Describing Music

American Roots FYS

 

 

In this class we’re going to be doing a lot of speaking and writing about music.  Rule Number One of communicating well is: Have something to say!  To get you started I’ve listed some words that are commonly use to describe music.  But there are many more—try to think of others.

 

Rhythms

free

very slow

slow

moderate

fast

very fast

speeding up

slowing down

funky

pounding

smoking

laid back

driving

swinging

boppy

 

Dynamics

whispered

soft

moderate

loud

very loud

getting louder

getting softer

 

Instrumentation

acoustic guitar

electric guitar

bass guitar

12-string guitar

standup bass

drumkit

hand drums

banjo

mandolin

ukulele

fiddle

violin

accordion

concertina

trumpet

flute

clarinet

tinwhistle

bagpipe

washboard

harmonica

triangle

Mood

joyful

peppy

upbeat

uplifting

prayerful

energetic

frenetic

agitated

aggressive

gloomy

angry

depressive

lonely

wistful

nostalgic

soothing

passionate

sexy

slinky

quirky

satirical

funny

whimsical

calm

 

 

Arrangement styles

instrumental

solo voice

a cappella

voice with accompaniment

unison melody

close harmony

polyphony

 

Structure

chorus and verses

bridge

12-bar blues

repeated

call-and-response

 

Texture

simple

complex

acoustic

electric

lush

produced

folksy

driving

virtuosic

technical

Singing styles

straight

clear

ornamented

breathy

childlike

growly

sincere

twangy

operatic

sexy

 

“Authenticity” and Roots Music

 

In popular speech, “authentic” often means sincere or heartfelt.  However, the word has a specific meaning when you’re talking about roots music. “Authentic” means that a performance is close to its historical, musical roots.  For example, Lead Belly’s recording of “Rock Island Line” is authentic because Lead Belly is one of the fathers of blues music; however, the most “authentic” version of the song is Kelly Pace’s, since he wrote the song. 

 

Authenticity sometimes depends on the context.  Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” is not authentic as African American Blues music, but is authentic as British skiffle music—in fact, it’s the song that started the skiffle craze.

 

We’ll be talking more about authenticity throughout the semester, so stay tuned...