Books or works on the nature of traditional musics.

March 12, 2018, 8:31 PM · I believe that a sign of the exceptionality of violin is its ubiquity in different traditional musics. Even those who did not have that instrument in its origins, have been able to adapt it with ease.
But that also intrigues me as how the same instrument can have such a distinct flavor so that almost anyone with some music interest can say “that sounds Arab music” or “Gypsy”, or Jewish, or Flamenco or Irish/Celtic… Up to a Dr. Higgings accents of music, it is not difficult to recognize Arabic from Persian, from Turkish… Or Jewish from Eastern Europe from Jewish from Middle East.
As far as I can tell, the ingredients to give such a different taste, apart from particular instruments, are the rhythm (by the way, an excellent short hint on that is in this very good video: and the base scale. I was wondering if there are any books or studies that give more insight about this. I don’t have any music theory background so even well known works about the topic would be great for me to peruse.

Replies (14)

March 12, 2018, 8:39 PM · The instrument that is the most ubiquitous in "traditional music" is the drum.
March 12, 2018, 8:47 PM · What Paul said. Or variants of the guitar and it's ancestors. The violin is pretty new to the scene in the grand scheme of things and doesn't play a traditional role at all in many regions of trad music.

One of the biggest things that separates different 'flavours' of trad. music is the keys, modes, scales, etc that are used in the music. You can tell Klezmer music right away because it sounds like Klezmer music. Different types of non-western music also make use of microtones, which are pitches outside the typical wholetone/halftone system.

Because non-western styles did not go collectively go through the common practice period they did not become homogenized like western music did, leading to things developing through different routes. They're like separate languages. Something are more similar - like the common practice styles. This can be like Latin - it splintered off and now there are modern variants that are similar but different to varying degrees - Italian, Spanish, French, etc. Even within a specific language there are dialects, and it's always changing and evolving.

I don't have any immediate sources for you to read, but I hope I helped shed some lights on the basic nature of your question.

March 13, 2018, 4:26 PM · For understanding tonal material, look into how both pentatonic scales, and modes, evolved, became the "tuning" of diatonic character of early harps, lyres, string instruments, lutes, pipes, flutes, whistles, etc (in "our Western heritage").

When you understand where these scales are used and how they became integrated into our instruments, you will get a good introduction to some of the main "key" choices in traditional music, and this is central to the character of each genre of traditional music.

Rhythms are often influenced by language, and dances. Or, perhaps I could call these "micro rhythms".

You won't find one book that gives a well-defended discussion of, say, Irish Traditional Music, (just to single out one of many). The nuances are not as "fixed" as some pundits would like to claim, and they are not easily captured by our notation, or even our ears. It is better to spend your time enjoying such music, than to try to define it.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 6:12 PM · A good example of a nuance that I've occasionally come across in Irish fiddle music is the flattened C-sharp (approximately a quarter-tone) on the A-string. It is not a case of poor intonation because it is characteristic of certain tunes, especially from the West Coast of Ireland, and the G on the E string using the same finger will be played in tune. In other tunes that do not have this "trick" note, as it is sometimes called, a C-nat or C-sharp on the A-string will be played as such, in tune.
Edited: March 13, 2018, 9:14 PM · The Violin is a good choice of instrument for someone who is at all interested in genres outside of the mainstream western classical tradition. There are so many distinctive national styles. For really in-depth studies one might have to go to the various thesis. That used to be not practical, but more of them might be available on-line. Mel Bay has some good books, For Irish, I can recommend Peter Cooper's "Complete Irish Fiddle..". It is detailed and accurate with respect to bowings and ornaments, and he doesn't waste half of the book teaching beginning level violin. ~JQ (ex- UCLA Ethnomusicology)
March 13, 2018, 6:51 PM · Thanks a lot, joel. I didn't know that term but with ethnomusicology I get a lot of interesting thesis and articles that are what I am looking for!
March 13, 2018, 9:20 PM · Thanks Carlos. Is your name Spanish or Portuguese?
Vernacular music traditions from spanish speaking countries that have an important role for the violin include the old charanga/danzon dance bands from Cuba, traditional tango orchestra from Argentina, Mariachi from Mexico. jq
March 13, 2018, 9:53 PM · I am Spanish from Spain but my interest at this stage is more about east-european music with the backbone of Gypsy or Roman styles which, I suppose, served as a spreading influence around Europe. I find fascinating the similarities between the music from middle east (Turkish, Lebanon, Jewish, even Egyptian/coptic) while at the same time they keep its distinctive taste and fusion with other local styles producing other types like Flamenco, for example. The question in my head (and that's what I would like to read and understand more) is the "Ethymology" of the different folk styles. As you can see the origin of Spanish language from Latin, Arabic and French, I would like to see similar "evolutionary trees" in the traditional music. I know that the backbone of most of those musics are in the Lute, but it is not rare that they adopt the violin and still be true to their nature.
There is a Spanish-Lebanese famous violinist, Ara Malikian, who distinctively merges all past and present music styles. And then you have Yoyo-Ma and the Silk Road project who also gravitate around that idea of gradual transitions in music. I have a very strong interest to learn more about it. And your help has been great!
March 13, 2018, 11:25 PM · -Carlos- Fascinating. I feel that I only know enough to dangerous, but here goes--. The Moslem invasion of Spain introduced to Europe the Oud, which became the Lute, and the rebec, with the all-important sound-post, eventually became the violin family. A remnant of that early music culture might be heard in the traditional orchestra of Morocco. Jordi Savall has done a lot of research and performance of some of this early music. You will know more about this than I; I am tempted to say that the Flamenco music tradition is rather recent, not typical of Spain, but rather a reworking and development of North Spain musics, as played by the Gypsies (Gitana/Romany) living in Andalucia. The interesting intonations that we hear from Egypt and Turkey were derived from ancient Greek music theory, with its simple frequency ratios, like the "neutral third" For myself, I would not try to play like that.
I also suspect that much of the "Romantic" style of violin playing owes a debt to East Europe Klezmer and Hungarian Gypsy, with it's greater use of vibrato and portamento, high velocity and maximum volume. Bartok did a lot of field research in Hungary, Romania and Turkey. Mary Ann Harbar has two good books on East Europe (again, Mel Bay publ.)
It's a huge topic, I am already getting random... jq
March 14, 2018, 12:27 AM · Knowing less than you, Joel, those were the ideas that sparked the curiosity. It is a huge topic but I think I will enjoy swimming in it. A lot of ground to run from this starting point. Thanks for the directions!
Edited: March 14, 2018, 12:38 AM · "I also suspect that much of the "Romantic" style of violin playing owes a debt to East Europe Klezmer and Hungarian Gypsy, with it's greater use of vibrato and portamento, high velocity and maximum volume." This is an interesting thought. Kreisler spent time in Vienna, at a time when as well as having a lot of Hungarians it was already the melting pot of Eastern Europe. If you are in a bar or pub it is normal for a Gipsy fiddle+harmoica (accordion) duo to wander in, and probably was in his day. Anyone playing an acoustic fiddle in a pub needs maximum volume, and may use vibrato to be heard better. It is fairly clear he was influenced by this music. What is not clear is whether it is influenced his vibrato.

Question: had musette tuning, which gives beats creating a vibrato-like effect on the accordion, reached Vienna when Kreisler was a young man?

As for whether there are books, there is a whole academic industry. In London there are also courses: in addition to the Fiddle Convention's workshops, and the various Gipsy Jazz events at Quecumbar and elsewhere, SOAS runs both formal courses and public events for various eastern varieties of music, as does the the Jewish Music Institute for Klezmer. There is also an active Flamenco scene but the fiddle has never penetrated that AFAIK!

March 14, 2018, 1:15 AM · It is an amazing coincidence (Because a coincidence it is), the common root of the words "Romantic" with "Romani". Apart of that, it makes sense that the Romantic Period philosophy (back to nature, to feelings) and its geographic origin (Germany and East European countries), would drink a lot from the Romani.

But I am very hesitant of pointing the vibrato to them. It may be used now for what we see as classical music with gypsy flavor, but I don't think that it was a characteristic of their music. Same as other traditional fiddling, it is not a regular technique of the style. I have heard some original recordings, pre-WWII, of Romani people and there is none of it.

March 14, 2018, 4:41 AM · Many of the music feelings came from nationality, especially in klezmer. I am jew, my family came few generations back from Romania and settled in Czech republic when I was born. I love classical music but rhythm of my heart is klezmer music.

I love to explain that style like laugh through tears, typical jewish melancholy but absolute happiness that force you cry, tears of joy. Memorizing and bringing burdens of cultural and racial heaviness helped with love to each other and family and hope.

Edited: March 14, 2018, 10:12 AM · The topic falls within the scope of "World Music," which is definitely an area of study. Relevant books are available, but seem to be expensive. It starts with the unique scale intervals that support the different ethnic musical themes. Although there are some unique rhythmic patterns, they are all close-to describable by written "western" music script. However many of the ethnic (music scale) temperaments (especially those that retain their vocal-music roots) do not fall within the current 12-tone scale patterns of "western" music and many of its musical instruments. However the bowed string (and non-fretted) plucked instruments are capable of creating the melodies and chords (harmonies??) of such music.

The high school attended by two of my grandchildren had a program of "World Music" that they participated in.

It is not relevant, but the Ali Akbar "College of Music" is about one mile from my house. Ali Akbar Kahn recorded some Indian music with Yehudi Menuhin in 1955:

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