An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section S4)

Staff the five horizontal lines and four spaces used in music notation. In notation for the piano, for instance, there will be two sets, one over the other (the "great clef"). The upper is the treble staff and is denoted by the treble clef. The lower is the bass staff and is denoted by the bass clef, and between the two is an imaginary line, which is middle C. See also clef, leger line. 2. The staff or stave (plural: staves) indicates the set of lines used for the notation of notes of different pitches. The five-line stave is in general use, with a four-line stave used for plainchant. Staves of other numbers of lines were once used. The system, with coloured lines for C and for F, followed principles suggested first by Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. Staff notation is the system of notation that uses the stave.

stall ballad see broadside.

Stampfel, Peter see Holy Modal Rounders.

stane (Scot.), stone, stone wall.

Stanley Brothers Ralph (1927- ) (banjo) and Carter Stanley (1925-1966) (guitar) began playing in the 40s, forming the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys. They played a mix of old-timey, gospel, and bluegrass, all in their distinctive mountain harmony. They made a number of albums, leaving many songs that are favorites to many outside bluegrass and old-timey: "Rank Stranger", "I Saw the Light", "White Dove", and many others. After the death of Carter in 1966, Ralph continued to tour; his banjo playing was distinctive enough that it became known as "Ralph Stanley style".

stanza lines grouped to form the basic divisions of a song lyric or poem. In the ballad, stanzas are almost always four-line. "Stanza" and "verse" are generally used interchangeably, though verse really refers to the entire work.

star 1. The finale of sword dances usually features the swords interwoven into a geometric shape called the star, lock, or nut. 2. In country dancing and the squaredance, two couples facing each other shake right hands diagonally (righthand star) or left hands diagonally (lefthand star}.

steel guitar the National, an acoustic guitar actually made from sheet steel. The term is often used to mean the pedal steel. The steel guitar is stopped with a metal slide in the left hand. The sound is as loud and bonky as you’d expect it would be. It’s ideally suited to blues, ragtime and old-timey music. Compare with Dobro, a wooden acoustic guitar with a steel resonator made by the same company as the National.

Steeleye Span groundbreaking English electric-folk group. They started in 1969, with the original members being Tim Hart and Maddy Prior (who had previously performed as a folk duo), Terry and Gay Woods, and Hutchings, Ashley. After the Woods left to form their own band, Carthy, Martin and Peter Knight were added. When Martin and Ashley left, they added Ric Kemp, Robert Johnson, and Nigel Pegrum (Nigel in 1973, resulting in the "Now We Are Six" album name). The last three (on bass, electric guitar, and drums) propelled them toward a more powerful electric sound. They successfully transferred many traditional songs to the pop idiom. Naturally, there’s some argument about just how well they did this (see commercialised), but in general, they’re well-received by all except hardcore traddies. Some of their arrangements tended to excess, but they exposed a lot of people to the wealth of British traditional music. They even had a UK commercial hit with "All Around My Hat" and its flipside, "Black Jack Davy", and a hit with "Gaudete", a medieval Latin chant that predated the current craze for Gregorian chants by some 20 years. (For those who’d like to sing along on the chorus, the words are "Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus, ex Maria Virginae." "Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.") Their name comes from Martin Carthy, who found a character of this name in a Lincolnshire song, "Horkstowe Grange". The membership changes periodically, but they continue to perform, and many of their LPs have been reissued on CDs.

step a whole step is a tone; a half-step is a semitone.

step-progression. [3,5] 1. (Schenker) a line moving by scale steps, often summarizing a structural movment from one significant point in time to another. Hindemith also uses the term in this manner

stereo from the floor if performers in a studio record directly onto a 2-track stereo tape, the final product is captured then and there. There are two advantages: it eliminates the cost and complexity of multitrack equipment and post-recording editing, and it forces the performers to polish their act so they can get it right in one go (very little fixing is possible afterwards). The disadvantage is that a small mistake means starting everything over. See also track.

stick dance a morris dance in which the dancers carry heavy sticks, which are clashed in intricate rhythms. See also handkerchief dance.

stock (UK) 1. Pillory. 2. The side of a bed opposite the wall. The beds were often a box and enterable only by the stock side.

stone (UK measure) 14 pounds.

stool of repentance (UK) aside from being the name of a fiddle tune, it was also the church stool used to humiliate sinners in times past - also called cutty stool.

stop 1. (v.) to press a string down onto the fingerboard or a fret, or otherwise terminate the string length, as in bottleneck style or steel guitar playing. 2. (n.) A control on an organ that selects a certain tonal effect (see register). See also double stop.

Stop-The stop on an organ is the device that brings into operation a particular set of pipes.

storytelling the telling of traditional stories is a subdivision of the subculture. The stories can be slice-of-life anecdotes, or full-scale mythology with lots of good supernatural elements, amusing tall tales. Some people specialise in storytelling, and others keep short ones on hand to add variety to a musical performance. Not all storytellers have a good stage manner, even if they’re experts on folklore. Some think that the mere recitation of the Holy Words is all that’s needed, with the result that the performance is generally a snore. Others are brilliant, and can hold an audience captivated as well as the best instrumental or vocal virtuoso. See also seanachie.

stour (Scot., also "stoor") fight, brawl. Also dust - the miller’s flour is sometimes referred to as stour.

Stracke, Win (1908-1991) Chicago singer and broadcaster. He was deeply involved in the union activities of the 40s and 50s, and suffered from the blacklist, as did his close friend Terkel, Studs. In 1948 he founded the performing group "I Come For to Sing" (which is no doubt the source of the magazine title Come For to Sing); over the years it presented many folk musicians (such as Broonzy, Bill), who were later to become established. In 1957 he started the Old Town School of Folk Music and in 1963 the Old Town Folklore Center. The school ran courses in folk music taught by well-known experts in every aspect of folksong and folklore, and also did concerts ( Prine, John got his start there, as did Goodman, Steve).

strand (UK) all-purpose word used with many meanings - a beach, a road, the countryside. Child said it was used mostly as a handy rhyme.

strathspey a slow Scottish dance, four-to-the- bar, and full of Scots snaps. It’s actually a slower version of the reel.

stratification. see layering.

streen (UK) yesterday evening. Also "yestreen."

street cries miniature verses or little songs shouted by street vendors who could have been selling just about anything. Many of these found their way into songs and stories. One example would be "Cockles and Mussels" from the music hall tradition. Another deriving from cries would be the song "Three Jolly Fishermen" ("My bonny silver herring, mind how you sell them, while the merry, merry bells do ring. We sell them three for four pence, while the merry, merry bells do ring.").

Stretto-In a fugue stretto is the device by which a second voice enters with the subject overlapping a first voice, rather than starting after the completion of the subject by the first voice. The word is sometimes used to indicate a faster speed, particularly at the climax of a movement. 2. imitative-counterpoint where the voice-parts overlap.

string band a loose term to describe performers such as old-timey groups. The "string" usually refers to guitars, banjos, fiddles, autoharps, etc., to distinguish the group from full bands using horns and so on.

Stringendo-pressing onwards.

String-String instruments are chordophones, instruments that sound by the vibration of a string of a certain tension. The string section of the modern orchestra uses first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses. A string trio consists of violin, viola and cello; a string quartet consists of two violins, viola and cello and a string quintet either of two violins, two violas and cello, as in the case of Mozart's work in this form, or of two violins, viola and two cellos, as in the case of Schubert's famous C major String Quintet and the Quintets of Boccheri. Other numbers and combinations of string instruments are possible in other ensembles.

stringwinder a crank for rapidly turning the tuning pegs on stringed instruments, thereby shortening the agony of string changes.

strophic having the same melody for each verse - nearly all folk songs are strophic. An exception might be African songs, which tend to have melodic variations as the song progresses.

strophic. a form in which the same music is repeated with different verses (or words).

strum to play the chord notes of a stringed instrument over and over rapidly, as opposed to picking melody notes.

Study-A study (= French: étude; German: Etüde) is a piece of music originally designed primarily for the technical development of the player. Studies came, however, to be compositions of considerable musical distinction, as in the case of the Etudes of Chopin or of Debussy.

Stufe. (Schenker: scale degree) the fundamental root or harmonic degree; normally this is a root of the tonic, dominant, or subdominant.

Stufengang. (Schenker) root relationships in the Middleground and Background levels of structure.

subdominant see progression, note names.

subdominant. the fourth degree of the scale or the chord built on it.

subdominant-function. see dominant-preparation.

subharmonic. a frequency sounding as an integral division of (below) the fundamental frequency.


subject. similar to a motive, but longer, normally applied to contrapuntal music.

Subject-A subject is a theme or group of themes.

submediant see progression, note names.

submediant. the sixth degree of a scale or the chord built on it.

subset. (set-theory) a set that is contained within a larger set.

subset-relation. (set-theory) the property that two sets have when one is contained in the other.


Substitution. (Schenker: Vertretung) the replacement of a note for one otherwise missing (usually in the Urlinie).

subtonic. the seventh degree of a scale or the chord built on it. Normally, the subtonic is a whole-tone below the tonic, but in its original meaning it was simply the seventh scale degree. Today, the term leading-tone is reserved to mean the seventh degree that is a semitone below the tonic.

suite a collection of dances in one work. Also used to denote a work that’s made up of a series of themes, perhaps loosely based on the older suite structure. Seeger, Pete put together a wonderful, eclectic collection of songs for Folkways called "The Goofing Off Suite". The dances that made up the baroque suite, and still seen today in period dancing such as Playford, include the bourree, galliard, gavotte, minuet, and pavane, which are also often part of the names of the tunes for those dances.

Suite-A suite is an instrumental piece consisting of several shorter pieces. The baroque suite generally contains a series of dance movements, in particular the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Later suites of all kinds exist, some formed by extracts of a larger work, an opera, ballet or incidental music.

suits office managers, sales types and other administrative personnel who grate up against the more laid-back folkie. The bigtime record companies and the media tend to be dominated by suits who may be more interested in dollars than the music.

sukey (also "sookie") an early 19th-century word for a slave, so a "sukey jump" was a party in slave quarters. The term came to mean any lively get-together with music and dancing. ( Leadbelly, who played for sukey jumps, said that he believed it to be an old word for "cow".)

Sunnyland Slim (1907-?) (Albert Luandrew) a blues piano player from Mississippi who moved to Memphis and then Chicago. He recorded briefly in 1947, but is known mostly from his performances with musicians like Johnson, Lonnie and Waters, Muddy.

supernatural a large number of ballads deal with the supernatural. In some cases, the underworld and its inhabitants are detailed, especially in the context of an earthly visitor to them ("Tam Lin"). In others, the newly dead lover is allowed to return to say goodbye to a loved one ("The Unquiet Grave") - and in some songs always has to be back in the nether world "before the cock doth crow" ("The Grey Cock"). Occasionally the supernaturals become the object of ridicule. In "The Farmer’s Cursed Wife", the wife nearly destroys Hell and is thrown out again. In songs like "The False Knight Upon the Road" or the early versions of "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (see riddle songs). Satan appears in disguise and presents strange questions to someone. When they’re cleverly answered, Satan is bested and disappears.

superset. (set-theory) A set that contains other set/s and whose cardinality is larger than the other/s.

supertonic see progression, note names.

supertonic. the second degree of a scale or the chord built on it.

sus the name of a suspended chord, as in Csus4.

suspended chord see suspension.

suspension a note in a chord that would otherwise belong in the previous or following chord. If you’re playing a G chord, for instance, and you insert a C note, this suspension naturally leads to the next chord being C Major - although it doesn’t have to be. The interval from G to C is a fourth, so the chord is named Gsus4.

suspension. a nonharmonic-tone that is held over or repeated from a chord where it was a harmonic-tone. It then resolves downward by step to a harmonic-tone.

sustain how long a musical note lasts. An organ or bowed violin can produce infinite sustain, while the sustain of guitar notes or pizzicato violin notes is quite short.

Swarbrick, Dave (1941- ) fiddle and madolin player without peer; he backs Carthy, Martin and was a founder of Fairport Convention.

sweep the slope of the neck of instruments with reference to the strings, particularly on fretted instruments like the guitar. The neck is not parallel to the strings (as seen from the side), but is canted upward slightly; this slight tilt is necessary to minimize buzzing of the strings on the frets. On some models, the neck is adjustable via the truss rod.

sweeten to adjust the tone controls of a recording or stage PA to add interest to a sound that might otherwise be considered dry. It could also refer to adding something like choral voices, or special effects, at least subtle ones like reverb.

swing (v.) a loose term that means, in general, shifting the rhythmic accents of a melody; see rubato, syncopation. A favorite of jazz musicians, it can be used to get away from the stiff tick-tock of many folk and classical tunes. It occasionally outrages purists.

sword dances there are a number of different styles in the folk tradition. Scottish sword dancing is a performance of complex steps over swords crossed on the floor. English longsword and rapper are danced by a team holding the swords at both ends. The steps weave in and out to produce various patterns of the swords. The end of the dance usually features the swords locked together in a star shape, also called the "nut". The style of sword dance from the north of England called rapper, said to be from the French "rapier", uses swords with wooden handles on both ends. The dances follow much the same idea of weaving in and out to form sword patterns. See also country dancing, morris.

Sykes, Roosevelt (1906-1983) an Arkansas blues pianist who began recording for Okeh in 1929. He was occasionally called "The Honey Dripper", supposedly because people would gather around him when he played, "like bees". One of his songs is "Highway 61 Blues", which no doubt influenced Dylan, Bob in his choice of song titles.

syllabic with reference to meter, a song in which each syllable gets one note. Opposite melisma.

sympathetic resonance the sounding of a string or strings by other strings at the same pitch (or harmonics of that pitch); these unplayed but sounded strings are called "sympathetic strings". See drone strings, Hardanger fiddle, hurdy gurdy.

sympathetic strings see sympathetic resonance above, drone strings.

SympatheticVibration-Sympathetic vibration occurs when the vibration of one drumhead, cymbal, etc. causes another drumhead, or cymbal to vibrate. For example, when the top head a snare drum is struck the vibrations from the top head cause the bottom head to vibrate.

Symphony-Originally indicating a generally instrumental section or composition, as in the case of the brief instrumental introduction to Monteverdi's opera Orfeo, the symphony came to be the principal serious orchestral form of the later 18th century and thereafter. This later form of the symphony (= Italian: sinfonia) has its immediate origin in the three-movement Italian overture to opera found in the work of Alessandro Scarlatti in the late 17th and early 18th century. The Italian overture opens with a fast movement, followed by a slow movement and a final fast dance-movement in triple metre. The function of the symphony as an overture continued into the second half of the 18th century, to be replaced more generally by its new function as an isolated orchestral form. The classical symphony of Haydn and Mozart is generally in four movements, opening with a sonata-form allegro, followed by a slow movement, a minuet and trio and a rondo finale. With Beethoven the symphony grew in size and ambition, an example followed later by Brahms, Bruckner and others. In the 19th century and into the 20th century the symphony, now much expanded, remained the most respected and demanding form that a composer might tackle. A symphony may loosely be defined as an orchestral composition generally in several movements.

synaesthesia. perceiving a mixture of sensory phenomena as one.

syncopation producing rhythmic interest by accenting the weak beats, such as beats two and four in 4/4 time. It’s the very stuff of interesting music - without it, the sound would become a dreary tick-tock, like listening to a metronome.

syncopation. any unexpected rhythm.

synesthesia a psychological effect in which people experience a crossover in sensory perception - hearing colours and seeing notes, for example. Something like this is quite common in writing about music, especially when someone is attempting to describe the quality of a sound. We write (or speak) of "warm tones", "brown tones", a "sour" sound, or a melody that "feels" smooth. In his book "The Man Who Tasted Shapes", neurologist Dr Richard Cytowic said that the effect occurs in only ten people per million. It would be instructive to know if more musicians than non-musicians "see" tones. The people in the book who mixed colour and sound had varying opinions as to what the colours should be. Of course, a C major chord is blue, D is light yellow, D minor is light yellow with black fringes, and G major is white (your author was quite surprised to discover that his synesthesia is an unusual thing).

synthesis. 1. additive: the creation of complex sounds by mixing sounds of a simpler nature; usually electronic. 2. subtractive: selective elimination of elements of a complex sound to create a simpler one.

synthesizer (also "synth") an electronic keyboard instrument that can generate reasonable imitations of other instruments. At one time they were large and expensive and the sound wasn’t all that convincing. Now they’re small and inexpensive and fairly good. In a band with a lot going on, they can fool anybody. On their own, the sound isn’t quite subtle enough. There are basically two types: the full synth, which can generate original sounds, and the type called "electronic piano" or similar; these usually have settings for organ, harpsichord, etc., as well. They’re popular as a substitute for the bulky acoustic piano.

synthetic-scale. any scale not having a common name.

syntonic comma in scale derivation, the difference between the third made up of two pure tones of 9/8 each and a pure third of (5/4). The difference is 1.2656 to 1.25, often expressed as the ratio 81/80, and often confused with the comma of Pythagoras because its value of 21.5 cents is close to the Pythagorean comma’s 23.5 cents. It turns up a great deal in naturally-derived scales - it’s also the difference in cents between the natural whole tone (9/8) and the natural minor tone (10/9). Another more modern definition is the difference between a third generated by a sequence of four fifths (C G D A E} and the pure third of 5/4 (plus two octaves). It’s something only encountered by those working with scales such as the Pythagorean scale; it doesn’t occur in our equal-tempered scale. See temperament for more on scale derivation.

syntonic tuned together exactly, as in two instruments, or two notes in any particular scale - the term is used mostly in explanations of scale derivations.

syrinx an ancient Greek term for the panpipes.