Distinguishing Characteristics of African and European Classical Music
A number of primary musical features central to American popular music have their stylistic origins in West Africa. These characteristics all played a dominant role in the music of West Africa, and when African people were enslaved in America, they brought fundamental elements of their musical heritage with them. The following chart summarizes these components and their European counterparts.
Musical Element European Classical Music African Music
Syncopation Occasional use: Basic Pulse accents beats one and three. Frequent /constant: Basic pulse accents beats two & four
Timbre/Tone European aesthetics: Purity of sound is highly valued African aesthetics: sound altered, nasal qualities, growls, rattles
Pitch Precise pitch Inflections, bends, sliding from note to note, blue notes
Swing Feeling Strict time-line and tempo with even eighth notes Strict time-line and tempo. Swing created by altering eighth note pairs to create a triplet feel
Improvisation Most music formally composed with complete notation Most music composed with no formal written system, although rhythm patterns and musical structures were orally transmitted and formalized
Sound Ideal Harmonized, rhythmically consistent, similar timbres; vocal consistency Heterogeneity valued; contrasting timbres; vocal and rhythmic variety