An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section M4)


mono-. (prefix) one at a time.

monochord a single-string instrument, played by bowing or plucking, such as the mouth bow. Another version has a movable bridge for setting the pitch and is used for teaching or investigating the musical scale.

monody see monophonic.

monophonic of a single unaccompanied melody. An example would be a cappella singing. Its opposite is homophonic, which includes harmonizations, or polyphonic music, which has multiple melodies at the same time.

monophony. a single line; also: one pitch-class at a time.

Monroe, Bill (1911-1996) known as the "Father of Bluegrass", Bill began performing in 1927 with his brothers Birch and Charlie, playing old-timey music on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. The mandolin was to remain Bill’s speciality. They began recording in the late 30s, doing such songs as "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms". They separated in 1936 and the group was renamed "THe Bluegrass Boys". They played the Grand Ole Opry from 1939 to the 70s. The personnel varied from time to time, but they remain the most influential musicians in bluegrass.

Monroe, Charlie (1903-1975) after a stint with his brother Bill as "The Monroe Brothers" (see Monroe, Bill), he left to form the "Monroe Boys" in 1938 and later the "Kentucky Pardners". They continued to perform and record their bluegrass music until Charlie retired in 1957.

Montana Slim see Carter, Wilf.

Moore, Thomas (1779-1852) Irish poet, popular in London society in the first third of the 19th century. He often set his poems to composed or traditional tunes, and some of his songs are around yet: "The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls", "Minstrel Boy", "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms", "The Last Rose of Summer", and others. See also parlor ballads.

mordent an ornament consisting of the expansion of a note into three. For example, a mordent on a C note would be C-B-C (lower mordent) or C-D-C (upper mordent). The accent falls on the first two notes, which are brief.


morisco see morris.

morris (also "morrice" - the word may or may not be capitalised) an ancient folk dance originating in England, usually associated with the Cotswold hills of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The word is mentioned in Shakespeare, and no doubt was probably ancient then (see Kemp, William). It is structured, and danced by a team rather than being a communal dance: there are six or eight dancers to a side (team), plus one or more musicians and possibly a Fool. There are various explanations of the name, all of them somewhat doubtful. Some teams would blacken their faces, and this is said to be the origin of the alternate name "morisco", because they looked like Moors; there was also a European Renaissance dance similar to morris called the "morisca". Whether or not the dances are "Moorish" is something best left to historical researchers. The dances are said to be descended from ancient fertility rituals, and also said to be simply spring celebratory dances from the farming areas of central England. In any case, the morris is remarkably popular, with hundreds of revivalist teams throughout the UK, Canada, the US, etc. Many folk clubs have given rise to a morris team or two. The dancers perform at fairs, in parks, and pretty much anywhere there’s room, reasonable weather, and an audience for the danceout. One of the morris rituals is dancing at sunrise on May 1 (see also Hal-an-Tow); it’s surprising how many non-dancers get up early to watch this remarkable ceremony. The identifying mark of morris dancers is a leather pad covered in bells and worn on the lower leg. These produce quite a rhythm when the dance begins. Some morris teams have dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, in particular characters from the Robin Hood tales, or Jack-in-the-Green. Anything goes as far as the Fool’s costume is concerned - a team from Rhode Island has the Fool outfitted as a giant lobster. The morris outfit, called kit, is usually either white shirt and trousers with a baldrick, or tatters. The dances are complex and energetic, and are divided into two types: the Handkerchief dance in which the dancers wave kerchiefs to accentuate the motion of the arms, and the Stick dance, in which large staffs are clashed in rhythmic patterns. There are also solo jigs, which are show dances for the Fool or other accomplished dancers. The traditional instrumentation for the morris is the fiddle or the pipe-and-tabor (see whistle), but teams often add melodeons, concertinas, guitars, and/or portable drums. Particular dances and their accompanying tunes were once specific to a midlands village, so the barker will often introduce a song as being from the Bampton tradition, or Sherburne, or other of the Cotswold villages. There is a faction that believes that the morris is for men only. Its opponents point out that this is because Sharp, Cecil, who wrote extensively on turn-of-the-century morris dancing, never saw any women dancing it, and his word became law. In any case, teams of women dancers (or mixed teams) are now the norm. There is also a type called Northwest morris, which originated in the mill towns of northwest England. They incorporate clogging steps; the hard-soled clogs produce a rhythmic clatter that replaces the bells. The dancers usually hold and clash decorated sticks ( tiddlers). For other related terms, see the entries following this one, and also Ale, bag, feast, Fool’s Jig, foreman, Kemp, William, Kimber, William, LRO, real ale, rubbish, side, squire. See also Internet folk for the address of the "Morris-related Info" Web page.

morris call a song or tune played during a public gathering to call the dancers together in readiness to start. Usually followed by the processional. Also "calling on" or "calling-on song".

morris off see recessional.

morris on 1. See processional. 2. An album of traditional morris tunes, done in an up-tempo electric folk style by some of Britain’s best folk musicians (see Albion Band). Traddie dancers tut-tut at this sacrilege, but they all have copies because it’s so well done.

morris Ring an English organization formed for the purpose of promoting the exchange of information among dancers, providing instructionals, etc. They’ve published a book (called "The Ring Book") of notation of many of the collected Cotswold morris dances. It was collected and edited by Bacon, Lionel.

Mosso-Mosso (Italian: moved, agitated) is generally found in the phrases più mosso, faster, and meno mosso, slower.

motet. Originally (Medieval), a vocal genre with words, a song, but the prototype is the late Renaissance motet, a contrapuntal work for voices without essential instrumental parts, i.e., a cappella, and normally based on a sacred topic.

Motet-A motet is generally a choral composition for church use but using texts that are not necessarily a part of the liturgy. It is the Catholic equivalent of the anthem of the Church of England. Motets appear in very different forms from the 13th century onwards.

motif. see motive.

Motif-The word motif, coined from French, is used in English instead of the German Motiv, or English and American motive. It may be defined as a recognisable thematic particle, a group of notes that has a recognisable thematic character, and hence longer than a figure, the shortest recognisable element.

motive. a brief melodic or rhythmic idea used to organize a composition.

Moto-Moto (Italian: motion, movement) is found in the direction 'con moto', with movement, fast. A moto perpetuo is a rapid piece that gives the impression of perpetual motion, as in the Allegro de concert of Paganini or the last movement of Ravel's Violin Sonata.

mountain dulcimer see dulcimer.

Mounting. (Schenker: see Anstiegascent).

mouth bow looking like a bow from a bow-and-arrow set, the mouth bow is placed against the cheek and the string plucked. By varying the tension and changing the shape of the mouth, various pitches and tones can be produced. The instrument comes from the native peoples and was first brought to public attention by performers such as Sky, Patrick and Sainte-Marie, Buffy.


mouth music back when instruments were banned by the more puritanical churches or societies, or when people couldn’t afford instruments, mouth music was used to imitate the sound of dance music. There may be actual words, or there may be nonsense syllables. A good singer doing mouth music is something to hear. It’s rapid and intricate, the folk version of jazz’s scat singing. Also known as diddling.

mouth organ see harmonica.

movable do our scale, the do-re-mis, can take any of the twelve semitones as a keynote - "do" can start anywhere, which means that you can sing or play in any key (within the limits of your voice or instrument). More importantly, you can add accidentals as desired, and you can change from any key to any other. This wasn’t always true. The hexachord and mode systems were limited to a narrow range of keys and modulation was difficult if it could be done at all. Historical attempts to create a multi-key system were often stymied by problems of temperament.

Movement-A movement is a section of a more extended work that is more or less complete in itself, although occasionally movements are linked together, either through the choice of a final inconclusive chord or by a linking note, as in the first and second movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

movies there are only a few major movies about folk music and folk heroes. Of the few, the best would probably be "The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time" (1982), a documentary about the famous group, their history, and their last reunion at Carnegie Hall in November, 1980. A reasonable choice for second place would be "Alice’s Restaurant" (1969), based on the song by Guthrie, Arlo. It features folk musicians like Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and of course, Arlo. See Guthrie, Arlo for more on the fate of the famous restaurant. Less successful are "Bound For Glory" (1976), the bio of Guthrie, Woody, and " Leadbelly" (1976). Although they’re fine films and critically acclaimed, they may not convey much of the magic the two musicians generated, leaving non-folkies wondering what all the fuss was about. Perhaps fans of the blues would prefer a mention of "Crossroads" (1986), a highly entertaining film about a young man’s quest for the reputed 30th song by Johnson, Robert. See also crossroads for the inspiration for some of the film’s scenes. See also Dont Look Back.

Movimiento-movement, motion.

mud since it rains at a lot of festivals, and since the grounds will be chewed up by crowds and service vehicles, mud is as much a part of folk as incessant tuning. See also chemical toilets.

multi-. (prefix) more than one in succession, e.g., multimetric or multimodal.

multimeter. two or more meters in succession.

multimodal. two or more modes in succession.

multiphonic. (Bartolozzi) simultaneous pitches produced on a wind instrument.

multi-tracking since the 60s, recordings have been made with tape recorders having 4 to 24 separate channels. Besides the uses in balancing the final mixdown, they allow performers to record one track, then hear it played back while they play along onto a second. This can be repeated, allowing one musician to play a whole orchestra’s worth of instruments. Sometimes called "dubbing" or "overdubbing", although these usually refer to replacing one track with another (such as resinging an unsatisfactory vocal track). It’s used quite often in folk recordings. The first to popularize it was probably Bull, Sandy, although Pete Seeger used the technique for guitar and mandolin on his "Goofing Off Suite" for Folkways in 1958 (another track is mentioned under Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring).

mummers plays ritual plays performed in the UK and eastern Canada (and anywhere the local folk club can get a mummer’s troupe together). The plays are usually performed at Christmas; sometimes the mummers will tour from house to house, and other times might give the play at a pub or other meeting place. The plays "star" the locals, and what the productions lack in polish, they usually make up for in verve. Costumes are improvised out of anything handy, and sometimes the dialogue is, too. Although each locality has its variations, the plays are always much the same. The characters consist of St George, a doctor, a sailor, a soldier, etc. There is always a battle scene with someone being killed, and the doctor always restores them to life. This death-and-resurrection motif turns up in rituals and religions the world over. The story of the mummers has been beautifully captured in a song by Bob Pegg, "Rise Up, Jock".

mummers see mummers plays

mumming see mummers plays.

Music Access a company providing excerpts of songs featured in Sing Out! and Dirty Linen via touchtone phone; see the entries for further hall the British music hall variety shows of the 19th and 20th centuries (the television of their day) produced a large number of songs. While some sound contrived, many have made their way into the folk and pop traditions. Examples would be "Cockles and Mussels" (aka "Molly Malone") or "Danny Boy", although the latter is too maudlin and overdone for folkies. George Formby’s "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On the Bedpost Overnight" was reissued in the 60s by Donegan, Lonnie (along with "Henery the Eighth" by Herman’s Hermits). Famous names in the music hall included George Formby, Sir Harry Lauder, Harry Champion (who originally popularized "Henery the Eighth"), Gus Elen and Albert Chevalier. The writers for the music hall thought nothing of borrowing from the folk tradition, and with that good a framework, the songs often ended up back in folk. An example would be "Sam Hall" or "Jack Hall", a song from 18th-century broadsides about a man hanged in 1701 for stealing. The lyrics are exceptionally good, and classify it as one of the many songs said to be the condemned person’s last words (see goodnight ballad). Between the circulation of the original ballad and the boost it got from the 19th-century music hall stage, there are many versions and variants (some songbooks credit the music hall with originating the song). See song family for a discussion of the many relatives of Jack or Sam. Music hall songs are undergoing a bit of a revival at present (1994). Many groups are rearranging the music hall standards for festival concerts.

musicianer an archaic term for musician, still used occasionally in the UK and North America.

musique concrete. tape or other electronic alteration of non-electronic sounds.

mute 1. (v.) To silence a string, usually by touching it. 2. (n.) A small block of rubber or similar material that can be slid onto the bridge of a violin or viola, reducing the volume. A banjo can be muted by placing a wadded cloth against the inside of the head - a towel, say, or as Seeger, Pete recommended, a diaper. (It’s interesting to speculate: even a cheap banjo rings out nicely - are the damped-banjo fans duplicating the sound of old banjos, or the sound of old recordings?) In trumpet playing, the mute is a conical device inserted into the bell of the horn. Some mutes can be waved in and out with the left hand, producing a "wah-wah" sound. Players of the bodhran often place a towel or cloth inside the instrument and against the head to act as a sort of low-tech tone control.

Mute-Mutes (= Italian: sordino; French: sourdine; German: Dämpfer) are used to muffle the sound of an instrument, by controlling the vibration of the bridge on a string instrument or muffling the sound by placing an object in the bell of a brass instrument.

My Dog Has Fleas see ukelele.

My Grandfather’s Clock see Work, Henry Clay.