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Is the guitar a traditional instrument?

Bert 06 Oct 00 - 05:48 PM
paddymac 06 Oct 00 - 06:22 PM
Rick Fielding 06 Oct 00 - 06:32 PM
sophocleese 06 Oct 00 - 06:34 PM
mousethief 06 Oct 00 - 06:40 PM
catspaw49 06 Oct 00 - 06:49 PM
Lucius 06 Oct 00 - 06:57 PM
catspaw49 06 Oct 00 - 07:05 PM
Ely 06 Oct 00 - 07:09 PM
McGrath of Harlow 06 Oct 00 - 07:10 PM
GUEST,Murray MacLeod 06 Oct 00 - 07:16 PM
catspaw49 06 Oct 00 - 07:16 PM
dick greenhaus 06 Oct 00 - 09:02 PM
McGrath of Harlow 06 Oct 00 - 09:28 PM
GUEST 07 Oct 00 - 03:17 AM
The Shambles 07 Oct 00 - 06:33 AM
catspaw49 07 Oct 00 - 08:28 AM
Bernard 07 Oct 00 - 01:19 PM
Frankham 07 Oct 00 - 01:27 PM
Frankham 07 Oct 00 - 01:33 PM
Frankham 07 Oct 00 - 01:43 PM
Ely 07 Oct 00 - 01:55 PM
Rich(bodhránai gan ciall) 07 Oct 00 - 02:05 PM
Lucius 07 Oct 00 - 02:27 PM
Bert 09 Oct 00 - 01:01 PM
GeorgeH 09 Oct 00 - 02:08 PM
Bert 09 Oct 00 - 02:37 PM
Don Firth 09 Oct 00 - 05:10 PM
NEIL COMER 09 Oct 00 - 05:25 PM
GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 09 Oct 00 - 10:27 PM
KingBrilliant 10 Oct 00 - 06:30 AM
GUEST,John Hill 10 Oct 00 - 07:24 AM
John P 10 Oct 00 - 08:01 AM
GUEST,John Hill 10 Oct 00 - 08:16 AM
IanS 10 Oct 00 - 11:11 AM
Rich(bodhránai gan ciall) 10 Oct 00 - 11:48 PM
GeorgeH 11 Oct 00 - 11:58 AM
John J 11 Oct 00 - 12:47 PM
IanS 12 Oct 00 - 04:26 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 12 Oct 00 - 04:45 AM
GUEST,Murray MacLeod 12 Oct 00 - 11:39 PM
GUEST,Murray MacLeod 12 Oct 00 - 11:50 PM
Little Hawk 13 Oct 00 - 12:15 AM
GUEST,Lashes 13 Oct 00 - 01:29 AM
sophocleese 13 Oct 00 - 12:46 PM
The Shambles 09 Sep 02 - 11:01 AM
Orac 09 Sep 02 - 12:19 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Sep 02 - 12:35 PM
Orac 09 Sep 02 - 12:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Sep 02 - 01:06 PM
The Shambles 09 Sep 02 - 01:53 PM
Mark Clark 09 Sep 02 - 03:30 PM
GUEST,Taliesn 09 Sep 02 - 04:41 PM
Bert 09 Sep 02 - 06:15 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Sep 02 - 06:20 PM
Mr Red 09 Sep 02 - 07:07 PM
The Shambles 09 Sep 02 - 08:53 PM
The Shambles 09 Sep 02 - 09:08 PM
Alice 10 Sep 02 - 10:32 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 10 Sep 02 - 11:16 AM
Dave Bryant 10 Sep 02 - 11:17 AM
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Subject: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Bert
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 05:48 PM

I grew up in a culture where singing was normal. We'd sing at parties, we'd sing at school, we'd sing on bus trips and in pubs. But no one 'ever' had a guitar, not in twenty years. There might be someone who would play the piano in the pub but more often than not all singing was unaccompanied.

Now it seems that if you go to a song circle you often don't get a turn to sing unless you have a guitar.

Your thoughts!

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: paddymac
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:22 PM

My early experiences seem much the same as yours, Bert. My mother was a brilliant pianist/organist and often played at social gatherings in the home, including group singing. "Solo" singing was usually unaccompanied, mostly, she said, because a pianist should always support the singer, never compete with him/her. Many piano players don't seem to have that kind of sensitivity.

Instrumentalists sometimes (maybe oftentimes is more accurate) seem not to realize that mechanical playing imposes a rigidity on the vocalist that can interfere with his interpretation of the song. They also often seem not to recognize that the natural human vocal scale is not concert pitch. Thus, uniformed instrumentalists will criticize a singer for being "off pitch" when it is really the player who is "off" the vocal pitch, even though "on" concert pitch. A good accompanist, whatever the instrument, has to listen, I mean really listen, to the singer.

The tradition of unaccompanied singing is alive and well in Ireland, where it is called "sean nos" (old style). I presume many or most other cultures have a similar vocal tradition, competing for breathing room in our global mass culture.

I don't mean to criticize the "modern classicist" ear, but do wish to emphasize that it is not the only path to musical enjoyment.

I also believe that there are many perfectly good singers who seem "trapped" by their instruments; maybe even afraid to vocalize without the crutch.

Hmm, this might be a good time to duck out (literally, as it's raining here at the moment) for a few pints.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:32 PM

Hi Bert. Good thread.

I went to a Canadian Old time Fiddlers gathering a couple of years ago. They meet once a month in a school auditorium. Everyone (most were 60 plus) was pretty friendly until they saw my guitar. One woman said to me, "you might as well leave that in it's case, we don't DO American music"!!!!

The only accompaniement to the fiddles that night was piano (played in turn by several women), other than one brave soul who'd brought a hammer dulcimer. He was obviously tougher than me and played along all night. I just sat and watched.

I guess "when in Rome...." but I think I prefer the American approach....'specially Texas. They don't even mind if you IMPROVISE!

I suspect I felt a little like an unaccompanied balladeer at a modern jam session.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: sophocleese
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:34 PM

Well bert I know I used to get annoyed with every bloody guitar toting, non-stop twiddling idiot at our song circle. However since I've picked up the guitar and started trying to accompany myself my views have changed a little. Whenever I want to sing unaccompanied now and the guitar nits don't take their hands off the strings I yell "Shut up! I'm about to sing." Its part of the reason I prefer circles and get togethers where there's some degree of ordered turn taking.

My parents used to sing in the car a lot and we'd join in. The rot entered the system when my older, teenage brother started guitar and therefore didn't ever want to hear anybody singing even slightly out of tune. He'd either hit me till I shut up or pull out his harmonica to play over me till I shut up.

I think there has been a deep shift away from songs as things that are sung for pleasure by anybody to music that is performed by the select few for the benefit of the others. Its hard to simply sing as you do your work if there's other music always being played over a sound system. I get comments when I'm walking down the street singing to myself.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: mousethief
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:40 PM

Is the guitar a traditional instrument? Ask Rev. Gary Davis, Charlie Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, etc., etc., etc.

I'm wondering if claiming that the guitar is NOT a traditional instrument, might be racist.

Alex
O..O
=o=


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:49 PM

Good thread Bert.

My experience growing up was sorta' like paddy's. My Mom too was a brilliant pianist and also had an excellent voice. At home, we sang at the piano and other times we just sang. Sadly none of this improved my voice, but singing was an integral part of almost everything we did. My grandfather played some 5-string and there was a succession of fun instruments around, but singing was the thing. My Mom was always in demand and was a natural musical talent. She read complex scores and could also accompany almost anything popular by ear, in any key, at the drop of a hat.

Outside of that "learn to Play Hawaian Guitar" crap that was so popular in the 50's (usually tied in with an Accordion studio), guitar was never a big instrument around where I grew up. There were a lot more banjos, mandos, and fiddles. I think the 60's brought the guitar to the fore, both electrical and acoustic. That's strictly an opinion, there were many greats well before that. But the level of popularity seems to have skyrocketed during that time, at least to me it seems.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Lucius
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 06:57 PM

I've been playing guitar for forty years, though I don't seem to be getting any better. On the other hand, I've also been singing for forty years--no improvements--but I don't care as much. The unaccompanied voice has a honesty that appeals beyond the quality of the singer.

On the other hand, I play electric guitar for a Morris dance team, does that make it traditional?

Lucius


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 07:05 PM

Only if you stick a patch cord up the ass of the Morris Dancers.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Ely
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 07:09 PM

Is this another thing that depends on where you are and what kind of music you're playing? Piano accompaniment seems to be fairly common here (American midwest) but I pretty much never see it at home (American south). I see accordions at home only for Cajun, German, or Latino music, but they're pretty common here even for "regular" old-time. On the other hand, where would the blues be without the guitar?

I do see some songs sung unaccompanied, though, and we do shape-note singing, which of course uses no instruments. But mostly, we need our guitars and basses to keep us together.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 07:10 PM

There isn't just one tradition. Nose flutes are traditional in some places. Using a guitar as an accompaniment to singing is a relatively modern tradition in Northern Europe anyway (by which I mean in the first instance the offshore islands). This also goes for using any instrument as an accompaniment.

Accompanied singing with Northern European songs by now is a tradition, and it is a good enough tradition, but there should never be a sense that it is the only way to do it, or that unacconpanied singing is any kind of second best.

And there's types of music, like blues or flamenco, where having a guitar accomopaniment is much more central.

But it's always the instrument accomopanies the voice, not the other way round. (It's more the other way round with music being played for dancing.)


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Murray MacLeod
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 07:16 PM

In Scottish and Irish music, I always used to feel the guitar sat uneasily. I loathe the so-called "Shetland" style (as pioneered by Peerie Willie ) which consists of choppily strummed chords much like jazz guitar. I have always felt that fingerstyle accompaniment would be much more suitable.
Today, of course, redemption has arrived in the shape of Tony McManus, the world'd greatest guitarist, in whose hads the guitar sounds as much at home in the music as the fiddle or the pipes.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 07:16 PM

Gimmee a break McGrath........NOSEFLUTES are only traditional among Morris Dancers with patch cords plugged into their butts.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 09:02 PM

The guitar hit the US music scene in the 1890s, preceded by the banjo (1840s), and fiddle, fife and drum.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 06 Oct 00 - 09:28 PM

1890s? That's what I mean when I say it's relatively recent...

"NOSE FLUTES: the instrument is blown with air exhaled through the nose; in some cultures this technique is associated with music of a spiritual or intimate nature." And the first one you come to on that site hails from...the USA. Where else?

(And the second, with the glorious name "the dulali" comes from Fiji.)


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 03:17 AM

Bert, I don't think it matters if the guitar is traditional. As is pointed out, it depends on the tradition. Your point, a good one, is that in a lot of circles to be identified as a folk-type musician you have to at least agitate the strings of a guitar. I think that is a pity. If you want to go back far enough, the human voice is probably the only traditional instrument.

At meetings of our local music club, there is "formal" entertainment and then the floor is open. There are some a capella singers who are well received. This is not a song circle; but rather an "open mike". By the way the "formal" entertainment is usually from a local group that has "day" jobs too, and most people know them outside their performance personas, so the whole affair is pretty informal.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: The Shambles
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 06:33 AM

In the UK, the guitar as essential to folk, as it has become, is a fairly recent arrival (1950s)from one of Kevin's "offshore islands", the USA.

And yes it is a traditional instrument as many more instruments will be, in the future. It's just a process.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 08:28 AM

"....a part of the process." Well done Shambles(:<))

Dick.......I'm interested in your dates. Are you saying that as a trad instrument, the guitar came on the scene in the 1890's? I know it had some popularity before that as an accompaniment instrument. Andrew Jackson's wife was said to have played well, although she played banjo better....as did Andy himself. I'm not arguing, just wondering what you're using as a demarcation point.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Bernard
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 01:19 PM

Let's get some perspective here!

In medieval times, wandering English minstrels were the equivalent of newspapers or newsreaders. They wandered around the countryside singing the news in exchange for food and lodging.

According to the history books, they used the Lute for accompaniment, or sang unaccompanied.

Agreed, the Lute and the Guitar differ significantly. But they also have many similarities, which makes the less-cumbersome guitar an obvious successor as a portable, intimate means of providing both accompaniment and instrumental interludes.

This sort of overlaps into the 'open tunings' threads, too...


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Frankham
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 01:27 PM

Rick, that was a funny response. Last time I looked, Canada was in North America. But I guess I know what they mean. They associate the guitar with the States but the Rankin family uses one and I believe that Alan Mills had no problem with it. I always think it's funny when someone who tries so hard to be a "traditionalist" makes these proclamations.

I had a wonderful experience in 1958 when I got to accompany Jean Carignan at the Gate of Horn in Chicago with Alan Mills. They had no problem with the guitar.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Frankham
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 01:33 PM

Spaw, I realize that a lot of people don't care for the Hawaiian Guitar but it is now a traditional instrument in Hawaii. I happen to love the sound of it in skilled hands. I like the pedal steel in the Honky Tonk bands of the forties too. I think that whenever music is taught, however it is taught, the world is a better place whether it's accordian schools, Hawaiian guitar classes or rock and roll guitar studios. Please don't be too hard on those "schools" because many a great player has come out of them.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Frankham
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 01:43 PM

The underlying question in this thread is does the guitar interfere with traditional unaccomapanied singing? I think the answer is yes and no. The use of guitar in early American country music is often skilled, tasteful and does not interfere with the vocals. Does it interfere with Doc Watson's vocals? But then there is the early styles of singing such as Sean Nos and Appalachian balladry. Here, in the first case, a drone from the pipes or a rubato (out of rhythm) chordal harp-like accompaniment would work best and in the second case, a dulcimer or a rapid free-flowing banjo style in modal tuning works well.

The bottom line, does the guitarist have the knowledge of the musical style, the skill and the sensitivity to provide servicable accompaniments that enhance the singer?

Frank


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Ely
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 01:55 PM

I have a [American] Civil War book at home that has a picture of a small guitar from that period (1850's-1860's). [It's not a shoddy book or I wouldn't bother to mention it.]

I know that the banjo, and probably the guitar, were rather popular as "parlor instruments" in the 1890's--sort of past-times for the newly-middle class. Admittedly, the music played on them was of the late-Victorian heavily-sentimental genre and not usually traditional. Possibly they just became more noticeable?

Does anyone know how long the guitar has been in use in Mexico (carried over from Spanish music, I assume)? So much of the western and southwestern US was Mexico until fairly recently (~150 years ago) that the "tradition" of the guitar might be older in those areas than in others.

Hasn't Martin been in business since the first half of the 19th century? I don't know much about the company so they might not have been building guitars the whole time, though.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Rich(bodhránai gan ciall)
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 02:05 PM

In the concept of a living tradition, everything within the tradition at some point. Look for example at Irish music. Most of the instruments might go back 100 years or less at best. Truly traditional Irish music would consist of the uillean pipes, the harp, possibly the fiddle, and sean nós singing. Now I really like playing the bodhrán and it certainly fits the idiom, but it doesn't go back all that far, at least in the capacity i'ts used today. And I really like accompanying the flute or the tenor banjo, neither of which would be in strictly traditional Irish music. The guitar and the bouzouki (which is really an octave mandolin, not the 5 string greek instrument from wher it gets its name) have been around for an even shorter amount of time but yes they fit the music. As far as I can tell, the accordion isn't originally indigineous to ANY tradition, but has been assimilated purely for its merit as a loud instrument for dances without amplifiacation. Even early Cajun music started as twin fiddles.

Now all that being said, it's of the upmost importance that a new addition to any genre, fit the idiom. Also the folk process should not be the violent overthrow of the existing music. I was playing a triangle periodically at Irish sessions here for a little while, and when I was asked by certain players to stop I did. It was making it hard for some of them to listen to each other. It wasn't long after that that I had that brutally demonstrated by a woman who thought the autoharp fit the music. It certainly doesn't at least as she plays it.

I'm almost loathe to even use the expression "a living tradition" because it's so often used as a license to not push the envelope so much as to rip it to shreds.

Well, I've been up on the soapbox long enough. Sorry for the thread creep. In answer to the question, I would have to say "Not originally in most genres, but yes, the guitar is a traditional instrument".

Rich


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Lucius
Date: 07 Oct 00 - 02:27 PM

The guitar was developed to replace the more unwieldy" lute which by the late Renaissance had grown to over a dozen courses in some cases. The guitar was considered a "proper" instrument to accompany a lady's voice, and "simpler" for a lady to manipulate. Baroque (@1600-1750) guitars are much smaller then even our parlor guitars and similar in construction to the lute. There are even a few guitars around that were built by Stratavarius, though none are playable. The guitar was meant to be an simple instrument, but within a few years composers were creating challenging music for it. Diabelli--Beethoven's own publisher--wrote some beautiful pieces for the guitar. This is also the time of the great flowering of Spanish composers such as Ferdinand Sor.

So, except for a few arias, I don't know of any "classical" songs written especially for the voice and guitar. This practice--as far as I know--stopped with the demise of the lute, about 1650. An 1890's revival, sheet music from that period would suggest that the ukelele was the instrument of choice, but I am over my head here.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Bert
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 01:01 PM

I'm not trying to knock the guitar, I just love the instrument and have several of them. It just that I think that before the Nineteen Fifties, the guitar was mostly in the hands of professional musicians.

I just wish that it hadn't so completely dominated the folk world. It seems that over ninety percent of singing is now accompanied by guitar, whereas forty years ago most 'folk' singing was unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GeorgeH
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 02:08 PM

Does it matter a fig??

Or, as others have suggested - it's not the instrument, it's what you do with it.

G.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Bert
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 02:37 PM

...Does it matter a fig??
Well I guess it's just a discussion of trends in folklore. Which is of interest to some of us.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 05:10 PM

I was born in 1931 (which may or may not give me a bit of historical perspective) and spent at least 99% of my life in urban environments. My introduction to folk music was from hearing Burl Ives on the radio (accompanying himself on the guitar), back in the Forties. There was a kid in high school (late Forties) who played the guitar and sang a whole variety of stuff, including folk songs, most of which he had learned from Burl Ives' records.

I became actively interested in singing folk songs -- and learning to play the guitar -- in 1952 at the University of Washington when I ran into a small group of folk music enthusiasts that included Walt Robertson ("American Northwest Ballads" on Folkways Records) and Sandy Paton (the very same). Until much later, everybody I'd heard of or met accompanied himself or herself on the guitar. Other than a few songbooks, like Lomax's "Folk Song U.S.A." and Sandburg's "American Songbag," about the only sources we had for new songs to learn, and the way to sing them, were the very few recordings that were available at the time. Burl Ives mostly, but through the good will of a local record store, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Susan Reed, Jean Ritchie, Richard Dyer-Bennet, John Jacob Niles, and other singers' records became available. Seeger used a 5-string banjo, Susan Reed played Irish harp and zither, Jean Ritchie played dulcimer and guitar, J. J. Niles played instruments of his own devising, and about everybody else we ever heard of played guitar.

I don't think any of us presumed to regard ourselves as traditional singers. We were all city kids. None of us grew up in the oral tradition, although we were quickly joining it in the sense that we freely taught each other the songs we had learned. Although we called ourselves "folksingers," we were much more akin to the minstrel/troubadour tradition of the Middle Ages. They took up the lute because it was handy and portable. We took up the guitar for the same reasons.

Is the guitar a traditional instrument? I'd say it depends on which tradition(s) you're talking about.

Don Firth

P. S. Although I still accompany most of the songs I sing with guitar, I do several songs and ballads unaccompanied. And when you fully intend that the ballad should be without accompaniment, there are few things more annoying than some nit-wit who picks up his guitar and insists on accompanying you.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: NEIL COMER
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 05:25 PM

It seems that the term 'traditional' changes throughout the ages. Who would have thought at in the halicon days of Irish Harp music that the accordian would have become such an intregal part of the Irish tradition? The same, I think, applies to the guitar. Players such as Arty Mc Glynn etc have made it a viable instrument for playing instrumental music and who could find a better version of Arthur McBride than Paul Brady's, in which the guitar calls the shots.

Its when computers start to generate music that I would become worried

A mediocre guitar player


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 09 Oct 00 - 10:27 PM

I was looking at a picture of Australian bush musicians actually taken outback. There were no guitars there. The concertina and button accordian seem to be the most prominent.

Of course, a guitar is hard to carry around when you are an itinerate worker ("On the wallaby track.") as they say here. I am sure the harmonica was popular; but it doesn't show up in the pictures.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 06:30 AM

Interesting discussion! I usually sing with guitar just by default - but probably the best song I ever sang was unaccompanied because I am crap at tuning up & had to do without. I have noticed that when I sing with my daughter we sound best a capella & so there are increasingly bits where I stop playing for a phrase or two. Definitely as a poor guitar player my accompaniments limit (or damp out) what I can do vocally. But on the other hand it can give a bit of artificial confidence when needed. Also, I think that guitar+singing is more acceptable to non-folkie friends & family (who would probably die of embarassment if I just launch out with voice only). Its almost as if playing the guitar gives you permission to sing. Variety is probably best - so after reading this thread I think I'll be more inclined to be a bit more thoughtful about whether or not to play.... As mentioned above, its a pain if someone plays along mechanically or unwantedly. Having said that - there are a lot of people who can join in & really do wonderful enhancing accompaniments completely off the cuff. I stand in awe of them, and am really grateful when they do that for me.

Kris


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 07:24 AM

I would say that the guitar pre-dates by a long way most of the "folk-songs" that are sung in folk clubs. Anyway, surely the singing of songs is for the entertainment of others, anything that adds to that must be good. There is nothing worse than a group of individuals with flat voices spending the whole evening with one finger in the ear and boring the arse off everyone else.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: John P
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 08:01 AM

Do traditional musicians use the guitar to play traditional music? If so, then the guitar is a traditional instrument.

John


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 08:16 AM

Is sophocleese suggesting that a mouth-organ is a traditional instrument? I thought it was a 20th century device. Also it not called a harmonica. A harmonica is one of those contraptions that has bottles with varying amounts of water to get the different notes... I don't have a clue why this name in recent years has been erroneously applied to the mouth-organ.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: IanS
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 11:11 AM

What do we mean by traditional instrument ?

Is it:

a) An instrument on which a type of traditional music is played. or b) An instrument that has been around so long that a unique form of traditional music has developed on that instrument.

Most folk instruments start off in category a and if successful over a long period of time they may get into category b, however in different folk ideoms different rules may apply ie an instrument suited to Bulgarian music may not be suited to greek traditional music.

Some instruments like the fiddle are very chameleon like and can be successful in most music cultures achieving category b status quite easily.

Personally I think the guitar (especially in standard tuning) is not so versatile and for example in Irish music the bouzouki family of instruments though later arrivals, are overtaking it in becoming established.

Ian S


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Rich(bodhránai gan ciall)
Date: 10 Oct 00 - 11:48 PM

Well, I, for one am just alittle disappointed in everbody here. Seems to me we should at each other's throat s by now. "Traditional! You woudn't know traditional if it...." "Oh yeah?! Well..................."


Only joking. It's good to see a discussion like this NOT turn into an argument every once in a while.


Siochan daoibh (Peace to you),
Rich


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GeorgeH
Date: 11 Oct 00 - 11:58 AM

OK, let me expand a little (too much good eating . . .)

There are two continuing traditions which are relevent here . .

a) "Folk" music has always been played on whatever instrument(s) the "folk" have had available to them . .

b) "Folk" music is a social activity and so it's usual to conform with the wishes of the company you're socialising with . .

Those two amount to a "yes" and a "in some circles".

The PROBLEM with most of what's been written here is that it carries an implicit assumption that the situations in which "we" perform "folk" music are somehow a part of a continuous tradition. By and large that simply ain't so . . I'd guess over 95% of the "folk" discussed here is actually part of "the revival".

If you are researching a particular musical tradition then it's totally appropriate to ask whether the guitar played any part in that tradition. However in the context of "folk" music today the question is UTTERLY meaningless; "folk" music today ISN'T a tradition (although bits of it have various old/new traditions of their own.)

G.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: John J
Date: 11 Oct 00 - 12:47 PM

It is now. John


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: IanS
Date: 12 Oct 00 - 04:26 AM

I would largely agree with GeorgeH's assertion that the situations in which traditional music is performed are mainly parts of the revival - certainly folk clubs, festivals and concerts can be considered in this category.

The pub music session is one place where I believe that the spirit of traditional music is still alive. I am good friends with a fiddler who is now well into his eighties and he has told me that the way our weekly session operates is not so different from the sessions he attended when he was starting out as a boy in Donegal.

Within this context I think our pub session does provide an atmosphere that is pretty close to "traditional" and one in which the position of an instrument such as the guitar can be considered.

Ian S


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 12 Oct 00 - 04:45 AM

Two thoughts: (ignoring the "folk" thing!(
In the UK in the '50s when the skiffle/folk/rock 'n' roll boom started there must have been an influx of cheap guitars, after postwar austerity
Bert Weedon's "Tune a day" guitar tutor is quoted by most musicians of the era (whatever their later genre) as what got them started.
And a third factor may have been the influence of guitar-players in US forces stationed here during and after the war.
I agree with Bert that before the mid-50s the piano, or accordian, sometimes mouth-organ, was the most likely accompaniment to domestic sing-songs.
..though one of my grandfathers had banjos and mandolins between the wars when in funds.
RtS


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Murray MacLeod
Date: 12 Oct 00 - 11:39 PM


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Murray MacLeod
Date: 12 Oct 00 - 11:50 PM

This isn't really relevzant to the thread title but what the hell, I'll post it anyway. A couple of years back I used to attend a song circle, and I got really pissed off about the habit of some of the members jumping in on songs which they didn't know, just feeling their way round.

Anyway to cut a long story short, one month I tuned my guitar exactly a quarter tone flat, and It was SoooO funny seeing them trying to figure out the key.

Howewver my conscience told me that this wasn't really the folk process, so I abandoned it .

Murray


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 13 Oct 00 - 12:15 AM

Guitar is definitely a traditional instrument...in certain localities. It's traditional in Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries, and in the American West. It is rapidly becoming traditional just about everywhere, because it is easily portable, loud enough, and makes a superb accompaniment to a singer.

Sophocleese - I share your annoyance with the prevalence of recorded music everywhere in North America, and the lack of spontaneous live music by ordinary people. In Cuba no one would stare at you for singing on the street. Lots of people do that in Cuba. The men, of course, would no doubt stare at you simply on general principles...una muchacha Canadiense...Ay-yi-yi!!! The important thing is not to stare back at them...or they will follow you around and be quite hard to get rid of. Of course, some of them are handsome devils, too, so it's up to you what to do about it if you are ever there...but forewarned is forearmed. If you maintain a queenly and cool distance and don't make eye contact, they merely stare but do not bother you...as a general rule.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Lashes
Date: 13 Oct 00 - 01:29 AM

I have read a number of posts from this thread, and I feel I should point out that I have always noticed. The more alcohol consumed..the more important the guitar becomes to hold the group together. The same few notes can be played over and over until someone remembers just what the next line is, and if you're too drunk to fingerpick, you can always strum. The accordian on the other hand..if you're too drunk to be playing that then you're just going to make everyone deaf :)

Lashes


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: sophocleese
Date: 13 Oct 00 - 12:46 PM

Little Hawk, I can't resist. Did you maintain a queenly? and cool distance while you were there?

I realize that there are some things in my earlier post that I did not say very clearly. After my brother got his guitar, singing in the car where it could not be used was suddenly beneath him: he was after all an aspiring rock star and aspiring rock stars do not sing with their families in the car. Any attempts that I made to sing in the car were drowned out by his use of the harmonica as a sonic assault weapon. This might have been merely irritating on an occassinal basis but we spent a year in a VW travelling around Europe and, for the sake of the peace and because "I think, dear, that he is thinking about his music all the time and it disturbs him when you sing," I was not allowed to sing, although he had every night alone in the bus to play his guitar. Am I bitter, hell yes! I'm pissed off about it and probably will be for the rest of my life, but I keep singing and mostly forget it.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: The Shambles
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 11:01 AM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Orac
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 12:19 PM

I for one am not a great lover of unaccompanied singing. The odd one is ok .. but after that it gets boring and I have to go to the bar. If you go back hundreds of years minstrals used lutes etc to enhance the song and make it more pleasurable to the listener before that it was the harp. Over the years the instrument used has changed as different things evolved, but the truth is that most songs are better with some accompanyment. There will always be exceptions .. Stan Rogers' North West Passage for example... but for the most part I can't listen to finger in the ear "sheepwarbling" as my daughter calls it.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 12:35 PM

If the singing is bad, by which I primarily mean it fails to serve the song well, playing an instrument along with it may make it more palatable. But if it's the kind of singing that meets the needs of the song, playing a musical instrument along with it is as likely to detract from it as add to it.

It's possible to play a musical accompaniment to a speaking voice, and it can be quite effective. But for the most part we speak without feeling the need of a musical backing. The same surely goes for singing, which is really just another way of speaking.

The number of times I've sat in a room and been quite unable to make out the words because of the instrumental accompaniment...

And I use a guitar when I'm singing often enough. Maybe too often. It probably makes it easier for me as the singer. I'm not too sure it really helps the song much, a lot of the time.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Orac
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 12:47 PM

A lot of unaccompaied singers are not capable maintaining any rhythm to a melody and consequently ruin the song. A guitar for all its faults does help maintain rhythm. The interest in our local singer's nights is dwindling somewhat because not enough (sometimes only me) play an instrument. This is not very good for those who only come to listen. Music should be entertaining or there is no point to it all.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 01:06 PM

As I said, an accompaniment can to some extent cover up bad singing.

Not that stricty rhythmic singing is appropriate to a lot of songs in a lot of traditions. And that applies to accompanied songs as well.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: The Shambles
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 01:53 PM

This weekend a singer insisted on singing a blues song, (in Bb), without being accompanied, mainly I think because the regular accompaniment was not around.

The resulting (purposeful) non-rhythmic singing of a fine blues song that I have always heard and liked as a rhytmic guitar based song, was to my ears a struggle. And a case of the 'tail wagging the dog'.

In this case the skilled guitar players present were denied an good opportunity to add to the rendition.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 03:30 PM

Shambles, thanks for refreshing this venerable thread. Among its other good qualities, it serves to remind me how much I miss reading the thoughts of Frank Hamilton.

I too love to hear unaccompanied singing. I'm especially fond of the Appalachian style that Hazel Dickins has mastered but also love the old field recordings, the polyphonic singing of Georgia—the country not the US state—the African tradition and the Byzantine chant we use in church.

I live in a part of the U.S. where a piano is the traditional accompanymant for fiddle playing as far as the regional music is concerned so I guess the guitar isn't traditional here. An uncle by marriage and his brother used to play banjo and fiddle together as a local “band” back in the late twenties and early thirties. It depends on what one thinks of as tradition. I regularly read articles that discuss “traditional” techniques for software development—meaning any technique more than two years old.

Certainly the first blues weren't played on a guitar and neither were the first country dances. Dick and others have pointed out that the guitar is a relatively recent instrument in the Americas.

I think the guitar is traditionally used in flemenco and Spanish music. I'm not sure that it is truly traditional in other genre.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: GUEST,Taliesn
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 04:41 PM

Orac hit the proverbial nail "finally" with the mention of the Renassance "lute" minstrals and troubadors.

One has to consider the fundamental purposes of "folk music" ; fr'instance being a menas of conveying the news events of the day along with the lore, life lessons , and morality tales that defines a kind of unifying cultural identity. So the tradition of song accompanied by lute become guitar is as dyed in the wool culture as unaccompanied song. We *are* supposed celebrants of the "opposing-thumbed" tool & nstrument makers are not?

Thus, to my ear, to see some waxing nostalgic about "unaccompanied" singing as somehow more pure than having a guitar has the ring of luddite to it ; as if to suggest that gutiars , hell why not say *all* instruments , are "elitist". Not of "real" country folk.

Well that may be a hangover sentiment also held about *books* and *book larnin'* for the same historical reason; real folk couldn't *afford* them and were thus considered symbols of elites.

Ladies and Gentlemen; this is the 21st century for crying out loud and unless you're content to tribal gatherings passing down knowledge *exclusively* in the oral/aural tradition there's just no such barrier to access to the musucal instruments themselves anymore. I'm having hard enough time dealing with them that considers just playing well as somehow *elitist* rather than celebrating in enjoying those that have the *gift* of talent and take to the near monastic life of endless hours of practice towards that instruments mastery until they arrive at finding their signature style.

My God, I marvel with joy at the practice of any craft. Why not recognize the joy of acheivement in mastering a musical instrument instead of questioning whether it's *traditional* enough.

Mastery of tools/instruments are as traditional as culture itself.

O.K. Enough soapbox.

Next! ;-)


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Bert
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 06:15 PM

Orac, you say "A lot of unaccompaied singers are not capable maintaining any rhythm to a melody and consequently ruin the song."

A lot of unaccompanied singers deliberately vary the rhythm to add emphasis to certain sections of the song.

Such a song can be spoiled if a guitar player joins in and tries to turn it into a dance.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 06:20 PM

Fine guitar playing isn't necessarily improved by having people sing along with it. And the reverse is true as well.

If an accompoanying instrument helps a singer get a song across better, fine and good. But when people feel that somehow a song without an instrumental accomoaniment is necessarily incomplete, that's where I'd draw the line.

And why I'm going on really is because I'm only a few days out from Whitby, where the unaccompanied singing of such as Roisin White and Rosie Stewart demonstrated that whatever unaccompanied singing is, at its best it is in no way incomplete.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Mr Red
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 07:07 PM

Oh rats
I have been places dishing-out free folk magazines and sat there all night without being asked to sing. I had thought of buying a guitar just to signal my inclusion as a performer. I think my wardrobe needs a bit of assertive colour, now what is more noticeable than red?
One such place even chatted to me and told me they were a friendly crowd! Never crossing their minds that a guy associated with magazines might write in them,
revenge, me? surely not! well just a smidgeon, information for readers you understand.
Cookley - since you ask!


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: The Shambles
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 08:53 PM

On Saturday there was a pub where if you 'sang for your supper' they fed you noodles. Brings a whole new meaning to the term 'noodling' along, but I digress.

I had been there for about 2 hrs and no one had in fact sung anything, there was some fine tunes being played and no one, to my knowledge had yet gone up and claimed their noodles.

A chap (with no red on him) walked in and was imediately asked by one of the guitar players if he would sing a particular song 'for us'.

At this point I went up to ask for my noodles, thinking that I had earned them. The singer finished his song, received his applause and imediately walked up to claim his noodles.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: The Shambles
Date: 09 Sep 02 - 09:08 PM

The moral of the tale is.

- Are noodles really traditional?


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Alice
Date: 10 Sep 02 - 10:32 AM

... and mastering unaccompanied singing is a skill, too.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 10 Sep 02 - 11:16 AM

Rick, If you're ever amongst those people again, the guitar showed up in Cape Breton fiddle tune accompaniment during the early part of the 20th century, replacing the parlour organ (pump). In Cape Breton there would be dances played by bagpipe with fiddle to accompany or vice versa as well.


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Subject: RE: Is the guitar a traditional instrument?
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 10 Sep 02 - 11:17 AM

I use a guitar for many songs, but I'm primarily a singer and most of the best song sessions that I've been in have been unaccompanied. No-one who knows me would describe me as a shrinking violet who needed a guitar as a crutch !

I do find however, that I use a guitar as a bridge to many audiences. For over 35 years I've been walking into pubs and singing. OK quite frequently I get told "we don't have music" - or possible more often "a music license", but I'm a pretty good judge of pubs by now and have more successes than failures. The guitar is useful because many non-folk audiences are not used to unaccompanied singing. There are also many cases when just walking into a pub with a guitar will produce comments like "What have you got in there - a machine gun ?" which give me an excuse to get is out. If I tried singing without the guitar, I would succeed in very few venues first time round. Once I've got accepted, I frequently sing unaccompanied songs without any problems.

Even in a folk club there are definitely many songs where I find a guitar helps - especially with some audiences who find it easier to sing choruses to a guitar than a voice. In fact many contemporary songs seem very strange and lacking when sung unacconpanied. On the other hand there are many traditional songs that I'd never think of singing with a guitar.


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