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Encyclopedia > Old time music

Old-time music, a traditional style of American music, has roots in Irish, Scottish and African folk music. Practitioners play it with stringed instruments such as the bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle (violin).

The term "old-time" as a label goes back to 1923. Fiddlin' John Carson made some of the very first commercial recordings of traditional American country music for the Okeh label. The recordings became hits and Okeh, which had previously coined the term "race recording" for African-American recording artists, began using old time music as a descriptive term for records by artists of Carson's style.

Old-time music is traditionally played at dances, and is considered to be dance music. This contrasts with bluegrass music. Bluegrass music developed from old-time music, shares the same song list and instruments, but is more oriented toward solo performance than is old-time music.

Old-time music experienced a great revival in the early 1960s in areas such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Alan Jabbour, founding director of the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, became a leader of this revival while a student at Duke University.

Traditionally, players learn old-time music by ear. Even those musicians who can read music will learn and play old-time tunes by ear. However, a broad selection of written music exists for those with an interest.

Old-time music resources

  • The Fiddler's Fakebook



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