A&R Artists and Repertoire; an influential position in major music publishing companies; good A&R people often greatly influence popular music - well-known A&R producers include Hammond, John, who shaped folk, blues, and jazz at Columbia, Dixon, Willie with his work in blues and R&B at Chess, and Atkins, Chet, largely responsible for the sound of Nashville recordings through his work with RCA.
Abbott, O.J. (1872-1962) Oliver John Abbott learned much of his vast repertoire of songs from Irish people he worked with in Ontario and Quebec at the turn of the century. After 1957, he recorded about 120 of them for Fowke, Edith. Folkways released some of the recordings. He sang at the Newport and Mariposa folk festivals, and many artists perform the songs he preserved.
aboon (Scot.) above.
a cappella (lit. "in the church style") a vocal work unaccompanied by instruments. Occasionally percussion is used without disturbing the definition.
The common spelling of "a capella" is incorrect but widely accepted. It's also commonly spelled as a single word: "acappella". A synonym, particularly in musicology, is monophonic.
accelerando (also "accelerato") a gradual quickening of the tempo. Not all that easy to do in group playing, where everybody has to speed up at the same rate. Its opposite is the ritard. You'd think that there'd be a decelerando, but there isn't.
accent (n. or v.) the stress put on one or more of the beats (foot-taps) in a measure. It doesn't mean that certain notes are louder, but that the arrangement of note timing in the meter makes you want to tap your foot at specific times. In most of folk music, counting beats produces this: "ONE, two, THREE, four." In most of pop or rock, the accents are "one, TWO, three, FOUR." See also rhythm.
accidental a sharped or flatted note that doesn't belong in the scale. For example, F# appearing in the key of C would be an accidental. Accidentals are canceled by the next bar line; all Fs after that would be natural unless denoted by another sharp sign.
Folk music is full of accidentals, including the augmented fourth mentioned above, the flatted seventh in blues, ragtime, etc., and many others, particularly songs in the old modes.
accordion (occasionally "accordeon") the accordion has been ruined for a lot of people by being extravagantly played by overdressed grinning showbiz types doing the quintessential cornball accordion piece: "Lady of Spain". Given the virtuoso instrumental talent in folk music these days, and a better sense of restraint, there's hope for it. In the right hands, it's an extraordinarily versatile instrument.
The accordion has a chromatic piano-like keyboard, although you'll occasionally see true accordions with buttons (not to be confused with the melodeon). All accordions and melodeons have lefthand buttons for playing bass chords. Because the accordion produces the same note whether you push or pull the bellows, getting up a snappy rhythm is more difficult than with a melodeon, which yields a bass chord rhythm as the bellows are moved in and out because a different note is produced on the push and on the pull.
accumulative songs see cumulative songs.
Acknowledgements many people took the time to read this file over and offer suggestions and comments. The author is deeply indebted to them for their guidance: Jim Armour, Paul Morris, Jim MacMillan, Torin Chiles, Paul Read, Alistair Brown, Jeff Weed, Bob Blackburn, Tony Burns, Peter Bennett, Ed Zapletal, Steve Rimmer, Doug Marshall, Ted MacGillivray, Susan Hamlin, Frank Hamilton, Sam Hinton, and Irwin Silber. The software for the disk version was written by Raymond D. Gardiner and Eric S. Raymond.
The structure was inspired by "The Jargon File", a dictionary of computer hacker terms, edited by Eric S. Raymond and Guy Steele.
An enormous debt of thanks to Stephen Spencer, who converted the text portion of this file to run online on his Web page "FolkBook" (see Internet folk).
Special thanks must also go to Jeff Wunderlich, a programmer who has written a remarkable PC text editor, Aurora, without which this rather large file would have been much more of a struggle. For information on this amazing program, or a trial-copy download, contact:
nuText Systems, (301) 468-2255
acoustic invariably misspelled "accoustic", this refers to instruments or performance styles devoid of pickups or other electronic gadgetry.
In terms of acoustic versus electric, the best illustration would be the guitar. The acoustic guitar has a rich sound, but low treble output. The electric guitar, together with effects boxes and an amplifier, is capable of great sustain and loudness throughout its range, plus many special effects that aren't possible on the acoustic guitar.
An acoustic instrument fitted with a pickup might be referred to as acoustic-electric. A semi-acoustic guitar would be a guitar fitted with standard electric pickups, but with a hollow body - perhaps not as large as the full acoustic, but capable of some sound generation on its own (as opposed to the solid-body electric, which makes little or no sound without an amplifier).
A purist approach can be pointless: electric basses are enormously popular, synthesizers may be incorporated into acoustic groups, electronic keyboards beat lugging a piano around, and vocalists sing into thousand-watt PAs. See unplugged.
action the height of the strings of a stringed instrument above the fretboard or fingerboard. The ideal is no height at all, but this causes a buzzing or snapping noise as the vibrating strings hit the frets or fingerboard. The proper height is an elusive goal: it's said that there's a luthier's shop in NYC with a sign that reads "Will All Those Who Want Lower Action With No Buzzing Please Leave".
For guitarists who are stuck: a workable height is to set the strings to the height of the thickness of two pennies above the 12th fret. One problem in fiddling with the action is that changes may affect the intonation.
Acuff, Roy (1903-1992) a country musician well-known to the fans of the Grand Ole Opry show, and called "The King of Country Music". Over the years, his hits (often adapted from the folk tradition) included "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", "Wreck on the Highway", "I Saw the Light", and "Wabash Cannonball". Many of the songs in his repertoire are performed by folk and bluegrass musicians. He was also a record producer who had a great influence on the style of C&W.
Adams, Derroll (1925-) singer and banjo player who travelled with Elliott, Jack in the 50s, then moved to Europe. He recorded several albums for Topic and was a major influence during the folk boom of the 50s and 60s. He is the composer of "Portland Town", also recorded by Jack. He made a brief appearance in the 1967 Pennebaker documentary about Bob Dylan, Dont Look Back.
ae (Scot.) one, only
aerophone an instrument whose sound comes from a vibrating air column, such as a whistle. It's one of the four types of instruments; the others are idiophone, membranophone, and chordophone.
A440 see pitch.
ahint (UK) behind.
air 1. Any pleasant, slow- or medium-paced tune that escapes other categories. 2. In general, any melody. 3. A form of madrigal (and properly spelled "ayre") that's strophic - it has the same melody for each verse.
alane (Scot., also lane) alone.
Albion Band an English folk-rock group started by Ashley Hutchings (supposedly because he felt from his work with Fairport and Steeleye Span that they were drifting away from English tradition). The membership varied during the 70s and 80s, and included his then wife Shirley Collins, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Tams, John Fitzpatrick, and Carthy, Martin. One of their works was the album "Morris On", electric arrangements of traditional morris tunes. (See morris on.)
album a collection of recordings in one package. It originally referred to a number of 78RPM records in one binder, then a vinyl long-playing record LP, and now a CD or cassette tape. Because of the dominance of vinyl LPs from the 50s until recently, the term often refers to them.
Ale a gathering of morris dancers from various cities and countries. It can be one day in duration, but is usually a weekend or long weekend. The daytime consists of dance tours of the host area, with the evenings full of musical performances, sketches, a cappella singing and country dancing. Well-named, since much real ale is on hand. Dancers and musicians will often form up impromptu sides after the evening's festivities and head out for even more public dancing.
aliquot a term borrowed from mathematics by musicologists to refer to harmonics related to each other by simple integer ratios.
aliquot strings strings that sound through sympathetic resonance.
All Hallows Eve (UK, also "Eve of All Hallows") the evening of October 31, known these days as Hallowe'en, or just Halloween.
All Saints' Day (UK) Nov. 1.
All Souls' Day (UK) Nov. 2. See also soul-cake.
Almanac Singers a group formed in 1940, consisting of Hays, Lee, Seeger, Pete and Mill Lampell, and later joined by Guthrie, Woody. They made several recordings, now available from Folkways. The membership varied (see Hawes, Bess Lomax), and after WWII the group dispersed, with many of them going on to fame: Lee Hays and Pete Seeger became part of the Weavers and Woody Guthrie became one of the most famous folksingers of all time (he left the group in 1942 to form the Headline Singers). See also People's Songs.
alto one of the ranges of the voice. Most women are altos, and the term is usually "contralto". Men often sing in the alto range, and the term is generally "countertenor". The usual range is F below middle C to one octave above middle C. See also vocal ranges.
Amazing Grace now one of the most famous hymns in the world, this was written by John Newton (1725-1807), an Englishman who experienced a religious conversion and abandoned his work in the slave trade. It is set to a traditional American sacred harp tune, "New Britain", though the current version is closer to a gospel arrangement. It always had some currency in church music, but reached new heights of fame in the 60s, popularized by such singers as Baez, Joan, Seeger, Pete, and Collins, Judy, among many others. There was even a hit instrumental recording of it as a pipe tune in the early 70s by the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
It is now standard in the repertoire of pipe bands, with one of its most famous appearances being Spock's funeral scene in the film "Star Trek II".
ambitus the range of a melody from lowest to highest note; it's close in meaning to compass and tessitura, but it's somewhat specialized, generally being used to specify the range of the authentic and plagal modes.
American Folklife Center see Library of Congress.
amp 1. Ampere, the unit of electrical current. Amperes are often in short supply in stage work, since the lights and sound equipment might well overload the available wiring. 2. See amplifier.
amplifier 1. An electronic device that in concert or studio work takes the output of the sound board and increases it enough to drive the loudspeakers. 2. An instrument amplifier ("amp") not only makes the signal from the instrument big enough to drive speakers, but allows control of the tone, reverb, and so on. An instrument amp without internal speakers is often called a head.
Sometimes performers using an instrument with a pickup will dispense with the amplifier and plug the pickup directly into the sound board via a DI connection. The performer then depends on being able to hear the instrument through the monitor and main loudspeakers.
anacrusis (from prosody) starting a song or tune on the upbeat. Many songs begin this way. If the starting note or group of notes next to the clef add up to less than required by the time signature, it starts on the upbeat, with the downbeat coming on the first note after the bar line.
anapestic see foot.
Andersen, Eric (1943- ) one of the early successes for a singer-songwriter in the 60s folk revival, Eric played most of the Greenwich Village venues and established himself as a performer. He is best known for two mid-60s songs, "Thirsty Boots" and "Violets of Dawn".
Anderson, Alistair see High Level Ranters, concertina.
Anderson, Pink (1900-1974) S. Carolina blues singer and guitarist. He began his career in 1918 with medicine shows, and by 1928 he was recording for Columbia. He made an album for the Riverside label; he was on one side and Davis, Rev. Gary was on the other. His songs, such as "I Got Mine", "Travelin' Man", and "Every Day of the Week" were recorded by 60s revival singers like Rush, Tom and Kweskin, Jim.
anent (Scot., also "anenst") against, in the sense of one thing touching another. "The shovel's over anent the fence."
anhemitonic devoid of sharps and flats, like staying on the white keys of the piano; opposite hemitonic. The pentatonic scale C D E G A is anhemitonic. The word is distinct from diatonic in that diatonic implies one key; any required sharps and flats are still present, and only the extras required for modulation (key changes) are missing.
Animals a rock group that, with singer Eric Burdon, brought out the 1964 "Baby Let Me Take You Home", based on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" from the first album by Dylan, Bob. They followed this with "House of the Rising Sun" from the same source, which along with the Byrds helped initiate the trend to electric folk.
anon according to the usual definition of folksong given by musicologists, a song should have been in circulation long enough to have earned its Anonymous rating. This makes it a song of the people. Not everyone agrees. The songs of Stephen Foster, for instance, seem to be folk songs. Since the improvement in copyright regulations, the mass printings of sheet music, and the ubiquitous electronic media, names of authors tend to be firmly attached to songs. See also folksong, definition.
anticipation a dissonant sound, produced by inserting into a chord a note that really belongs to the next chord, which is consonant. The technique accentuates a chord change. See harmony for more on these terms.
antiphon a short refrain used in Gregorian chant between other, longer pieces.
antiphonal (adj., noun form "antiphony") referring to a musical form in which melodies alternate with each other; call and response singing is an example. Compare with homophonic, polyphonic.
anti-recruiting songs after the abandonment of press gangs in the early 1800s, the military attempted to secure new blood by sending recruiting sergeants accompanied by spiffy bands to lure the innocent with promises of the good life (see also shilling). This was light years away from the reality, and those who endured the experience came up with many anti-recruiting songs to warn others. Some of them detail the horrors of war and others settle the debate on the spot. This is from one of the best, "Arthur McBride", an Irish song:
"Well, says Arthur, I wouldn't be proud of your clothes,
For you've only the lend of them as I suppose,
And you dare not change them one night if you chose,
If you did, you'd be shot in the morning.
And the little wee drummer, we flattened his pow,
And we made a football of his rowdie-dow-dow,
And threw it in the tide for to rock and to roll
And bade it a tedious returning."
These songs come from a time when the purpose of the military was to maintain imperial domination. Although there are songs glorifying the soldier and particular military victories, in general war didn't go down well with the songmakers.
APG American Primitive Guitar - a current attempt to get away from saying "folk", which is seen as either too restrictive or too ambiguous. It usually implies finger-style guitar in the American folk tradition. It's an unfortunate choice of words, since the techniques developed by fingerpicking guitarists have been anything but primitive.
Appalachia the English, Scots and Irish who populated the Appalachian mountain area in the 18th and 19th centuries brought many traditional tunes and songs with them. Their relative isolation meant the survival of a great deal of this music.
There must be hundreds if not thousands of examples, but for a start:
In the 1930s, Florence Reece set the famous labor song "Which Side Are You On" to the tune of an old English song, "Jack Munro", aka "Lay the Lily-o".
The ancient English "Nottamun Town", thought to be lost in the UK, was found in the family repertoire of Ritchie, Jean. See also borrowing.
The bluegrass banjo tune and song "Shady Grove" is the tune for the old English ballad "Matty Groves".
Many of the tunes for the Child ballads collected by Bronson, Bertrand were found in Appalachia in the last few decades.
The music of Appalachia has had a profound influence on folk music. It led to various banjo playing styles, the dulcimer, bluegrass, clogging styles, old-timey music, and much more. It could be said that its effect led to much of the folk revival in the 50s and 60s.
See also Internet folk for the address of the Appalachian Resources Web page.
Appalachian bow see bow.
archlute a Renaissance lute used for solos and continuo. It had six or seven courses and sometimes had unfretted strings above the neck for bass notes in the manner of the theorbo.
archtop an acoustic or electric guitar favored in jazz - see f-hole.
Arhoolie (US) 1. A record label prominent in the blues; see also race records. 2. An "arhoolie" is a field work song; see hollers.
Arkin, Alan ([1934- ]) best known as an actor, Alan started off in folk music, recording a solo album for Elektra (vocal and guitar), and becoming one of the original members of the Tarriers in the late 50s. He joined a group called the Baby Sitters in 1958, making several albums with them.
armband attendees of folk festivals can be spotted by a plastic armband (really a wristband). These are fastened to the wrist on arrival and can't be removed without cutting them. It saves the organizers no end of trouble when letting people in and out of the festival grounds. Different colors segregate the riffraff from the aristocrats. Someone should write a song called "It's Weird To Shower, Lord, With My Armband On".
What with the minimum-waste consciousness, reinforced-paper armbands are now appearing. One-day passes may mean a handstamp, which is an utter waste of time since the ink disappears after an hour in the heat.
armonica see glass harmonica.
Armstrong, Frankie ([1941- ]) an English woman who began singing British ballads and blues in 1962. She sings mostly in the a cappella style, or at least with minimalist accompaniment, and is popular at both British and North American festival. Her voice is enormously powerful, bringing a sense of drama to ballads; the song most associated with her is "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer", by Seeger, Peggy. She recorded a number of albums for Topic.
Armstrong, Tommy ([1848-1920]) a 19th-century miner in northern England who was known as "The Pitman Poet". He set many of his rough-and-ready poems to current and traditional tunes, such as the 1882 "Trimdon Grange Explosion" (which has a tune very similar to "I've Been Working on the Railroad") or "The Oakey Evictions". Many of his songs are sung and recorded yet, at least in the UK.
arpeggio (pron. "arr-pej-ee-oh") the notes of a chord played one at a time. "An arpeggio, maestro!" lets the singer find the key. Repeated arpeggios can also be an effective accompaniment style.
In 18th-century musical dictionaries, they're referred to as "harpeggios", which is a nicely suitable spelling.
art music art songs are classical songs, such as the lieder of Schubert, or folk songs performed in the style of European classicism. Some folk performers, such as Dyer-Bennett, Richard, performed traditional folk songs in the style of art music. These arrangements don't always sit well with some folkies; the emphasis is on technique and may well bury the important lyrical and historical aspects (aside from the fact that they're just not used to the sound).
It has also been said that performing folk songs in the traditional manner (whatever the definition of "traditional manner" at the time) is a type of art music. This might be true - while anyone can learn three chords and perform the simple songs, some of the bigger ballads require a great deal of study, if only in the sort of presentation to use; even the definition of "folksong" has kept scholars busy for a lifetime (have a go at folksong, definition).
The term is also used in a general sense to distinguish classical music from folk, pop, etc.
Asch, Moses (1906-1987) Moe Asch was the founder of Folkways records. More then anyone else, he preserved a huge variety of American traditional music on disks, beginning in 1939 (1948 for Folkways) and continuing through the 80s. Through Folkways we have much of the music of Leadbelly, Guthrie, Woody, Houston, Cisco and hundreds of others. The catalog contained 2,200 entries, and remarkably, Moe never dropped a title because of low sales. After his death, the recordings were taken over by the Smithsonian Institution (see Folkways for the address).
With Silber, Irwin, he was the co-founder of Oak Publications, the publisher of an enormous number of books on folk music, musicians, instruments, performance methods, etc.
Ashley, Clarence (1895-1967) "Tom" Ashley played banjo with country greats such as Acuff, Roy and Monroe, Charlie, and made a number of recordings in the 20s and 30s. In the folk revival he made two albums for Folkways with Watson, Doc and a solo album some time later. Two of his old-timey arrangements of traditional songs are standard in the repertoire of folkies: "The Cuckoo" and "The House Carpenter" (the latter is also mentioned in pentatonic scale).
ask (Scot.) newt, lizard.
assonantal rhyme lyrics that depend on a resemblance in sound rather than a true rhyme (the Random House dictionary gives "penitent" and "reticence" as an example). This is common in all folk music lyrics, especially in the Irish tradition. The assonance oftens occurs in the middle of lines as well.
a' the go (Scot.) the latest trend, all the rage.
athwart (UK) across.
Atkins, Chet (1924-) (Chester Atkins) an amazingly accomplished finger-style guitarist in the 50s and 60s. He was influenced by Travis, Merle, and had a number of albums; he took over RCA's Nashville record productions and was greatly influential on the sound of C&W music during his position as A&R man.
atonal music that dispenses with the idea of a key and even the harmonies based on the triad, and just goes anywhere in the 12 semitone scale. Not encountered in folk, except perhaps by modern experimenters. Opposite tonality.
attack the beginning of a note or phrase; it can be slow or muted, or fast and abrupt. The choice of attack is determined by the content: a slow ballad might require an accompanying guitarist to pluck with bare fingers for a smooth attack, while guitar fiddle tunes might require a flatpick for a consistently fast attack.
augmented an interval whose pitch has been raised by a semitone. See also augmented chord.
augmented chord a chord built from the root, third and sharped fifth. For example, Caug (aka C+) would be C-E-G#.
The augmented construction is also often used with a flatted seventh, as in C7aug5 (aka C7+5): C-E-G#-Bb.
authentic see cadence, mode.
autoharp a harp-like instrument with a wooden sound board under the strings and bars across them. The bars are pressed down, with felt pads damping out the unwanted strings to form a chord. It can be played flat on a tabletop or held vertically against the chest. Either flatpicking or fingerpicking can be used.
The autoharp was first patented in the US by Charles Zimmermann in 1881, and the first production run was 1885. By 1897, 300,000 had been made. The boom slacked off, although moderate sales continued. They came into their own once again during the folk revival.
Although it's primarily a chording instrument, virtuosos can produce complex and beautiful melodies on it. The keys available depend on the model and the number of bars fitted.
Autry, Gene (1907-) a Texan influenced by Rodgers, Jimmie, he began recording country music in 1929. Known as "The Singing Cowboy", he played on the radio in Chicago in the 30s, recording "That Silver-haired Daddy of Mine". In 1934 he began making western movies, the first being "In Old Santa Fe".
His theme was "Back in the Saddle Again", and other songs he made famous include "Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" and "Don't Fence Me In". He had great success with the Christmas songs "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer". The last western he made was in 1953, and although he had no music hits after that, he did television work into the 60s.
ava (Scot., pron. "a-vaw") of all, at all.
awl a cobbler's tool for making holes in leather. Kennedy, Peter pointed out that cobblers and tinkers in traditional music seemed unusually skilled at getting into a lady's bedroom, so the awl is very often metaphorical.
Axton, Hoyt (1938-) a guitarist/singer of the folk revival in the 60s, Hoyt is now known mainly as a songwriter. His "Greenback Dollar" was performed by the Kingston Trio in 1963 (after the replacement of Dave Guard by John Stewart), and his "The Pusher" was recorded by Steppenwolf and used in the film "Easy Rider". He's difficult to categorize, since his songs have been recorded by many people in various styles from folk to country to rock.
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The Folk File: A Folkie's Dictionary Copyright © 1993-2009 Bill Markwick, All Rights Reserved.