Highlights of Musical

About the works

The Coming Decline of Frevo

Tambourine Playing in Brazil

The African Influence in Brazilian Music

Frevo Steps and Music

Art and Artists

In Terms of Music from São Paulo

A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm

Scales in Brazilian Folk Music

The Indians of Petrópolis

Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis

Notes on Playing Marbles

Variations on the Boi

Variations on the Baião

Variations on the Maxixe






Jornal do Comércio – Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 1963.


          The newspapers reported that in a Roundtable at the V Congresso Brasileiro de Folclore [Fortaleza], Professor Ênio de Castro e Freitas of the Rio Grande do Sul Comissão Estadual de Folclore gave a presentation addressing the most common scales in our folk music. The scholar reportedly concluded: “a) at this time in our study of Brazilian folk music, we must recognize the existence of the two traditional scales – the predominant major, and the minor; b) without confirming or denying the presence of other scales, we must recognize that there is not sufficient evidence of them; there is not enough documentation to conclude that they are present,” etc.

          To be sure, documentation is inadequate, but this does not invalidate the fact that they exist. If the testimony of many different scholars were not enough, the documents published in the first volume of Melodias Registradas por Meios Não-Mecânicos [City of São Paulo, 1946] would provide unquestionable evidence that other scales do exist in Brazil: modal scales that – at least in the folk sense – are certainly more “traditional” than the classical major and minor scales recognized by Professor Ênio de C. e Freitas. The colonizing populace brought these at a time when the classical tonal system had not become established in Europe. The work’s documentation on the Northeast, from Salvador up, identifies 339 documented melodies: 238 with the cited major and minor scales; 89 with modal scales of Iberian and African origin; and 7 hybrids. Therefore, this volume alone, published 17 years ago shows approximately one third of the melodies in non-classical scales, providing considerable documentation for that time.

          To this we add research by modern authors, plus a reexamination of all the material published at least far back as Guilherme de Melo.

          Although modal scales also occur in Guanabara [some Sambas from the hillside slums and Macumbas] and the northern coast of São Paulo state [especially in Ubatuba], in the Northeast they predominate, at least in Pernambuco. I would estimate – actually very conservatively – about common scales in Pernambuco – and note this is based on what I documented or at least heard in only three years – that modal scales are predominant [those that Pro. Ênio de C. e Freitas seems to doubt] in around 80% of all Pernambuco folk music. I’ll say it another way: Three modal scales of Iberian origin are in all [100%] of the viola players’ music [on the viola, the violin and voices of singers by the thousands!]. Catimbó [an extremely popular religious cult]. Cabocolinhos [instrumental music unique to Recife]. Abôio the song of Literatura de Cordel; approximately 89% in the Pregão music. Moda de Cego de Padinte and Amassar Bolacha; 80% of Bumba-meu-boi [mainly baiões], Zabumba [traditional band] and Maracatu with a rural ensemble; 70% in the dança do Coco and Reza-de-Defunto [incelências and benditos]; and 50% or more in the Toré [religious cult]. Guerreiros and Sanfona. Modal scales from Africa [maybe four] – were found in 100% of the Xangô music of the Pernambuco Candomblé and approximately 99% of the Recife Maracatu [older ensemble]. Major and minor scales [as Mr. Ênio de C. e Freitas would have it] predominate only in the Pastoril, the Modinha and Romance. I do not include frevo music since it is not folk, but is from an identified author, and moreover semi-erudite, since a good composer can orchestrate its composition – perhaps the only case like that in the world.

          Professor Ênio de C. e Freitas adds: “c) we should only accept the validity of trustworthy transcriptions of melodies and accompaniment, and not just of melodies generally heard among us.” Incomplete documentation has been one of the shortcomings in Brazilian research due to our lack of experience in this area. No amount of good intentions will keep researchers from being disappointed unless they are excellent musicians [really competent], truly love folk music and subject themselves – many times! – to long nights listening, observing, questioning, studying and all the rest to complete documentation properly, according to the admirable example set by Professor Rossini Tavares de Lima of the Comissão Paulista de Folclore. Your writer doubts he is up to the task given it took him forty days at rehearsals and events to distinguish the beats of the old Recife Maracatus, and sixty days visiting others and listening to tapes to identify the subtleties of the “Batá-de-Iemanjá” beat of the same city’s Xangôs. On the other hand, how would researchers study music like that of the viola players, who don’t play when they sing and don’t’ sing when they play; or Reza-de-Defunto, Abôio, Pregão, etc... which do not have accompaniment. And another question: to complete a work composed “of melody and accompaniment,” what melody would you add to strictly percussion music [...]

          The complications turn out to be huge. Professor Ênio de Castro e Freitas himself demonstrates this by not indicating the accompaniment to the nine melodies transcribed as collaboration in the work As Congadas do Município de Osório, by Dante Lay’ano [Published by the Assoc. Riograndense de Música, 1943], and by not writing a single melodic line in his own volume]. [...]

          I believe that if a folk musician visited the southern Nações – a version of the Candomblé in Porto Alegre – and truly studied the material on location, if he were really interested new knowledge would be gained: previously unheard rhythms for sure, and possibly other scales. This work would be entirely fitting for the illustrious Professor Ênio de Castro e Freitas.