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Why Traditional Music Sounds Unique

December 18th, 2018

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Traditional music(s) is music that has been performed in a place and made customary across different generations. They are often regarded as folk songs, country-dance, or other types of music. Most traditional songs are orally transferred (i.e. they are learnt through hearing and not musically notated or written down), and  most composers are unknown. Some traditional music has been known to local people for decades and some traditional music has their root from different places of origin. 


In some places, traditional music is part of everyday life and is sung to accompany different activities associated with rituals, work, festivals, and occasions. Songs and music are an integral part of cultural expressions, and from history, major events have always influenced the message we convey with songs and the way we express our heritage through music. Many are majorly used in traditional events and dances. Some are used to express culture, some to tell stories of ancient conquest, and some are used to tell children stories that teach morals and lullaby. 


We can classify traditional music into two groups, which are the traditional folk and folk revival but both generally fall under only one category - folk. Traditional music is not generally regarded as a style like other genres of music, mostly because they are native to a culture, propagated by events and passed down generations and which then became generally accepted.


Additionally, much of folk music is participatory, due to the nature of its use in a culture’s everyday activities or major events and storytelling. That’s why traditional music(s) is composed to allow active participation or influence of the audience(s) instead of passive involvement in other music where the audience watches such a performance and only applaud after. Hence, traditional music sounds different from other music because it must be all-encompassing.


Another reason traditional folk music sounds different is the scale used. Most traditional music uses scales such as pentatonic, hexatonic, and blues scales. This is because most of them are text-based, that is the speech tone of the language in which the song is written determines what note to use. This is common in African traditional music and others.


A common trend in folk music is that the lyrics always carry a question-like format. The first verse most times asks a question which subsequent verses give answers to. In addition, the use of repetition in the first line is important and usually other lines are sung in rhyme with it.


Traditional music holds so much worth and have so many stories embedded in them. It makes one wonder - which stories from our time will be passed down in song in future years.

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