flatted to 1.495 by subtracting 5.4 cents, which is ¼ of the syntonic comma (not the comma of Pythagoras, if you’re keeping score). What happens next depends on the period in history and the tuner’s ideas - there were many different systems tried in hopes of getting rid of wolf tones that prevented key changes too far from the starting key. One system: Now we have C D E G A, and another pure third is used to get B from the G. The process is continued. (In some systems, a pure fourth of 4/3 gives the F note.) The two tones that make up the third will then be equal size (the geometric mean of 5/4, which for two elements is the square root, or about 1.118:1), which defines the whole tone and gives the scale its name. The mean tone is slightly smaller than the tone in our current equal-tempered scale, which is about 1.122. The frequencies shown below are derived from the theory in Alexander Wood’s "The Physics of Music" (1944, revised 1975). The fifth is flatted as explained above, the pure third is generated, and so on; the octave is tuned 2:1 from the starting note C. The note A was taken as 440 Hz, which makes C come out a little sharp compared to our equal-tempered C of 261.6. There are small discrepancies due to rounding off



































The meantone scale is quite an elegant design, since a quick check with a calculator shows that the thirds (C-E, F-A, G-B, etc) are pure, and the fifths (C-G, D-A, F-C, etc) nearly so. Most notes are within about 6 cents of the pure value with the exception of C# (-11 cents), which is accurate as a third in the key of A and acceptable as a somewhat flat leading tone in the key of D. The above scale gives good results for the keys C, G, D, A, F, and Bb. Outside those, the wolf tones rise up, especially the fifth G#-Eb, which is sharp by about 36 cents (more than a third of a semitone). If all this seems like a great deal of jiggery-pokery in hopes of arriving at an impossible goal, you’re right. As pointed out under temperament, there is no perfect scale. It’s probably no coincidence that "temperament" is the chosen word for tinkering with the scale - it’s temperamental, and bad-tempered tuners result.

measure a bar, A measure is, in English, a bar, in the sense of the music written between the vertical bar-lines written on the stave to mark the metrical units of a piece of music.

media the pop mediaalways screw up any presentation of folk music. They fail to recognize its complexity and subtlety, and present it as a 1960-ish sort of stereotype, with the focus on anybody who’s playing an acoustic guitar. Folkies can never watch anything folk-oriented on the mass media without eyerolls and grimaces.

mediant see progression, note names.

mediant. the third degree of a scale or a chord built on that degree.

medicine shows up until the 1930s, travelling shows for selling patent medicines always included entertainment, usually in the minstrel and vaudeville traditions, and some of the best of the blues performers got their start there, including Rainey, Ma, Cannon, Gus, and Smith, Bessie.

medieval folk music said to be medieval often belongs to the Renaissance period, particularly Elizabethan, and is often music of the court, composed by Elizabethans such as John Dowland. Medieval times cover a rather large span of history - from the fall of the Roman empire to the Renaissance, or thereabouts. In terms of musical periods, it can be taken from somewhat before 1000 to 1450 (see classical). Real medieval folk music (15th century, say) can be pretty raucous stuff - instruments like the krumhorn sound like giant kazoos. It’s spritely, though: consider the tune of "Good King Wenceslas". This was written in 1582 (the spring carol "Tempus Adest Floridum" - the words are by John Neale, an 19th-century hymnwriter); while this is a bit late for "medieval" (in fact, it’s Elizabethan), it does nicely capture the spirit of the music. The formal composers of the time are a different story. They wrote a great deal of beautiful music, although the stiff structure may not please everyone. Many of these tunes found their way into the tradition, in particular the dance tradition (see also country dancing, Purcell, Henry), Playford, Society for Creative Anachronism. Internet folk lists Web sites related to medieval/Renaissance history.

medium. the instrument/s that are intended to perform a piece of music.

medley a series of different songs or tunes performed one after the other. In some instances, different keys are used for interest. See also segue.

Mel Bay a publishing company that has an enormous number of books that are mostly tutorials for various instruments. That’s how you started in 60s/70s folk playing: you bought your guitar or banjo and your Mel Bay book and started plunking. It would be interesting to know how many famous pickers got their start via Mel Bay.

melisma a song setting in which one syllable gets more than one note, usually more than six or so (less than this is called neumatic, at least in textbooks). An example would be the Christmas carol "Gloria in Excelsis", in which the word "gloria" is stretched out over quite a few measures. Opposite "syllabic".

melodeon similar in appearance to an accordion, but with buttons instead of keys. It’s diatonic, although a second row of buttons gives a second key. Some players choose a melodeon with two keys close together (such as B and C) to give a large number of sharps and flats and allow more freedom with the key. This is obviously not easy to do. The usual keys are C-F and D-G. There is also a model (the "club melodeon") that has a third row of buttons to add more sharps and flats and increase the number of available keys. The sound of the melodeon depends on the number of reeds fitted per note. One reed results in a fairly pure tone like the concertina, while two to four reeds give a richer, wavery sound. Another difference from the accordion is that you get one note pushing the bellows and another when you pull. This makes for a built-in rhythm from the bass chord buttons. Melodeons are great faves for dance music. Also known as a "box" or "squeezebox" or (rarely) "windjammer". In times past, small reed organs for the parlor or small church were also known as melodeons or harmoniums, depending on the manufacturer.

melodic minor see scale.

melodic minor. see minor.

melodic-inversion. see contour inversion.

Mélodie-The French art-songs of the 19th and 20th centuries are known as mélodies, the counterpart of the German Lieder.

Melodrama-A melodrama is a drama with musical accompaniment and interludes, although the word has come to have a different popular meaning in English. In the technical sense of the word, Bizet's collaboration with Alphonse Daudet in L'Arlésienne is a melodrama, and the word is used to describe the grave-digging scene in Beethoven's opera Fidelio.

melody the variation in the notes of a musical selection - synonymous with tune. See parts of music.

melody. a combination of a pitch series and a rhythm having a clearly defined shape.

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

Memphis Minnie (~1897-?) (Minnie McCoy) Louisiana blues singer and guitarist who recorded for Columbia after 1929. Songs of hers include "Me and My Chauffeur", "Black Rat Swing", "Pickin’ the Blues", and "Bumble Bee" (evolved by others such as Waters, Muddy into "Honey Bee"). She was one of the great blues guitarists, according to Broonzy, Bill.

Memphis Slim (1915-1988) (Peter Chatman) played blues and boogie piano during the 30s; in 1937 he moved to Chicago, where he played with Broonzy, Bill, and Dixon, Willie. He recorded for Okeh, Bluebird, and Folkways (including an album with Willie Dixon and Seeger, Pete called "Pete Seeger at the Village Gate").

Meno-Meno (Italian: less) is used in musical directions to qualify other words as in meno mosso, with less movement.

merk see mark.

me-sen (UK) myself.

mesotonic scale see meantone scale.Messer, Don a Canadian fiddler who played a number of styles. He’s best known for his radio broadcasts and "The Don Messer Show" on CBC TV. He has a large number of albums on various labels.

Mesto-Mesto (Italian: sad) is used in directions to performers as an indication of mood, as in the slow movement of the Horn Trio of Brahms, which is marked Adagio mesto.

metamorphic. a type of form in which each new section is a transformation of a previous section.

Metamorphosis- Metamorphosis, change of shape, is used particularly to describe the process of thematic metamorphosis, the transformation of thematic elements used by composers such as Liszt, a procedure unkindly satirised by one contemporary critic as the life and adventures of a theme.

meter the rhythmic quality of lyrics or tunes. Just as the meter of the lyrics is determined by the number of syllables per line and the stresses put on them, the meter of a tune is determined by the time signature and the way the notes are grouped and stressed in each bar. See foot for examples of how this works with lyrics. See also scan, rhythm.

meter. a grouping of pulses. Meter actually sounds and is not the same as a time signature, which is written. A time signature is actually a meter signature, and tells us something about the meter, but a signature is not the meter itself.

meter-signature, or time-signature. a symbol normally consisting of two vertically placed numbers occurring at the beginning of a score, the upper indicating the metric organization of the music, i.e., the number of pulses in a group; the lower number is a notational reference for the pulse, e.g., 3/4 indicates three beats per metric group, and a quarter note gets a beat.

metrical-modulation. (Carter/Goldman) a change from one meter to another by using common note values or pulses as intersections.

metronome a mechanical or electronic device that emits a regular click or beep calibrated in beats per minute. It’s used in practice sessions to set a performance’s tempo. Not very popular in folk music, although it probably should be, since so many folkies have a wobbly sense of rhythm. 2. The metronome is a device, formerly based on the principle of the pendulum, but now controlled more often by electronic means, which measures the equal beats of a piece of music, as a guide to players. The metronome mark of 60 indicates one beat a second, 120 is twice as fast and 240 twice as fast again. The principle was based on the work of Galileo, but the most frequently found clockwork metronome was devised in Vienna by Beethoven's contemporary and briefly his collaborator Count Maelzel.


Mezzo-Mezzo (Italian: half) is found particularly in the compound words mezzo-forte, half loud, represented by the letters mf, and mezzo-piano, half soft, represented by the letters mp. Mezzo can serve as a colloquial abbreviation for mezzo-soprano, the female voice that employs a generally lower register than a soprano and consequently is often, in opera, given the parts of confidante, nurse or mother, secondary rôles to the heroine, usually a soprano. The instruction mezza voce directs a singer to sing with a controlled tone. The instruction can also occur in instrumental music.

Michaelmas (Brit.) Sept. 29.

mickle (Scot., also "meikle", "muckle") much, great.microtone any musical tone smaller than a semitone. Microtones are used in all the world’s folk musics. In Western folk music, we tend to get locked to the notes of the scale, but microtones are still used as expressive devices by singers, by whistle players, or by players of continuous-tone instruments like the violin. On fretted instruments, microtones are available by bending the strings or using a slide. The exact size of the microtone is up to the performer.

microtone. an interval smaller than a semitone.

middle C so called because it appears halfway between the treble staff and the bass staff, and is also approximately in the middle of a piano or organ keyboard. Its frequency in the equal-tempered scale is 261.626 Hz. For the various ways of notating it, see octave notation.

Middleground. [3,5] (Schenker) a layer of compositional structure between the Foreground and Background. a broad level of structure which is shown by the elimination of selected detail.

military folksongs it might seem odd to associate folksongs with the military, but soldier songs have a long history - many of the ancient ones are still sung today by traddies ("Duke of Marlbrough", "Over the Hills and Far Away", etc.). Some military pipe tunes are in the repertoire of folk performers. The soldier songs form a sub-subculture of their own, with songs describing various units or exploits, or just life in the military in general. Songs from WWI and WWII that might be heard today in folk clubs include "Has Anyone Seen the Colonel", "Bless ‘Em All", and "Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant-Major". Some of the lyrics are original, and some are rewrites of existing traditional songs. The tunes can be traditional, original, or borrowed from pop music (the reverse: the tune of Waltzing Matilda is from a military recruiting song). "The Jolly Tinker" is a traditional song that ended up in the military (in a somewhat more bawdy version than in folk), and "The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily", which is by Henderson, Hamish, exists in both military and folk idioms.

Mills, Alan (1913-1977) Canadian folksinger who specialised in popularizing the folksongs of Canada. He began singing in 1935, and in 1951 wrote the well-known "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". He did considerable singing on CBC radio from 1947 to 1959. In 1967 he recorded many tracks for the nine-disk centennial album "Canadian Folk Songs" (RCA CS-100). Although his singing was somewhat stiff by folkie standards, he had a wealth of knowledge of Canadian folklore and contributed much to the folksong revival in Canada.

Mimi & Richard Farina see Farina, Richard.

minim see notation, British.minimalism. a style of music that uses a very small amount of material, repeats it and gradually varies it; e.g. Steve Reich's Come Out.

minor chord a chord built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the minor scale; for instance, in the key of A minor, the Am chord contains the notes A-C-E. Note that the chord consists of a minor third (A to C) with a major third (C to E). See also major chord, relative minor.

minor key see scale.

minor scale the sequence of the minor scale is tone- semitone-tone- tone-semitone-tone-tone. This is from A to A on the white keys of the piano (the key of A minor). For further information, see scale.

minor used as an adjective, it refers to an interval that has been reduced in pitch by one semitone; for instance, a minor third is C to Eb, whereas a major third is C to E.