J. Marshall Bevil, Ph.D.,

"Scale in Southern Appalachian Folksong: a Reexamination,"
College Music Symposium 26 (1986): 77-91

     This study summarizes the author's position regarding pitch-selection in American southern uplands folktune centonization. Initial attention is given to select earlier views that bore upon the emergence of the present one, and the remainder of the paper is devoted to concepts and approaches that differ, in some ways markedly, from previous ideas and methods. The ideas set forth in this paper were originally presented in the author's dissertation (University of North Texas, 1984).
     The anhemitonic pentatonic scales of British Insular and Insular-American folksong usually are presented as five separate octave divisions that contain minor-third gaps created by the absence of tones from the traditional Western heptatonic modes. This paper states and defends the propositions 1) that the anhemitonic system is better viewed as a single gamut of five overlapping segments related by successive inversion (see illustration, with auditory options, in Figure 1, below); 2) that those scales are complete pentatonic series, not incomplete heptatonic series or evolutionary precursors of heptatonic scales or modes; 3) that the so-called missing tones should be viewed and treated as variable auxiliary gamut members whenever they occur; and hence 4) that the minor thirds that occur in their absence should not be viewed as gaps. Those conclusions are based partly on the present writer's interpretation of early Celtic theory; but more importantly, they are rooted in the behavior of preserved melodies.

     Unlike other studies that disassociate folksong scales from the various heptatonic orderings, the present one does not defend a single dichotomy of major and minor tonality. Rather, it is argued that a tune's relationship to the gamut is one of congruency. That correspondence is determined by the alignment of minor thirds occurring at given pitch levels in a melody with the minor thirds found in the gamut when its auxiliary tones are not present.
     The familiar matter of tonic and final identities is of secondary consequence. While most southern uplands folksong melodies have clearly defined keynotes, some do not, and final closure on a gamut member other than the keynote is not unusual. Further, there are tunes that exhibit a tendency to drift back and forth, on occasion rather freely, between two or more segments. Explaining this in terms of harmonic, i.e., key-center, motion is questionable, inasmuch as southern hill-country folksongs were sung mostly by unaccompanied soloists until recent times. Finally, in some instances the gamut re-crystallizes at a different level when an auxiliary tone assumes the character of a regular gamut member. Here again, it seems that this modulatory process, which in the present study is termed gamut shift, should be explained in melodic, rather than harmonic, terms. A simple illustration of the gamut shift is shown, with explanation, below (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Hypothetical passage illustrating gamut shift,  a) in its entirety, and  b) in sections,
showing shifting of gamut, with written explanation.

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     The investigation also presents a system of numeric pitch encoding that was developed to facilitate computer-assisted tune comparisons. Each tone has a three-digit code indicating pitch-class (units) chromatic prefix (tens), and octave species (hundreds). The encoding procedure for pitch and rhythmic factors has been revised since the publication of the investigation.

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     Dr. J. Marshall Bevil is a native of Houston, where he also currently lives. He is both a string music educator and a musicologist (B.Mus. with honors, Oklahoma Baptist University, 1970; M.Mus. - Musicology, University of North Texas, 1973; Ph.D. - Musicology, University of North Texas, 1984) with specialization in the history of bowed string instruments, oral-aural musical transmission, British and British-American folk music, and British academic music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His doctoral dissertation has been published by University Microfilms, International (UMI No. 8423854, "Dissertation Services"), and he has published post-doctoral studies in professional journals and presented papers in his areas of specialization at regional, national, and international academic convocations in both the United States and Great Britain. He also is the author of encyclopedia articles on John Avery Lomax, Allan Lomax, and Percy Aldridge Grainger; and he has published on the Internet. In addition to his pedagogic and academic pursuits, he is a performer on the Welsh crwth, a composer and arranger for string and vocal ensembles (publications on sibeliusmusic.com,), and a forensic musicological consultant and expert witness  in copyright and intellectual property misappropriation disputes ( links:  1    2  )

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