The Roots and Influences of Traditional Appalachian Music

The roots of Appalachian traditional music were first formed by the folk songs brought over by the anglo-celtic settlers. They were mostly settlers who arrived during the late 1700s, a time when land that was good and inhabitable were already taken or too expensive to own.

Geographically, the Appalachian region is a long range of accordion-like, difficult to traverse, sharp ridges, encompassing 18 states starting from Maine to Georgia. Back then, frontier life in the region was a struggle, because aside from its harsh geographical makeup, it was heavily populated by native Americans rightfully protecting of their territory against white settlers.

The harsh, unstable conditions produced isolated populations, in which people had to rely on each other, whilst building deeply religious communities. Musical traditions from ancestral homes were their only link to the country they left behind, which made it important for the next generation to cherish and pass down. Folk ballads were sung unaccompanied, usually by women; to assuage their need to rise above the drudgery of their monotonous work.

Cultures that Later Influenced Appalachian Traditional Music

Although the traditional contents were modified to reflect their American surroundings and occupations, most ancestral Appalachian songs sung of lords, ladies and castles woven as theme of ballads about love affairs and romantic relations. Traditional Appalachian singers sang the way Celtic ballads were sung, with vocals having a specific tonal and nasal quality.

American country religion frowned upon music that promoted British paganism, and the clergy made sure Appalachian music remained puritan. Folk songs with overly explicit lyrics were cleaned up. Those who were inclined to defy censorship of the ballads were regarded as engaging in sinful behavior. That is why not much of the secular ancestral music survived.

After the civil war, African slaves that found settlement in the Appalachian region brought their unique tradition of singing in groups when working and worshipping. One would call out and trigger a response action from the group. The percussion instruments brought over by the African settlers changed the rhythm of traditional Appalachian music; making tunes livelier and danceable.

The post-civil war arrival of the banjo, formerly recognized as a slave instrument further changed the tempo of music in the Southern Mountains. The banjo subsequently gained popularity as a Minstrel Show instrument and by the 1840s, banjo syncopation produced diddy bop dance steps and different dance struts for the new type of traditional Appalachian music

Scroll Up