An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section T2)

Texas Slim pseudonym of Hooker, John Lee.

texture. the way that lines and tones are woven together in music. Some common terms used to describe musical texture are: monophony, polyphony, homophony, heterophony, counterpoint, thin, thick.

thairbut, thairben (Scot.) out there, in there.

The Band starting as the Hawks in 1959, this group of Canadians backed Bob Dylan when he began performing electrified folk (although not, as often reported, at Newport ‘65 - that was members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band). They changed the name in the late 60s and brought out the well-known "Music From Big Pink" album. Their best-known songs are "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", both by guitarist Robbie Robertson, who is featured prominently on Dylan’s "Blonde on Blonde" album.

thee ("you") turns up in a great number of old songs, and is still heard today in the northern areas of England. Occasionally said as "tha" ("Tha’s having another pint?"). Sometimes "thee" and "you" turn up in the same sentence ("When’ll I see thee again, then, you?").

theek (UK.) thatch.

theme. a compositional idea that recurs, normally melodic, that is of some length, i.e., is a complete musical statement in itself.

Theme-A theme is a complete tune or melody which is of fundamental importance in a piece of music. Thematic metamorphosis or thematic transformation describes a process used by Liszt and others in which a theme may undergo transformation to provide material to sustain other movements or sections of a work, where new and apparently unrelated themes might otherwise have been used.

theme-and-variations. a musical form based on a theme and a series of sections that are variations of this theme. Normally each section is of the same length as the theme and carries the same formal scheme.

theme-group. (Tovey) a group of themes within a section of form that are united by virtue of being in the same key.

theorbo (also "chitarrone") a large bass lute, usually with 14-16 courses. It has very long un fretted strings extending along the top of the neck; in the largest models they can reach a length of 160 cm. Used mainly in period pieces for accompaniment.

Theremin an electronic music instrument developed in the 1920s and still around. It uses high-frequency oscillators that are sensitive to the proximity of the player’s hands, so pitch and loudness can be controlled by gestures. Its swoops and glides made it a natural for SF film sound tracks. So far, it seems to be unused in folk. However, it’s interesting to note that pitch-by-gesture was used for centuries in the Gregorian chant - see Guido d’Arezzo, chironomy.

Theremin-The theremin, an electronic instrument invented by Léon Thérémin, a scientist of French origin who lived and worked in Russia, has the original feature of being played without the performer touching it. Frequencies and dynamics are controlled by the movement of the player's hands in the air, with pitch varying according to the distance of the right hand from an antenna and dynamics varying by the similar use of the left hand.

third 1. The third note of the scale, counting inclusively; eg, the note E in the key of C. 2. The interval formed by playing two notes a third apart (such as C and E together).

third. an interval whose pitches encompass three consecutive letter names in the alphabet; e.g. C up to E encompasses C-D-E; A-flat to F is a third going down (A-G-F) but is a 6th going up (A-B-C-D-E-F).

thirteenth 1. The thirteenth note of the scale; that is, the octave plus five notes. For example, the A in the octave above C is the thirteenth in the key of C. 2. The compound interval formed by playing two notes a thirteenth apart.

this time in morris dancing, the musicians will play the tune through once while the dancers organize themselves into lines. As the first playthrough ends, the squire calls "This time!" and the dance starts. If the dancers fumble it, other dancers in the sidelines may call "That time!"

Thompson, Richard (1949) UK guitarist/songwriter; see Fairport.

Thornton, Big Mama (1926-1984) (Willie Mae Thornton) a singer in the R&B tradition who worked with everyone from bar bands to McDowell, Fred to Chenier, Clifton. She had a hit in 1953 with "Hound Dog", predating its success with Elvis Presley. She recorded for Backbeat and Arhoolie.

Thorp, N. Howard (1867-?) "Jack" Thorp travelled the US southwest in 1889-90, covering 1500 miles through New Mexico and Texas. He collected cowboy songs as he went, and in 1908 published a slim book of 23 songs, "Songs of the Cowboys". It included songs still sung today, such as "Buffalo Skinners" and "Windy Bill". In 1921 he expanded his book to 101 songs, and published his autobiography in 1945. Two musicologists, Austin and Alta Fife, elaborated greatly on "Songs of the Cowboys" in 1966, adding much annotation; their version includes a reprint of the original 1908 edition.

three finger picking the use of the right thumb and two fingers in guitar or banjo fingerpicking.

threnody a dirge or funeral song.

thumb piano a small wooden box, held in the hands, and with tuned metal strips attached to the top. The strips are plucked with the thumbs, producing a vaguely piano-like sound. Aka "kalimba".

thumb string folk banjos have five strings (as opposed to the four strings of the jazz tenor banjo). The fifth string, which is the highest in pitch, is on the outside next to the bass string and is usually played on the upbeat, giving the 5-string its distinctive syncopation. The string is not fretted, but drones along with the melody and any chord changes. It is usually tuned to the fifth or tonic of the key in use, and while it doesn’t harmonize well with some chords, the high pitch usually keeps it from being intrusive. Guitarists and jazz banjo players (and beginning 5-stringers) are mystified by it.

thumbpick plucked instruments with steel strings often have a muted bass output unless the player has extraordinary fingernails. The thumbpick is a small plastic loop worn over the tip of the thumb; it greatly increases volume when fingerpicking and often allows a more precise grip. It may or may not be used in conjunction with fingerpicks.

thumbring in case you run across the word in an old song: in medieval times, rings were often worn on the thumb as well as the fingers.

tiddler a decorated stick used for rhythmic clashing by Northwest morris dancers. They apparently are derived from the implements used by the textile workers in the northwest of England.

tie the curved line joining a note to its repetition indicates that they are to be played as one note with the total time value of the two. The tie allows notes to be played as one over an intervening bar line, and occasionally the tie can be used to create a time value difficult to notate otherwise. Sometimes called "bind" or "bound notes". If the tied notes are different, this is a slur, indicating that they are to be played smoothly.

Tieferlegung. (Schenker: see coupling)

tierce de Picardie see Picardy third.

tight said of musicians playing together when they really respond well to each other’s playing. It goes well beyond being able to keep the beat and not make any mistakes - it implies a certain indefinable character based on the interaction. If you’re familiar with the music and the musicians work some magic, you can say "That’s tight." But if you have to ask what it means...

timber stairs (UK, also piller, "timmer") stocks, pillory.

timbre tone or sound quality.

timbre. the tone colour of an instrument as determined by its overtone-series or spectrum. It is timbre that makes possible the distinguishing of one instrument from another. syn., tone colour, colour.

timbrel an old word for tambourine.

time signature the numbers at the beginning of music notation are the time signature. They appear to be a fraction, but aren’t. The numbers 6/8, for instance, mean six beats per measure with an eighth note getting one beat. See jig for an oddity concerning counting beats per measure. (also: meter-signature) two vertically aligned numbers normally appearing at the beginning of a score that give the number of rhythmic units (normally beats) per measure (top number), and the value of note in a rhythmic unit (bottom number).

time value the time value of a note is how long it is sounded in relation to the other notes. A bar is divided into so many beats, with particular notes (such as eighth, quarter or half notes) receiving one beat. See time signature.


time-point set (Babbitt). a set of initiated durational values translated from pitch-numbers of a tone-row. Each measure is divided into twelve equal time segments corresponding to the twelve-tone scale, and each pitch-number translates to a corresponding time segment within a measure whence the next event is initiated.

Time-Time, unlike the word tempo, which means speed or pace, is used in music for the metrical divisions or bar-lengths of a piece of music. These are indicated by two numbers at the beginning of a work or at the introduction of a changed time by two numbers that form a time-signature. The higher of the two numbers shows how many beats there are in a bar, while the lower number shows what kind of note it is. In this way a duple time-signature of 2/4 means that each bar consists of two quarter notes or crotchets or their equivalent in notes of shorter or longer duration. An indication of compound time such as 6/8 shows that there are six quavers or eighth notes in each bar, although in faster speeds these will be in two groups of three. Prime higher numbers such as five or seven necessitate asymmetrical groupings of notes.

Timpani-Timpani, kettledrums, unlike most other drums, have a definite pitch, tuned nowadays by pedals, but in earlier times by taps that served the same purpose, tightening or slackening the skin to produce higher or lower notes. In the later 18th century pairs of timpani were generally used in conjunction with pairs of trumpets, both instruments being of military origin. Beethoven made novel use of the timpani, as in his Violin Concerto, where they play an important part. Other composers made still greater use of the timpani, most eccentrically Berlioz, who calls for sixteen timpani and ten players in his Grande Messe des morts (Requiem).

tine (Scot., also "tyne") to lose. "Tint" is "lost".

tinker an itinerant metalworker, usually a mender of pots and pans. The tinker has many songs, usually because his access to a wide variety of houses sets up any number of stories (see also awl). A typical example would be "The Jolly Tinker", in which the mending operation is not-so-veiled sexual metaphor. The "tinker’s dam" (often spelled "damn"), referring to something trivial or worthless, was a disposable barrier used to guide molten solder during repairs. The term is occasionally used, particularly in Ireland and the UK, to refer to a member of the travelling people.

tint see tine.

tiple (Spanish, "little guitar"; pron. "tipple") a miniature guitar about the size of a ukelele, derived from South American traditions. It has ten steel strings arranged in four courses in ukelele tuning: A D F# B. The courses are strung double-triple-triple-double, and the inner string of each triple course is one octave down from its neighbors. It might have been featured prominently in a Disney film, "Honey, I Shrunk the 12-String". It was made by the Martin company in the 1920s and was still in their catalog in 1980. While it rarely shows up in North American folk, it’s a favorite with South American performers. See also taropatch for another ukelele relative.

tirl (UK, also "twirl") rattle. To "tirl at the pin" was to rattle the door bolt.

 Toccata-A toccata is an instrumental piece, often designed to display the technical proficiency of a performer and found particularly in keyboard music from the 15th century onwards. There are notable examples in the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach, with some toccatas containing a series of movements.

tocher (Scot.) a dowry.

token songs see broken token.

 Tombeau-Tombeau (French: tomb, tomb-stone) is a title used by French composers in tributes offered to predecessors or contemporaries. Ravel had recourse to this baroque title in his 1914 Tombeau de Couperin.

tonal. 1. having tonality, 2. music in major or minor keys.

tonal-center. the most prominent pitch-class; syn., tonic.

tonal-imitation. the imitation of a subject where some intervals are altered to retain the key.

tonality referring to music that favors a keynote or tonic. Most music does have a key - in "The Psychology of Music", Diana Deutsch points out that despite the vast differences in musics around the world, the urge to return to that keynote, or at least hover around it, is pretty much universal. Opposite atonal.

tonality. a hierarchy (ranking) of pitch-class. Tonal is the adjective. If only one pc is stressed more than others in a piece of music, the music is said to be tonal. If all pcs are treated as equally important, the music is said to be atonal, or pantonal.

tone 1. The common scale is made up of two basic units of pitch difference, the tone and the semitone. The tone is the difference between, say, C and D, or F and G notes (the multiplier for the frequency increase is about 1.1225). The semitone is half of a whole tone. See twelfth root of two for the arithmetic of the multiplier. The above applies to our current equal-tempered scale. For older systems, see temperament for references to their derivation. It’s important to realise that "note" and "tone" are not synonyms when it comes to discussing scales or music theory. Notes are sounds of a definite pitch, while tones are the frequency difference between notes. Thus C and D are notes, while the distance between them is a tone. Similarly, the three notes C-D-E enclose two tones. 2. (general usage) The quality of a sound - whether it’s "pure", "buzzy", "bassy" or whatever. Properly called "timbre". 3. Any sound of a definite pitch. This seems to conflict with what was said in #1 above, but it depends on context. In entries that discuss temperament, the difference between "note" and "tone" is important.

Tone poem-A tone poem (= German: Tondichtung) is a symphonic poem, an orchestral composition that seeks to express extra-musical ideas in music. The term Tondichtung was preferred by Richard Strauss, a master of the form.

tone. 1. a pitch and all of its overtones. 2. a whole-step, or whole-tone.

tone-cluster. a simultaneity of several pitches that are a second apart.

tone-colour. see timbre.

tone-row. (set-theory, linear) a fixed, linear order of pitch-classes normally used as the organizational structure of a serial composition by means of repetition, transposition or other transformation; see also series.

tonic minor a minor key with the same name as a major; for example, C minor is the tonic minor to C major. Also called parallel minor.

tonic sol-fa various methods of teaching singing to those who would like to be able to sing without learning all about notation (they were supposed to learn the notation eventually, but didn’t always). In general, the tonic note is assigned the name "do" and it uses the do-re-mis. See also sol-fa sense 2, Guido d’Arezzo.

tonic the first note of the scale, the keynote. Often used incorrectly as a synonym for root. Common sense says that it should be pronounced "tone-ick", but people say it as if you put gin in it. See also progression.

-tonic. suffix used with appropriate prefix to indicate a specific number of pitch-classes in a scale, e.g., ditonic, tritonic, tetratonic, pentatonic, etc.).

tonic. the predominant pitch-class. Tonic is not necessarily the first pc of a scale; i.e., a C major scale does not have to start or end on tonic in a musical context, yet it is a C major scale. The convention in writing scales out of context, however, is to begin and end on the tonic. A tonic is determined by its prominence in the music (by means of repetition, accents, and other means of emphasis). Thus, a tonic can only be determined in a musical context, which is why a key signature cannot tell us what the key is. Syn., tonal center.

tonic-function. a chord that can substitute for the tonic, e.g., the submediant.

tonicization. [1,3] (Sessions) transient tonics normally created by a secondary-dominant emphasis; a transitory modulation.

top strings the phrase refers to pitch, not physical location. The top strings on a guitar, for instance, are at the bottom when the instrument is held in the playing position.

topical songs see also protest. Any song written as a comment on any current subject, such as politics, disasters, or perceived nonsense in a culture. Many traditional songs were topical songs and have survived, but the usual fate is for the songs to fade away as the topic is forgotten.

tough a rarely-used term that has a loose but complimentary meaning. It’s somewhat like funky - a skillfully-done sound with a bit of edge to it.

toun (Scot., also "toon") a farm, hamlet, or town, depending on the context.