The Folk File

**** A Folkie's Dictionary ****

A collection of terms related to folk music, plus some mini-biographies, musicology terms, trivia, and miscellaneous facts and figures.

© Bill Markwick, Feb/97 Toronto, Ontario Version 3.00

If you'd like to see additions or corrections, please contact me ASAP and I'll begin the edit. E-mail:

A disk version is available.



*** Folk music is an art form for everybody. ***

Folk, or roots music, is intensely loved by its fans and practitioners, so much so that it forms a subculture with a particular lifestyle, especially in English-speaking countries. Because of the large number of fans and their varied preferences, it isn't possible to paint an absolutely accurate portrait. However, there are certain similarities that tend to bind all folkies together in common. Some of these personal characteristics are detailed in folkie profile.

For obvious reasons of limited space, this document is limited to the folk music and folk subculture of North America and Britain. There'll be some Canadian bias.

About the references to folk musicians: I've listed some of the best and most famous; please accept my apologies and explanation if your favorite isn't there. I hope to include many more in future updates.

Quick Start a brief list of some main entries that branch to other related information. The full index lists all the entries.

:Famous Names* Baez, Joan, Carthy, Martin, Child, F.J., Dylan, Bob, Elliott, Jack, Guthrie, Woody, Kingston Trio, Leadbelly, MacColl, Ewan, Ochs, Phil, Paxton, Tom, Seeger, Pete, Weavers.

*General Interest* ballad, blues, Child, F.J., communal origin, electric folk, folk dance, folksong, definition, folk process, folk revival, oral tradition, Sharp, Cecil, song family.

*Instruments* autoharp, bagpipes, banjo, concertina, dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, hammered dulcimer, mandolin, melodeon, psaltery.

*Music Theory* chord, diatonic, do-re-mi, harmony, interval, inversion, key, key signature, mode, octave, pentatonic scale, parts of music, progression, scale, vocal ranges.

*Music Technology* formant, harmonic series, monitor, perfect pitch, pitch, reverb, temperament.

*Historical* carol, Gregorian chant, Guido d'Arezzo, hexachord, historical accuracy, moldy figs, Playford, ritual.

*Sources* books, collectors, Internet folk, magazines.


"In lexicography, nothing is ever simple."
Eric S. Raymond, Author/editor, "The Jargon File"

In the case of contentious issues, I've tried to present multiple points of view, but occasionally I'll take sides. I'm responsible for opinions that buzz out at you.

Many of the musical terms, like rubato, are not in common use among folkies, but they do turn up in textbooks and articles about folk music. Musicologists use technical terms that are hard to find.

Spelling is (mostly) Canadian Press style.

There are some old dialect words defined thanks to the Child collections. Don't expect the meanings to be definite; Child mostly explained them in the context of specific ballads. Many of the words marked as Scottish are also found in northern England.

I strove for accuracy in dates for births and deaths, but various books give conflicting numbers (if they give them at all).

Each song or tune *title* (not the lyrics!) in any entry (or in its own entry) is in Appendix A, Songs and Tunes Mentioned.

(For lyric-hunters, see Digital Tradition under Internet folk).

And lastly, my apologies to those who are left-handed: all references to instrument playing assume that the player is right-handed.


8va (also "8ve") a symbol placed near a note to indicate that it is to be played one octave higher or lower; a line pointing up or down is used to show which. The advantage is the minimizing of leger lines.

12-string a guitar with six pairs or courses of strings - see guitar for more information.

98 the song "On Board a 98" refers to a 98-gun ship of the line.


This file
A&R  to  Axton, Hoyt
bacca pipes  to  byre
ca  to  cymbal
dactylic  to  dynamics
Easy Rider  to  ey
Fahey, John  to  furlong
gabenlunzie  to  Gypsy scale
ha  to  hyper
iambic  to  IWW
Jack-in-the-Green  to  just intonation
Kalb, Danny  to  kye
LaFarge, Peter  to  lyrics, online
MacArthur, Margaret  to  My Grandfather's Clock
Nancy  to  nylon strings
Oak Publications  to  overtone
PA  to  Pythagorean scale
quadruplet  to  quodlibet
R&B  to  Rush, Tom
sackbut  to  syrinx
tablature  to  Tyson, Sylvia
Uillean pipes  to  ut
vamp  to  von Schmidt, Eric
wab  to  Wyatt, Lorre
xylophone  to  xylophone
yan, tan, tethera  to  yowes
zither  to  Zimmermann, Charles
Songs and Tunes Mentioned

A hypertext version of the Folk File is available for PC-compatibles running DOS, Windows 3.x, or Windows 95 (a Macintosh version will soon be available). It has all the features of the Web version, plus instant speed, comprehensive search functions, and the most recent updates.

To order, send $15 in US funds or $20 in Canadian funds to:
Bill Markwick
245 Havelock St.
Toronto, Ontario M6H 3B8

Please allow 3-4 weeks for processing.

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