PA at one time, a "Public Address" system meant those horns that blared incomprehensible announcements in bus and rail stations. Today the PA system is sophisticated, with high power ratings, huge speakers of great clarity, and a sound board that with related equipment can do almost anything.
Despite that, it often sounds as if it should be in bus or rail stations blaring incomprehensible announcements. The personnel are at fault - it isn't always possible to locate trained operators.
palmer (UK) a pilgrim, tramp, vagabond.
Palmer, Roy a Birmingham, Eng., school headmaster who has a profound interest in all aspects of folklore. He has published numerous collections of British songs, including "The Ballad History of England", "Everyman's Book of English Country Songs", "The Valiant Sailor" and many others.
panegyric a poem or speech in praise.
panpipes an ancient instrument consisting of a row of graduated pipes fastened together. They are moved back and forth in front of the player's mouth, and the sound is produced by blowing over the end of a pipe, just as you would produce a tone from a pop bottle. The sound is about as interesting, but recordings by panpipe players such as Zamfir have sold in the zillions.
paper-trained able to read music; formally trained. These individuals are held in a certain amount of awe, unless their training makes them stiff and a bit boring when they try to play folk music, in which case they might be held in a certain amount of disdain. The term can be used either way, with the sense depending on the speaker's perception.
If notation is used at all, it's only as a guide to learning a new piece. Doing an actual performance from notation is seen as restrictive, a musical straitjacket. Among those who feel this way, singing from a book may be the ultimate sin (see Rise Up Singing).
parallel 1. Parallel harmonies occur when identical melodies are played a specific interval apart. In folk and sacred harp singing, parallel fifths and octaves are common harmonies. The parallel harmonies don't go on for long, since they tend to sound like a dirge if used for more than a few notes. See also bitonal. 2. A minor chord or key with the same name as a major is called a parallel or "opposite" chord or key - C minor would be the parallel to C major. Aka "tonic minor"; see also relative minor.
Parchman Farm a prison farm in Mississippi; it was visited in 1939 by Lomax, Alan, who collected a large number of blues and hollers there. It was also immortalized, if you can speak of immortalizing a jail, by White, Bukka in his "Parchman Farm Blues".
parlor ballads not true ballads, but songs written with a piano arrangement and sold for family singing in Victorian times. The lyrics are often sentimental, and by today's standards, somewhat overdone. Some of them are still played today, a tribute to the composer's skill at writing or borrowing beautiful melodies. See Moore, Thomas for some typical examples.
partial in general, a harmonic.
parts of music in western tradition, there are three parts to music: rhythm, melody and harmony. Rhythm is the beginning - it was no doubt how the first music was played, with someone beating a stick on something. Melody occurs when there is a variation in the notes sung or played, although it could be argued that one long drone is theoretically a melody.
Those two will do nicely for a wide variety of music. However, the icing on the cake is harmony - an instrument playing multiple notes, an instrument accompanying a singer, multiple singers, etc. The first harmonies would have been unison (multiple parts doing the same melody in the same key), and octaves (because men and women naturally sing an octave apart).
The next step in harmony probably occurred when people tried singing different parts - the usual harmonies in folk music are the fourth and the fifth. It's been said that harmonies might have happened because somebody had trouble singing in a particular key, and shifted *their* key to suit the voice.
Over the centuries, the simple parallel harmonies have evolved into a remarkably complex system (which, as Flanders and Swann might have put it, "I'll tell you all about - some other time.").
passing note a melody note or decorative note that is not part of the harmony; that is, it does not urge a chord change, and is usually unaccented (it falls on a weak beat or an upbeat).
patent see sacred harp.
pattern picking a simple, mechanical repetition of guitar fingerpicking. Sometimes it's just a stage wait until the complicated stuff begins, and sometimes it's an indication that the guitar player has never taken fingerpicking past the beginner stage.
The most tedious pattern picking is the beginner's thumb-and-three-finger type, in which the thumb plays a bass note and the fingers play the top three strings. It goes bass-1-2-3, bass-1-2-3 over and over. Sometimes the guitar player plucks the top three strings simultaneously, in which case the sound is a boring bass-plink-bass-plink.
This is not to say that pattern picking has to be simplistic. Guitar pickers can take it to quite a height, varying from the flowing accompaniment style of, say, Tom Paxton or Tom Rush, to the complexities of someone like Leo Kottke.
By contrast, non-pattern pickers would be someone like Travis, Merle.
Patton, Charlie (~1887-1934) influential in the Mississippi Delta style of blues; he was called the "Founder of the Delta Blues" or "King of the Delta Blues" and recorded for Paramount and Yazoo. He recorded 70 titles from 1929 to 1934.
Paul, Les (1915-) (Lester Polfus) began in country music as a comedian/musician; he teamed in 1947 with Colleen Summer, who became his wife and took the stage name Mary Ford. Les experimented with multi-tracking, and he and Mary had hits with (among others) "Nola" and "How High the Moon" in the 50s. In 1952, the Gibson guitar company began marketing Les's guitar design as the famous "Les Paul" model. He also recorded a number of albums with Atkins, Chet.
Paupers, The see Mitchell, Adam.
pavane (also "pavan") a (baroque} court dance, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in duple meter and was usually paired with a faster dance such as the galliard.
Paxton, Tom (1937- ) perhaps the most famous songwriter to come out of the 60s folk revival except for Bob Dylan. He started performing in Greenwich Village in 1960, and his songs were recorded by other people at first (such as "Marvelous Toy", "Going to the Zoo" and "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound").
He made his first album in 1965, the first of seven for Elektra. Some of his most enduring songs are "Last Thing on My Mind", "What Did You Learn in School Today?", "Bottle of Wine", "Did You Know John Hurt?" and "Ramblin' Boy". His topical songs (criticizing the government, the Vietnam war, war in general, etc.) are particularly well-written.
He has always been very popular in England and said that his British career was ahead of his American one. He continues to perform.
paying your dues (from jazz argot) jazz musicians in times past who endured economic and other hardships between brief successes were said to be paying their dues. The phrase isn't used much now, but had some popularity in the 60s and 70s from young, white, middle-class musicians. "I'm workin' in a car wash between gigs, man, just payin' my dues." This usage is rather silly.
Peacock, Kenneth (1922-2000) Canadian ethnomusicologist who has researched indigenous music and the folksong of Newfoundland. His field recordings have been made commercially available. He is also a trained composer, and has incorporated folksong into his works.
pedal 1. (n.) A general term for an effects box. 2. (adj.) The lowest notes of an organ, which are generally played with foot pedals. 3. The piano pedals for damping the strings or reducing the loudness. 4. Use of the damping pedal. 5. A sustained bass note over which the melody is played (also called "pedal point" or "pedal note"). 6. A sustained melody note - though this is technically "inverted pedal", which is better known in folk as a drone.
pedal steel a guitar that looks more like a table than an instrument. It's always electric and fretted with a smooth metal bar. The pedals allow changes of string pitch for key changes and effects. It's the heart and soul of C&W sound. Compare with steel guitar.
peeler policemen in Ireland were called peelers from the 19th century on, after Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), a British statesman and Prime Minister who founded the Irish Constabulary. The term is used often in Irish songs, and there is a tune in the collection by O'Neill, Francis called "The Angry Peeler".
peerie (Scot.) odd, peculiar.
peg 1. The tuning peg at the end of the neck on stringed instruments. These are usually metal gear types, but can also be friction-fit, as on the violin or dulcimer. See also wrest pin. 2. The small tapered pin that fastens the strings at the bridge (if the instrument uses this system instead of a tailpiece).
pelf (UK) wealth.
pentachord a rare word synonymous with pentatonic scale. It's also an ancient instrument with five strings, though the encyclopedias don't elaborate.
Pentangle British electric folk group formed in the late 60s and noted for featuring guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, who both made solo recordings for a number of labels. The singer was Jacqui McShee. They had an influence on many other musicians and paved the way for folk ensembles rather than solo acts.
pentatonic scale a scale or mode made up of five notes within an octave. The black keys on a piano yield a pentatonic scale. On the white keys, this would be C D E G A, the usual form. The octave might be included to give C D E G A C, and other octaves can be included while leaving the definition intact, such as G C D E G A. This form is common but not exclusive; others are:
C D F G A C E F G B C E F A B C D F G Bb C D Eb F G Bb C Eb F Ab Bb
They can also be pitched differently - taking G as the first note for the first example gives G A B D E.
Part of the C D E G A noted above is used in a million children's games:
Ring a-round the rosie G G E A G E
or, more familiarly:
nyah-nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah G G E A G E
The pentatonic scale is the foundation of folk musics the world over; by choosing different starting notes, it's possible to play tunes on it that sound like the music of Scotland, Africa, the Orient, and many others. See also hexachord for a medieval six-note scale that survives today in sacred harp singing.
"The House Carpenter" is an example of a pentatonic melody using the C D E G A mentioned above:
Well met, well met, my own dear love, D D D A A G E D C Well met, well met, cried he, D D D A A G I've just returned from the salt, salt sea, D D D A A A G E C And it's all for the love of thee. C C D D A G E C D
If you can talk about a pentatonic scale having a "key", then this one would be D, since that's the keynote (in the modal system, it would be called the "final"). The C note provides a flatted seventh, producing the same sound as the Mixolydian mode.
People's Songs after WWII, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Agnes "Sis" Cunningham, Burl Ives, John Hammond, Lee Hays, Alan Lomax, Irwin Silber and others were looking for a new way to carry on the folk tradition. From Joe Klein (see books): "Seeger suggested a loose-knit union of songwriters to stage occasional hootenannies, provide a library of protest songs for unions and other progressive groups, and maybe even send people out to perform at meetings and on picket lines. The organization would be so ecumenical as to include, in addition to the old regulars, some less radical sorts like Oscar Brand, Tom Glazer, and Josh White.... so People's Songs was born."
After the incorporation of People's Songs in NYC in 1946, they began to publish "The People's Songs Bulletin", with the aim of providing songs for the labor movement. As the Cold War anti-communist hysteria increased, the members found themselves red-baited by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the force behind the blacklist of any performers thought to be too left of center.
People's Songs was forced to close in 1949 by the prevailing uncomfortable atmosphere, but many of the participants vowed to open a new magazine dedicated to folk music, though with a more general approach. They did so in 1950, producing the first edition of Sing Out!.
pennywhistle see whistle.
perch (UK measure) 5.5 yards (aka "rod" or "pole").
percussion any instrument played by striking it. The term calls drums to mind, but strictly speaking, also includes instruments such as the piano and hammered dulcimer, which is a nice bit of academic hair-splitting. There must be dozens of percussion instruments other than drums, such as wood blocks, triangles, bells, etc.
perfect interval the fourth, fifth and octave are called perfect intervals, possibly because they have a unique sound compared to the others. They're also the easiest to determine by ear. The term is rarely used in folk music.
Note that "perfect" does not mean "pure", although many musical dictionaries use the terms interchangeably. A pure interval is one derived from harmonics, and consists of simple integer ratios; a pure fifth, for instance, is an interval of two notes with a pitch ratio of 3:2 or 1.5 (in our current equal-tempered scale, the fifth is flatted just a little, to 1.498).
perfect pitch the ability to tell if a note is concert pitch, which refers to the A440 pitch standard. Most people have (or can learn) a good sense of relative pitch once they use a tuner or instrument for reference, but the people who can automatically tell the pitch of a note without an aid of some kind are a mystery. No one really understands how they do this. (Information is hard to come by, but there's a good discussion of the topic in "The Psychology of Music", Diana Deutsch, Academic Press, 1982.)
It's been proposed that people with perfect pitch have learned to recognize the stimulation of certain nerve bundles in the inner ear and that's how they identify a note, but this should mean that more people should have the ability. It's also been demonstrated that pitch recognition can be learned through attempting to tell the pitch of tones, though much practice is required. In any case, few people have the facility; sources that say that "trained musicians have perfect pitch" usually mean perfect *relative* pitch. Even *that* is questionable, since everybody has limits to their ability to distinguish small pitch differences (see pitch discrimination).
Leaving those with a perfect pitching record aside for a moment, it should be pointed out that pitch is our subjective reaction to frequency, and the two are not locked together. As described in the entry for pitch discrimination, there's a certain minimum difference that we can detect - books on psychoacoustics differ somewhat on the exact value, but most people with good ears can detect only differences greater than about 5-10 cents, which is a bit less than 10% of a semitone. Another thing is that pitch perception drifts at the frequency extremes; the lowest and highest octaves of the piano sound a bit off if tuned exactly using electronic tuners. Piano tuners compensate for this by ear (and call it "octave stretching").
period period players, whether musical or dramatic, strive to reproduce exactly the performances from times past, including the use of original instruments (or reproductions). "Period" is sometimes known as HIP - Historically Informed Performance. The term can refer to anything from early Gregorian chant to the fairly modern, although the usual sense is something that's centuries old. The production of replica period instruments is a minor industry.
Sometimes the instruments are designed to use the older scales, such as the scale of just intonation or the meantone scale.
See also Internet folk for related Web pages, particularly the PEERS (Period Events and Entertainment) page and the page for the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Peter, Paul & Mary folk trio that was extraordinarily successful during the 60s folk revival and is still popular, though some folkies accuse them of producing concerts and recordings with an overwhelming sameness (one critic reviewed a concert by saying only "See last year's review"). Aka "PP&M". The members were (and remain) Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey, and Mary Travers. They continue to perform.
They're best known for their recordings of "If I Had a Hammer" by Hays, Lee and Seeger, Pete (1962), " Blowin' in the Wind" by Dylan, Bob (1963), Peter Yarrow's "Puff, the Magic Dragon" (1963), "For Lovin' Me" by Lightfoot, Gordon (1965), "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by Denver, John (1969), and Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song" (1971).
Some PP&M trivia: when NYC entrepreneur Grossman, Albert wanted a trio for his lineup of performers, he engaged Mary and Peter. His choice for the third member was Van Ronk, Dave. Dave turned it down (wisely, considering his bluesy style) and Noel Stookey filled in.
Petric, Faith (1915-2013) writes the well-known "Folk Process" column for Sing Out!. She began to perform in public in the late 60s, and appeared at the Fox Hollow Folk Festival. She has been singing and playing guitar ever since, and makes good use of her enormous repertoire in her writings.
phaser not the Star Trek weapon, but an effects box that sweeps adjustable filters up and down the audio spectrum to produce a sort of swooshing sound, much like a jet aircraft passing overhead. Generally used only with electric music.
Philharmonic pitch see pitch.
philibeg (Scot.) a kilt.
Phillips, Bruce aka "Utah" or "U. Utah" Phillips, Bruce is a singer/guitarist who specializes in songs about railroads, hoboing, cowboys and so on. His public performances are an event, drawing on his bottomless box of jokes, wisecracks, and puns. He records for Philo records.
physical scale see pitch.
piano aside from the obvious (the instrument's full name is pianoforte because it can play softly or loudly), it also means a marking on notation to indicate a quiet passage. Softest would be pianissimo.
pianola originally a trade name, this came to mean any self-playing piano. There were types built with a barrel-and-pin mechanism; the last commercial type to be sold was the player piano.
piano rolls paper rolls for a player piano. By means of perforations they could record a pianist's playing with remarkable accuracy. They are the only recordings by some past musicians, such as Joplin, Scott.
pibroch (Scots Gael "piobaireachd") a class of music in the repertory of the Highland bagpipes. It consists of various complex tunes that have been notated in the form of a standard and are thus stylized, if not immutable. There are competitions for pipers who play nothing but. See also neume.
Some folkies of note, such as Scotland's Gaughan, Dick insist that the pibroch is not folk music, even if it came from folk sources. The reason is that the pibroch, being notated once and for all, never changes and is not allowed to go through the folk process as songs do. Not everyone agrees. There was much debate about this in the late 70s issues of Folk Review.
Picardy third (also "tierce de Picardie") ending a tune that's in a minor key with a major chord; that is, a tune in D minor would end with a D major chord. The sudden intrusion of the major gives a very positive feeling to the ending. Used occasionally in folk music. The origin of the name isn't known for sure (perhaps from the Old French "picart", sharp), although the "third" part is easy: if you sharp the third note in the scale of A minor, the minor chord (A-C-E) is now major (A-C#-E).
pick 1. (n.) See flatpick. 2. (v.) To play a stringed instrument. The term is general: "Let's pick!". It doesn't matter if the other musicians are actually flatpicking or not.
pick o'er (UK) to weave.
pickup a contact microphone on an acoustic instrument, used to generate an electrical signal for use by an instrument amplifier or DI. In some cases, they're magnetic coils that are mounted under the strings, or an actual microphone mounted within the body. The sound hole of an acoustic guitar is often blocked, which reduces the bass output and thus the feedback problems.
While they solve the problems that go with microphones, they almost never sound as good as the instrument itself, since they emphasize only one particular section of the instrument (you can prove this to yourself if you have a guitar or similar - strum a chord and place your ear on some part of the instrument, and then move it around to various locations. The sound changes radically from part to part).
In the worst cases, they ruin the sound. The guitar often goes from a rich powerful chord to the sound of an ultra- bright, overly-amplified ukelele. Properly fitted pickups can prevent this. Makers of superb acoustic guitars who agonize over every detail must shudder at what some of the shoddy efforts do to their products.
Instruments like the concertina, accordion and melodeon often sound good with internal pickups, especially since PA people placing microphones aren't always aware that sound comes out of both sides of the instrument.
Instrumentalists and PA people who favor pickups will hotly contest this entry. They will say that the pickup increases volume, decreases feedback, and simplifies controlling the input levels. While these points are true, the listener wants to hear the performer's *sound* and doesn't care about quick fixes to make life easier for those onstage and behind the scenes. If the sound is unaffected or improved by a pickup, that's one thing. If the sound is inferior to that of a microphone, the technical problems of miking can and should be solved.
pickup band a group of musicians recruited on the spot for some impromptu playing; synonymous with scratch band.
piller (UK, also "pillar") pillory, stocks. See also timber stairs.
pin 1. (UK) door bolt. In songs, it's often "silver-headed pin". Occasionally both terms refer to a hairpin, but this is usually made clear by the context. 2. A plastic pin used to secure an instrument's strings to the bridge, if the instrument uses this system. Aka "bridge pin".
pipe see pipes or whistle.
pipe-and-tabor see whistle.
pipes 1. Any of the family of whistles, flutes, etc. 2. See bagpipes. 3. Someone with a good singing voice is said to have "a nice set of pipes". 4. Actual tobacco pipes ("bacca pipes") placed crossed on the ground as part of a solo jig in morris dancing.
pipe tune any melody performed on the bagpipes; it often refers to a military band using the bagpipes. The repertoire of the piper usually consists of traditional tunes, some taken from the military, but it's of interest to note that Alan Reid of the Battlefield Band said that many of the best pipe tunes have been written in the last 20 years.
pit (UK) a mine.
pitch how high or low a note sounds, or how high or low a song or tune is set. It's quantified in cycles per second, or hertz (abbreviation Hz; see frequency). Pitch is our subjective reaction to frequency (see perfect pitch for more on this). See also cent, pitch discrimination.
Some performers have perfect pitch, or nearly so, and can start a song bang-on every time without an instrument. Others guess at it and end up having to start over again after some breathy lows or squeaky highs. With instruments, it refers to how high or how low the instrument is set compared to the standard explained below. Instruments can be pitched in whatever way suits the musician, but playing with others requires common ground.
The international standard for pitch is to place the A above middle C at 440 hertz. This is the meaning of the A440 that appears on various tuning aids, and is known as "concert pitch". See pitch pipe, tuner.
In the past there were various attempts to standardize; for instance, "Philharmonic pitch" was set by the British in 1896 at 439 Hz. A 1938 American book on the psychology of music said that the international standard was A435. Musical dictionaries vary on when the A440 standard was officially accepted, but 1938 (British Standards Inst.), 1939 (ISO), and 1955 (ISO) are dates given, remarkably late in the history of music. There are still said to be areas using other standards.
In the 19th century it was often customary to use brass bands in theater productions, and brass bands caused a certain amount of trouble because they favored a slightly higher pitch (one that would carry well outdoors). It was A456, about a quarter-tone higher than A440, and is sometimes called "Salvation Army pitch".
Tuning forks and church organs would indicate that centuries ago their standard pitch varied widely, with some organs ranging from 380 (France) to about 500 (Germany); the difference is almost a fourth. A tuning fork said to be Handel's is at about 423 Hz (G# and a bit); another from London about 1700 was at 454 (about halfway between A and A#). The builders and players of period instruments today sometimes use "baroque pitch", which is 415.3 Hz (G# in today's system, or one semitone below A440). A pitch of about 430 is often used by period players doing performances of late-18th and early-19th classical music.
Note that in some music books written by people unfamiliar with physics, or physicists unfamiliar with music, the note middle C is given as 256 Hz. This was once seriously proposed as a standard ("philosophical pitch") because it would simplify calculations. It's also called the "physical scale" and is of use to acousticians because the frequencies of C become whole numbers. It has no musical use (middle C in the A440 standard and equal-tempered scale is 261.6 Hz). The frequencies of the notes in our current scale are under equal-tempered scale; for other tuning systems, see temperament.
pitch class all the notes of the same name across all the octaves; for example, all Cs on the piano belong to the same pitch class. This is due to the phenomenon of octave equivalence.
pitch discrimination the ability to distinguish very small differences in pitch. This varies widely with the person tested, the loudness and frequencies of the tones and their duration, and the harmonic makeup. According to "The Psychology of Music", Carl Seashore, 1938, tests showed that subjects selected at random averaged a discrimination of 12 cents, or somewhat over 10% of a semitone, while the better results from the group went down to two cents. Tests on trained musicians showed an average of two cents, with the best results lower than one cent; however, it's been pointed out that he didn't give any test conditions. Alexander Wood said in his "Physics of Music" (revised J.M. Bowsher, 1972) that three cents over the range 500 Hz to 4,000 Hz was typical under laboratory conditions.
For everyday use, a reasonable general value is 5-10 cents, as stated in "Measured Tones" (see books. See also perfect pitch.
The time it takes to recognize a short tone as having definite pitch varies with frequency. Around 440 Hz, it's about 40 milliseconds, and increases with decreasing frequency to about 90 milliseconds at 128 Hz.
pitch drift (also "pitch slide") the pitch of small instruments, particularly the stringed variety, tends to change with changes of temperature and humidity. New strings also seem to have minds of their own as they settle in. The result is much on-stage tuning (see tuning jokes). Some instrumentalists tune during an intro to have something to do with their hands. This is very annoying, but they apparently aren't aware that they're doing it to excess.
pitch pipe a sort of reeded harmonica favored by teachers and singers for finding concert pitch or the key to sing in. They're also available in the notes for guitars and other instruments, usually in the form of whistles rather than reeded, but have largely been replaced by the electronic tuner. They're still handy for a cappella singers.
pizzicato (pron. "peetsy-catto") to play a bowed instrument by plucking the strings directly with the fingers. The sound, especially with violins, is abrupt and penetrating.
plagal see mode.
plainchant synonymous with Gregorian chant, plainsong.
plainsong the traditional melodies of the western Christian church. They're unadorned and devoid of contrapuntal elements. "Plainchant" is synonymous with Gregorian chant. Plainsong generally had no accompaniment, although sometimes an organ was used. Harmonies were simple, usually parallels. For a plain subject, it can get complicated.
planxty 1. In the Irish tradition, a tune composed in honor of a patron (they knew where their bread was buttered). A typical name would be "Planxty O'Donnell". The word is said to have originated with Carolan, Turlough. 2. A trend-setting Irish traditional group.
player piano a piano with a mechanism that could self-operate by means of perforated, pre-recorded piano rolls. Some models used more durable punched metal disks, but the paper rolls were more popular. They were made obsolete by the phonograph, but remain the only way we can get to hear the playing of musicians like Joplin, Scott, who never made audio recordings. They're sometimes known as the pianola, although this term, which was originally a trade name, means any type of self-playing piano.
Playford John Playford (1623-1686) started the important Playford music publishing house in 17th-century London. The house had an enormous collection of traditional and contemporary dance tunes, and these were published in 1650 (some editions are from 1651) as the famous "Playford Dancing Master", still in use today - see country dancing. He was the first to publish Purcell, Henry.
See Internet folk for a Web address where you can find the Dancing Master online.
playing by ear it's probably safe to say that the great majority of folkies play by ear, even if they know a lot of music theory. Even those with proper training can usually improvise as required.
Some people think this is an inborn gift, and apparently this is true of some musicians, but most learned how to do it by playing and singing and learning lots of songs. Unfortunately, they all seem to have done it on an intuitive level - good explanations of how it works are few.
Folk music is not just random notes (though some of it sounds like it), but a series of building blocks, such as short pieces of melody and the accompanying chord progression. After learning enough songs, a pattern emerges, and the performer can predict what chord will come next (folk is not like classical in inventiveness - most chord progressions are pretty basic).
A few more songs and some instrument practice, and it becomes possible to play along with a tune, even though it's new to the performer. A few more yet and the performer can fake it.
plectrum a flatpick. The term is never used in folk, except perhaps for humorous effect.
plectrum banjo a 4-string banjo somewhat like the tenor banjo, but with a longer neck (like a 5-string without the 5th string). Tunings include D G B E (like the top four strings on a guitar) and C G B D.
ploo (Scot., n. or v.) plow.
poaching songs there are many of these from the UK in the 18th and 19th centuries, and some of them make poaching out to be something of a spree ( Lincolnshire Poacher). Others, however, are more realistic ("The Poacher's Fate" or "The Moon Shone Bright"). Much farmland had been closed off by the owners for the more lucrative venture of sheepraising, and the poachers killing the landlord's game or livestock were often looking at their only source of food.
According to the old songs, the gamekeepers had the right to shoot to kill, and they often did. The penalty for poaching was often hanging or transportation (see transports).
pock (UK, also "poke") bag.
pole (UK measure) 5.5 yards (aka "rod" or "perch").
polka a round dance in quick double time.
Polly lots of Pollys in traditional song. In fact, women are almost always Polly or Nancy. See also Willy. The consistent use of these names is a marker.
polymeter two different time signatures in the same work. Distinct from polyrhythm, which has different rhythmic effects under one time signature.
polyphonic (noun form "polyphony") this type of music has multiple parts - a parallel or non-parallel harmony, or separate melodies that move independently. Its opposite is monophonic. Polyphony is really divided into melodies with supporting harmony ( homophonic), and separate melodies (like a classical fugue).
Independence of melodies is rarely encountered in folk music - you might say that a guitarist's lead lines are polyphonic, but in general they move in step with the tune's chord progression and are probably best thought of as decoration to the main melody. Round singing, common in folk, has the independent polyphonic door open a crack. The quodlibet, which is two different songs going at once, is a sort of polyphony. See also round.
polyphony see polyphonic.
polyrhythm using distinctive rhythms at the same time to create effects, but with the same time signature. If the rhythms are different enough to warrant multiple time signatures, the term is polymeter.
Poole, Charlie (1892-1931) Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers began recording their old-timey music in the early 20s. Many of their songs have been reissued on LPs, and they remain one of the greatest influences on the younger musicians who love the music. One of their songs remains famous far outside old-timey: "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down".
Poor Old Horse one of many popular shanties, with the words:
"They say, old man, that your horse will die,
And we say so, and we hope so..."
The "horse" is said to be a sailor's debt to the shipping company. After the voyage, the recently-paid sailor discharges the debt and his horse is said to be dead, or so the story goes from Frank Shay, author of "An American Sailor's Treasury", and from Sandburg, Carl and Hugill, Stan.
There is also an English country song by the same name which is actually about a horse.
popping p's when a vocalist says or sings a word beginning with a plosive like "b" or "p", there is a puff of breath that hits the microphone and produces a loud pop. Since experience with microphones eliminates this after a while, it tends to be the mark of the stage or studio neophyte, not that the old pros aren't guilty now and then.
Some relief from the effect can be had by using a foam cover on the microphone, or a mechanical screen; these diffuse the puff of air. See also windsock.
portamento a glide from one note to an adjacent one. On synthesizers, it means that the instrument begins a note slightly below pitch and glides up to it.
Porterhouse, Tedham see Blind Boy Grunt.
potluck folkie get-togethers often feature a potluck dinner in which each guest brings a dish. This is not to be confused with the popular usage of "take potluck" - the cooking is extraordinarily good, with a huge variety of foods from many ethnic sources.
pound in the old and new British systems, a unit of money equal to (at present) about $2US; also known as "pound sterling". There was formerly a pound coin called the sovereign. A pound is 20 shillings. See also bob, quid.
pow (UK) head.
PP&M see Peter, Paul & Mary.
presenting (UK), to toast someone, holding the glass towards them.
press gang until the early 1800s, it was common practice to keep the military up to strength by kidnapping men. This may be the origin of our phrase "pressed into service". There are many traditional songs about the kidnapped men, and as many or more from the point of view of the women left behind.
After the early 1800s the practice was stopped, perhaps because of public opinion, or perhaps because kidnapped men don't make the most loyal soldiers. The powers that be then switched to a recruiting method still in use today: lies and exaggeration. The greenhorn was promised all sorts of perks if he'd take the King's shilling and kiss the Bible (a ritual equivalent to signing on the dotted line). This technique produced a great number of anti-recruiting songs, whose purpose may well have been to warn the innocent.
principal chords three chords built on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale, such as C, F, and G in the key of C. See major chord, triad, progression.
Prine, John (1946- ) Chicago singer/songwriter who writes in the folk and country traditions. Considered one of the best writers ever, with a huge list of well-known songs that includes "Paradise", "Sam Stone", "Dear Abby", "Illegal Smile", "Spanish Pipedream" (Blow up your TV), "Hello In There", "Angel From Montgomery" and dozens more. These date from his first album in 1971, but he continues to perform and record.
Prior, Maddy in the late 60s she teamed with Hart, Tim, performing traditional British music, recording the two-volume set "Folksongs of Old England" and the album "Summer Solstice". They then formed Steeleye Span, a band that's still going. She also recorded several albums of her own compositions, such as "Woman in the Wings". She continues to perform, both as a soloist and with Steeleye.
prison songs (see also hollers) many songs from the US prisons and work farms made their way into the blues and folk traditions. Examples are "Midnight Special", "Bring Me Little Water, Silvie" and "Rocks and Gravel". Many of these songs were recorded by collectors at prison farms in the US south in the 30s and 40s.
processional (aka "morris on") In a danceout, the dancers will gather away from a crowd, then dance through it. The traditional music for this is "Winster Processional", aka "The Morris March". The opposite is the recessional.
A mass processional of hundreds of dancers and massed bands can be utterly astounding.
producer in music recording, the producer has the role of the director in moviemaking. He or she will advise on the arrangements of the songs and sit in on the recording session with advice to the performers and the recording mixer (not all recording "engineers" and sound system operators understand the requirements of folk music - see rock mixers).
Proffitt, Frank (1913-1969) the North Carolina traditional musician (fretless banjo and guitar) taught "Tom Dooley" (aka "Tom Dula") to Anne and Frank Warner (see Warner, Frank). He also collected many songs from his area and passed them on to collectors. Although he never became a full-time professional musician, his albums on Folkways and Folk-Legacy inspired legions of folk musicians in the folk revival.
progression most songs have some sort of chord progression; that is, certain chords harmonize nicely with parts of the melody (but see the end of this entry). If you look at a large number of songs, a pattern emerges. The basic chord progression uses major chords built on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale (the familiar C-F-G, the principal chords, so-called because they encompass all the notes of the scale).
Each chord change produces a small bit of musical tension that urges yet another change. The G in the above example (the "dominant" chord) urges a resolution to the "tonic" (see below).
The chords are usually labelled with Roman numerals as described below. Somebody at a jam session will often call out "One", "Four", "Five", and so on, largely because the use of the capo can make the use of the actual chord names confusing.
Folkie instrumentalists can't thumb through many how-to books without coming across the names of the chords in a progression. These are wonderful buzzwords if you need to appear paper-trained. The names for the chords, and also the notes of the scale, (shown in the key of C) are:
I C - tonic II D - double dominant (aka "supertonic") III E - mediant IV F - subdominant V G - dominant VI A - submediant --- Am - relative minor VII B - leading VIII C - octave
A critic once wrote disparagingly of folk musicians, saying that they use only three chords. Seeger, Pete wrote in rebuttal, "You have that all wrong. The best of them use only two." Recently, he wrote in Sing Out! that he has reduced certain banjo tunes to one chord. The humorous aspects of this aside, certain tunes such as "Cripple Creek" or "Old Joe Clark" really *do* sound better with one chord.
projection in singing, the ability to make the voice heard at a distance ("Project to the back row"). This is partly a matter of loudness and partly one of putting energy into the midrange tones where the listener's ear is more sensitive. For more on this, see formant.
prosody the study of poetic meters and versification; see foot. It can also refer to the intonation patterns of phrases; certain song chants, seem to have a melody of their own, even done without accompaniment.
protest protest songs have an ancient tradition, no doubt going back to the first songs to ever appear. The topic can be anything people want to complain about. In the Industrial Revolution, people sang of dehumanizing working conditions and low wages. In the 20s and 30s, there was a large number of union songs championing workers' rights. In the 60s, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and environmental awareness stimulated the songmakers.
The best of the 60s writers included Paxton, Tom, Ochs, Phil, Reynolds, Malvina and Dylan, Bob (in his early years). Few of the songs remain in circulation - such is the fate of the topical song, unless it happens to be universal in its subject matter (and/or extraordinarily clever in its construction).
The output of protest songs began to dwindle after the 60s, although there are still some being produced. They died off because songwriters could see how ephemeral (and perhaps ineffective) they were, and because too many writers were churning out what amounted to nothing more than rhyming editorials. No doubt they also noted that they were preaching to the converted - a folk club full of people with similar ideas. The mass media generally won't touch anything controversial unless it's trivial.
This is not to say that protest songs aren't being written - but a good one is a rare find.
psaltery like a hammered dulcimer, but plucked with the fingers (medieval illustrations show the smaller ones held against the chest and played with a pick). They come in all sizes, but most look like a table, or a small grand piano with no top and no keyboard. Considered the forerunner of the harpsichord.
pub where you'll usually find morris dancers when they aren't actually dancing. English-style pubs are much preferred, especially if they brew on the premises or feature other real ale.
Puckett, Riley (1884-1946) a blind singer/guitarist who recorded old-timey music with the Skillet Lickers in the 1920s. His solos had a fairly smooth sound for this country style; the vocal style seems more closely related to the pop music of the time, which no doubt enhanced their considerable popularity.
pull (also "pull off") on a stringed instrument, to suddenly lift a lefthand finger from the fretboard or fingerboard, producing a note that falls in pitch. See also hammer.
pulling shanty see shanties.
pulse there is a difference between the beats per measure and the listener's perception of them - for instance, 6/8, which is a triple time, can be perceived as double time: see jig and rhythm for further comments on this.
Purcell, Henry (1658-1695) an English court musician who has been called England's greatest composer. He was familiar with the Playford family (and was first published by them) and so had access to a huge number of traditional tunes. Whether he did any borrowing of any of these is a good question, but if so, he wouldn't have been the first to cop a good tune from the folk tradition. His fame in general today comes from the arrangement of the Rondo from "Abdelazer, or the Moor's Revenge" into "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
Aside from writing beautiful melodies in his various airs for the theater, his claim to fame in folk music is that the Hornpipe from "Abdelazer" was so popular that it was published as "Hole in the Wall", and then issued as a single in the 18th century! This lovely dance tune was renamed in the sheet music with the appealing title of "St Martin's Lane". It later passed into the country dancing tradition via the Playford Dancing Master, still with the dreadful title of "Hole in the Wall", under which name it's played today.
pure with respect to musical intervals, an interval derived from the harmonic seriess of a musical note, and consisting of simple integer ratios; the third, for instance, has a pitch increase in its notes of 5:4. These pure integers sound best, but cause sour notes if they're used to generate a scale and modulation is attempted. Various fixes have been used in musical history: the Pythagorean scale, the scale of just intonation, the meantone scale, and finally our current equal-tempered scale.
Note that musical dictionaries often use "pure" and "perfect" interchangeably. For more on this, see perfect interval.
purfling the decorative effect where the sides meet the top or bottom of a guitar, mandolin, etc. The inlay around the sound hole is also a type of purfling, though it's usually referred to as a rosette.
Pythagorean scale one of many historical attempts to minimize the problems with scale tuning; one of the forerunners of our current equal-tempered scale. It's a scale created by jumping ahead for 12 natural fifths as described under circle of fifths (dropping back in octaves as required). This eliminated many of the discrepancies of the natural scale, but as with all scales, added its own. For instance, although the fifths are accurate at 3/2, the third (C to E, say) is not, being a ditone with a ratio of 81/64 (1.266). This is larger than a pure third of 5/4 (the error is the 21.5 cents of the syntonic comma). The octave is also a bit sharp by 23.5 cents, which is the comma of Pythagoras.
One of many ways that were used to correct for the discrepancies was to construct a scale using five whole tones (9/8 each) and two semitones of 256/243 each. The octave is now exact, though the third is still sharp and there are problems when you try to change keys, mainly because of sharps and flats that aren't enharmonic. Another method was to set F to a pure fourth (4/3) above C and the octave to a pure fourth above G, then use the 9/8 tone and the adjusted semitones as required. The E is still sharp; see diesis. Other attempts were made by flatting the fifth slightly before generating the notes, or by using differently-flatted fifths at various points for going around the circle.
The flatted-fifth solutions were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of which came close enough to allow all keys to be used ("circulating temperaments"), and it's these Pythagorean methods referred to in the title of Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" (1722 and 1742 - see well-tempered scale). One method likely to be Bach's tuning, according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, was to spread the comma over the fifths for the notes C, G, D, and B. These variants were successful enough when it came to modulation, though lots of sharps or flats in the key signature decreased the accuracy, and they must have been fearsome for tuners.
For other scales and related information on temperament, see just intonation, meantone scale.
The frequencies for a Pythagorean octave are shown below, and derive from the Harvard Dictionary of Music. The method used was the second one mentioned above: correct fourths and fifths, whole tones of 9/8, and semitones of 256/243 (or going down, 243/256). Small discrepancies arise from roundoff error. Note that the semitones between C and D, and between G and A, are not enharmonic.
Note Freq. Ratio Multiplier C 260.7 1/1 1.000 C# 278.4 1.068 Db 274.7 1.053 D 293.3 9/8 1.125 Eb 309 1.185 E 330 (9/8)2 1.266 ((9/8)^2 = 1.266) F 347.7 4/3 1.333 F# 371.3 1.424 G 391.1 3/2 1.5 G# 417.6 1.6 Ab 412 1.58 A 440 27/16 1.6875 B 495 --- 1.898 (243/256 * octave) C 521.5 2/1 2.000 (4/3 * G)
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The Folk File: A Folkie's Dictionary Copyright © 1993-2009 Bill Markwick, All Rights Reserved.