classification of folk/traditional musics
The categorization of music has always been subject to numerous criticisms related to the methodology of classification itself and the understanding of the essence of music as an artistic form. One of the fundamental and simultaneously most accepted divisions into folk, art, and popular music in many aspects serves as the foundation of modern music taxonomy. When it emerged in the 19th century, this division represented a suitable introduction to the study of music and its history. However, with global social changes that accompanied changes in music, especially with the advent of advanced technology, this triad largely loses legitimacy and becomes inapplicable in the context of modern musical creativity.
One of the key problems with the aforementioned categorization revolves around the nomenclature of music genres. The fact that "art" music represents a specific genre separate from the other two could imply that all other music outside this category does not belong to the realm of art. Moreover, according to this division, the way music genres are defined favors the Western conception of classical music. This occurs through factors related to the society in which the music originates, distribution in terms of social prevalence, and notation. The idea that "art" music is the one that originated in more developed industrial societies diminishes the significance of artistic qualities in notated music in cultures and societies outside Europe. Before the mass production of music, the presence of classical music outside elite circles of society was rare. In modern society, where a large number of recordings of various classical music performances are widely available, this thesis becomes unsustainable within the framework of the modern study of this music category.
Regarding "folk" music, the current ethnomusicological definition narrows the scope of studying its contexts and social significance in some of the societies from which it originated. If certain genre characteristics, such as anonymity of the author or amateurism, are applied to all traditional music, it can lead to a one-sided, reductionist approach to understanding music and its heritage. Moreover, during the industrial period, there were numerous indigenous musical traditions with their own unique identity and vocabulary that did not align with the standard concept of popular music. On the other hand, such an approach is associated with academic and commercial interests in ways that deviate from the mentioned notions of folk music as a one-dimensional structure devoid of artistic distinctiveness.
The advent of mass production of instruments and sound recording devices made it evident how the perception of music often boils down to legitimizing European music conceptions. Studies of certain musical cultures and traditions that predate industrial societies or were not influenced by colonialism demonstrate a completely different understanding of music, its basic rhythmic and melodic concepts, and open up space for defining characteristics that cannot fit into the existing classification. It should also be noted that there are many musical directions that can be precisely described using the existing classification. In any case, generalizing different musical spheres often leads to erasing the cultural identity of individuals who participated in the creation of art and to losing the function that a certain music had in the society it originated from (ritual, spiritual, militaristic, ceremonial, etc.).
In the 21st century, however, certain changes in music classifications can be observed. In this regard, three major problems have been identified in ethnomusicology:
Generalization of music categories.
Application of the classification of music that originated in the Western European cultural sphere to musical traditions that emerged in other cultures.
Focus on comparing non-European cultures with Western ones.
The existence of these problems is not new, but the fact that they have been identified within the discipline itself represents an important step forward, primarily because it can initiate changes in certain outdated principles on which this scientific discipline is based.
One proposed replacement for the existing model of folk music is the concept of "vernacular music," which would encompass the development of folk music over a much broader time span and expanded frameworks, treating folk music as part of social heritage. In this case, folk music would be studied as an integral and important part of the culture that produced it, without trivializing it in a commercial context. In certain Western cultures, such as the American, the development of popular music is associated with the heritage of folk music in those areas. Here, an exception can be observed where the concept of understanding traditional music as an integral social component inseparable from the historical context in which it originated is somewhat applied. One problem that is noticeable here is the commercialization of American folk music. To strengthen the music industry, many traditional American songs, rooted in Western European folk traditions, have been adapted to the standards of popular music, partially losing their authenticity. Although it is expected that musical standards change due to changes in society and cultural patterns, there is still a certain aesthetic distance and denigration of traditional music that does not conform to the prevalent understanding of American folk music in American musicology. This is reflected in the names given to genres influenced by various musical cultures, such as American primitivism. The connotation that blues, bluegrass, and country musicians who contributed to the fundamental musical vocabulary of America are "primitive" represents a problematic attitude toward cultures that are not predominantly of European origin, especially in today's communication based on the principles of political correctness. Moreover, the fact that country music is generally considered less valuable and vulgar reflects elitist ideals held among the upper classes in the United States.
The approach to traditional music that should be considered is based on complete individualization. In addition to the musicological perspective, various aspects of individual music scenes should be taken into account and studied. Based on these, knowledge about the specificities of cultures from which a particular music emerged should be developed. One of the prevalent approaches, with which I do not agree, is the further categorization of traditional music of certain regions into multiple subgenres. By creating numerous subcategories, there is a lack of understanding towards traditional music because it puts the listener, as a commercial consumer of a certain subgenre, in the foreground. Moreover, the artificial or academic division of one scene into dozens of genres eliminates the common identity expressed through folk music.
The view that a common identity is something that can be inherent in all music genres worldwide, and that music is a "universal language," has become prevalent in many social circles. Unfortunately, this thesis is another embodiment of belittling musical diversity. This perspective often refers to the type of music that can achieve popularity beyond the environment in which it was created. Popular music is "universal" largely in the same way that the English language is "universal," in the sense that it is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to avoid. However, it does not mean that popular music is naturally universal and superior as a means of musical communication, but rather that social circumstances and global processes have made it dominant. Moreover, the fact that a folk song or melody from one environment can aesthetically appeal to someone outside that culture is not proof that the music is equally understandable to the listener outside the culture in terms of conveying certain cultural, social, ideological, ritual, ethnic, and identity related messages.
Folk music from specific regions may be understandable outside the native society, but every culture has elements that are specific to a particular community. Therefore, certain perceptions and stereotypes related to traditional art (concerning universality, commercialization, etc.) should be discarded. Emphasizing only the sociological component of ethnomusicology is not a solution, but a balanced symbiosis of the theoretical and sociological aspects can be achieved only if there is a tendency to improve the understanding of the peculiarities of different societies, cultures, meanings, and the role of music within them. For such a symbiosis, the most striking and realistic solution is the adoption of vernacular music as the primary classification for traditional music.