Lawrence E. Bethune's
M.U.S.I.C.s Project

Musical UniqueScottish Identifiable Characteristic


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Scotunes: The Rules of MUSICs

Scotunes and their Musical-Unique-Scottish-Identifiable-and-Characteristic elements

This section is devoted to documenting the observations and “rules” of the elements of Scotunes. Most of these rules have been well established by folk song musicologists such as Francis Collinson, Bertrand Bronson, and Cecil Sharpe. An attempt will be made to use these established rules, as they relate to Scotunes, to establish their continuance into the Scotunes surviving into North Carolina by identifying the rules in the tunes of Carolina as set forth in the Frank C. Brown Collection and the Songs of the Carolina Charter Colonists. Finally, we will make a start at identifying melodic and rhythmic phrases that are observed as MUSICs in these 18th century Scotunes. All of these rules, and observations made by examining both the Scotunes from Scotland and those surviving into Carolina will be used as a foundation for future research identifying MUSICs in 20th and 21st century contemporary American folk, pop, and rock music.

Until recent times, the nuances of the performance of Scotunes could not be easily documented. Literate musicians attempted to transcribe those nuances, such as vocal ornamentations, could not easily nor very accurately be notated (some Scottish musicians have argued, fairly convincingly, that “ornamentations” is an incorrect concept, as these melodic and rhythmic devices are so important to defining Gaelic music that to view them as ornaments is inaccurate and belittles their importance to the music). Now, with recordings, we can hear the music exactly as it had been performed. However, we are left with what has survived the centuries of filtering. As when one pans for gold, the smallest nuggets slip through the screen and we are left with large nuggets and common stones. One wonders what gems have been lost forever. However, this study is not seeking the beautiful but the survivors. One may opine that, had these nuggets been important to the music or popular to the listeners and performers, they may have survived in spite of their “size.” Certainly, if one does not just search for the smallest fragments but steps back to view the shimmering whole, one may see the sparkling beauty in the manner of the performing rather than the fragments of the melody. The emotional bending of time and notes is often characteristic of mature performers. But, it is the writer’s quest to focus on the surviving fragments elements that help define the “Scottishness” of the Scotunes, and sadly leave the manner of performing these tunes to another researcher, as the manner and styles fall outside the scope of this study.

Traditional performers and historical writers cannot inform us about the technical factors of folk songs in early America. They lack the vocabulary, analytical skills, and systems necessary to inform us. In musical matters, we cannot learn from the performer or the historical text what is or was meaningful to their esthetic point of view. We must base our appraisal of traditional idioms on continued observation and stylistic phenomena.

Those characteristics which occur and recur in traditional tunes must be accepted as meaningful and gratifying to the traditional performer's esthetic sense. It is upon these characteristics that the technical study of folk tunes must be based. "Folksong has developed orally, without consciousness of the aesthetic principles according to which it is moulded; but the principles are there." (Gerould, Gordon Hall; The Ballad of Tradition; Oxford U. Press, Inc., Oxford, England; 1932

Established Observations and Rules of Scotunes

Here are the principal rules and observations of Scotunes before they immigrated to America.

Regarding scales and modes:

There has been much written on pentatonic, hexatonic, heptatonic scales, modes, and church modes. One prevalent view of pentatonic and hexatonic scales is that they should be seen as “gapped” scales. This makes them a subcategory of heptatonic scales. It is argued that these scales are not complete; the assumption being that heptatonic is complete.

But, this writer believes this nomenclature is a disservice to the importance and obvious (to the writer) stature of pentatonic and hexatonic scales. As a composer and one who has immersed himself in the music of 18th century Scotland, especially Gaelic music of the Highlands, the writer hears these scales not as incomplete heptatonic scales. Without getting into a detailed treatise on the relationship of the harmonic series to the creation of scalic theory and practice, one can observe that the series is gapped and, only by reordering the tones or overtones does one produce a heptatonic scale in one octave. Convenient, but seems to miss the main point: the harmonic series, the basis of the music, is naturally gapped. This does not even add in the fact that there are many more tones, perhaps even pleasing tones or at least emotionally effective tones, found between the standard 12-note chromatic scale of Western music.

Continuing with this line of reasoning, one might then call the heptatonic scales as “swollen” or “cluttered” scales. It has been well established by leading theorists that “gapped” scales preceded heptatonic (Bronson 1969) thus supporting the contention that pentatonic should be thought of as foundational rather than incomplete.

Pentatonic and hexatonic scales are so important that they need a proper nomenclature of their own. Perhaps this is nit picking, but this writer finds current systems as inaccurate and deceptive by not recognizing both the importance of these scales to the music as well as that these scales are not second cousins carved out of complete scales but are foundational scales to which more notes were added. Much as the beautiful members, proportions, and ornaments of Grecian Corinthian columns were not truly improved by the enhancements the Romans made by combining the Corinthian with the Ionic. Sometimes, adding is not improving. When measuring these improved swollen scales to their impact on Scotunes, one may apply Henry David Thoreau’s conclusion on such improvements, “They are but improved means to an unimproved end…” (Thoreau (1854)

In many ways, the pentatonic scale may be seen as a perfect scale, a foundational scale, and a natural scale. It is the basis of many folk songs of many cultures (Sharp, 1954). This writer deems these scales as the scales of comfort, rest, peace, agreement, and devoid of the stresses and tension of the swollen scales. Latter in this study, the writer will advance fore consideration a suggested system of nomenclature for pentatonic and hexatonic scales which through which he intends to recognize their special position in Scotunes that does not hold them subservient to the swollen scales.

For now, let us look at some of the observations regarding MUSICs, as seen made by noted musicologists.

  1. Lydian tunes are Irish and Scottish but extremely rare in English tunes (Sharp, Cecil J., 1954)
  2. English tunes are more modal unlike Scottish which are mainly pentatonic and hexatonic (Sharp, Cecil J., 1954)
  3. Scottish tunes have evolved into sounding more like English tunes because of the increasing use of the seven-note scale especially when older pentatonic and hexatonic tunes have been improved by adding notes into the “gaps.” (Collinson, 1966/1970)
  4. Often begin in one key and end in another, especially from a major tonality to a minor tonality (Collinson, 1966/1970)
    The writer notes a small disagreement with this notion that such tonality change is to be seem as what he feels is a more contemporary explanation, that of moving from major to relative minor. Often, the tendency of Scotunes to end a phrase on the 6th degree rather than the tonic does sound to modern ears as introducing the relative minor. But, could that be because we have heard so much music where that was the device that we can no longer hear this as a simple deceptive cadence, used for effect to give a more plaintive ending to a phrase, one that creates an expectation of continued story? Further in future research, we must analyze those tunes where it has been felt there has been a major to relative minor transition to see if the better explanation is that a phrase ending on 6 of the key is not introducing the relative minor but is a common melodic device in a music that did not intend to have harmonic implications beyond the single statement of a deceptive ending on the 6th degree; a sort of turn around note, as it were, or one lacking finality.
  5. May tend to be pentatonic, hexatonic, or modal, while English tend towards heptatonic and major. (Bronson 1969) (Note: Bronson analyzed several version of the air to Barbara Allen [according to Bronson, probably the most widely sung folk song in America] and found English versions to be major and heptatonic, Scottish to be dark and modal, tendency toward dotted rhythms, and a typical final cadence of 5 up to 1 or b7 up to 1; and American to be pentatonic with a chaconne-like rhythm. Interesting that the American versions seem to be closer in sound to the Scottish than the English.)

Regarding melodic movement:

  1. Flat-7 approached by a leap from 5 is very German and English (Sharp, Cecil J., 1954)
  2. The three-note phrase rising, 5-6-1, is especially Celtic (Sharp, Cecil J., 1954)
  3. Grace notes are common to many folk musics, but the downward, large leap of Scottish vocal music appears to be unique and characteristic. (Collinson, 1966/1970)
  4. In review of several pentatonic tunes by Bronson, the 6th degree of the scale (or “la” in fixed do system) was a commonly accented note in melodic phrases on the level with 1, 4, or 5 of the key (Bronson 1969). In heptatonic tunes, the 6th degree was the second least accented tone after the 7th degree.
  5. The harmonic progression I-bVII-I, sometimes called a double tonic progression, was a common pipe tune progression; when viewed melodically, we hear arpeggios or phrases outlining the progression such as a phrase centered on the tonic and the phrase repeated centered on the flat-seven of the key. Collinson feels this is rare in vocal music and more common in instrumental. (Collinson, 1964/1970). (The writer’s observation is that this pattern can be found in British/Scottish sea chanties as well as contemporary folk and pop.)

Regarding rhythms:

  1. Scot’s Snap (Ex.: sixteenth note on the beat immediately followed by a dotted eighth); “Scot’s snap is the very life-blood of Scots musical rhythm.” This is particularly true in Gaelic music. (Collinson, 1966/1970). This is one of the staple rhythms of the Strathspey. According to Collinson, it appears in every form of Scottish music. He also points out that in some Gaelic music, it is even more exaggerated with the rhythm being closer to a thirty-second note followed by a double-dotted eighth. He also mentions that William Matheson (lecturer in Celtic, Edinburgh University) points out that the snap is only typical in Gaelic music if it follows the natural flow of the language and does not result in an unnatural shortening or lengthening of syllabic values).