Context-Related Melodies in Oral Culture: An Attempt to Describe Words-and-Music Relationships in Local Singing Tradition

Taive Särg


In oral folk song traditions we often find many lyrics, but not nearly as many melodies. The terms “polyfunctionalism”, “group melodies” or “general melodies” have been used by Estonian researches to indicate the phenomenon that many lyrics were sung to only one, or a small handful, of tunes. The scarcity of melodies is supposed to be one of several related phenomena characteristic to an oral, text-centred singing culture.In this article the Estonian folk song tradition will be analysed against a quantity of melodies and their usage in the following aspects: word-and-melody relationships and context-and-melody relationships in Karksi parish (south Estonia); a singer; and native musical terms and the process of singing and (re)creation.


ethnomusicology; regilaul; formula melody; folk song improvisation; folk singer

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ISSN (print) 1736-6518. ISSN (online) 2228-0987. JEF is a joint publication of the University of Tartu, the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Literary Museum.