Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England

"Ballads on the Brain: A Neurobiological Hypothesis"

It is impossible to know whether this kind of fluid timing was prevalent in the seventeenth century, but it is entirely possible. Most efforts to write down ballad tunes have only notated the first verse, and even that verse may have been simplified for convenience of notation, for the sake of abstraction, or to make the tune more suitable for instruments or dance. Therefore, the regularity or irregularity of performance can’t be inferred from early written documentation of tunes. Ballad texts, meanwhile, commonly have irregular meters (Bell, “Fitting Texts”) which could be taken as evidence for flexible timing in the tunes. Since the earliest recordings or attempts to notate timing variations of traditional ballad singers, fluid timing has been found (Broadwood et al.,"Songs"; Grainger, “Collecting”; Marshall, “Black Jack David on Wax”; MacColl and Seeger, Travellers’ Songs).

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