Folk dances from Denmark

Design of music parts

Niels Mejlhede Jensen, Bøgeløvsvej 4, 2830 Virum, Denmark. e-mail (web master)

Old tunes used for folk dancing in Denmark 1999, arranged with music improvisations; + dance instructions

Folk dances from Denmark + a few from Sweden and other countries

On this page the principles for making the musical arrangement, constructing the parts, the voices, are shown.
We select the Swedish dance: Snurrebocken (Whirring Buck) (dance no. 10 on index page), which is danced much in Denmark.
When making the different parts (the voices) it is important to pay attention to the dance, the rhythm of the dance, (see the dance description), so that the music becomes dance orientated. All tones are selected so that there is no kind of dissonant tension from part to melody and from part to part, also when played in octave.

Summary of this page:

Chords to be used for this melody
Chord text for the melody is decided
A part, the voice of the next tone in the triad a third or little more Above the melody (not always the first tone above)
B part, the voice of the next tone in the triad a third or little more Below the melody (not always the first tone below)
C parts, a voice made of tones from A and B parts
ns part, a simple voice made of tones from A and B parts and the melody
10 folk dances, a glimpse of the music of the previous dances.

The parts are written as a score of 12 staves on two pages, each part as one staff starting on the left page and continuing on the right page where it ends. (Several 100 melodies are short enough for that, for all different types of folk dance). The scores are transposed and written to the different types of instruments, as exact the same for 8 staves, and with occasionally a very few alterations decided by the range of pitch for the last staves.
With these scores the musical leader has to plan which instruments play what and when during the e.g. 6 times a tune is played.


We consider the music for C instruments (c1 and c2).
Snurrebocken is in D major (key signature: 2 sharps (kryds)).
The time is 3/4, (but not waltz).
There are 2 different tempos in the music, (besides the pauses (fermat)).

There are 3 beats per bar. Beat 1 is always the strongest, (in all folk dance music I know of).
See the dance description to get the right rhymth, which changes during the dance:
For bar 1 - 8 beat 2 is light and beat 3 is marked. So e.g. the accordion bass plays only beat 1 and 3.
For bar 9 -16 beat 2 and 3 are equal in the dance, so beat 1, 2, and 3 are almost the same. And there is no slur, no tie (ikke binde) from beat 1 to 2 as in waltz. The accordion plays with 3 equal beats. (I accept musicians that play bar 9 - 16 the same way as bar 1- 8, because the melody is not so different in structure, and good dancers may even like the little difference from music to dance).


First we want to decide the chords to be used by accordion and guitar. We choose the simple chords: D, A, and G (tonic, dominant, and subdominant):
D major chords
Those are the tones that will build the voices, the parts, as shown on the score.

Chord text

We will now write the chord text (becifring) to the melody, one chord for each bar. In the same way as you "per intuition" would select the chords on accordion and guitar:
melody bar 1-4, Snurrebocken
In bar 1 the melody uses only the 3 notes of the D major triad (D-dur tre-klang) up and down, so it is a pure D chord.
This is repeated in bar 2.
Bar 3 has the D triad on the first 2 beats, but on the beat 3 with the tone g there is a tension towards the dominant chord A.
This tension is resolved in bar 4 by selecting the chord A. But then here the melody on this most important first beat has the tone f sharp which is not in the A triad, and this  gives a new tension. The tension is finally relieved on beat 2 and 3 where the melody has the triad tones of the chosen chord A. (So we do not change chord in the middle of the bar, on beat 3 in bar 3 to make a pure timbre, but instead we let the melody develop its little tension, of the sound of a different chord together with the parts).
melody bar 5-8, Snurrebocken
Bar 5 is parallel to bar 1 with tones from the dominant chord A, though not A triad but A7 with the tone g. In bar 7 beat 3 and in bar 8 beat 1 there is tension as discussed for bar 3 and 4.
The chord A triad and not A7 in bar 5- 7 will be used for making the parts. (Not using the seventh, A7, excludes some nice often used possibilities, specially in low pitch voices). (For me it is OK if e.g. accordions play A7 bass here).
In this way we decide the chord text for the whole melody. For the simple old folk tunes this is usually straight forward with mostly only one such simple solution, except for a few minor details of discussion. I have almost everywhere in these folk dance melodies used the chord text given by Flute Henning in his excellent folk dance music book.

A part, A voice

Now we construct the A part, the voice nearest above the melody without dissonance, i.e. a third or little more above. A traditional A voice could be the one shown here:
Traditional A voice
In bar 1 and 2 it is natural to select the tone in the triad a third or fourth (terst eller kvart) above the melody, giving pure chords as written in the chord text. In bar 3 beat 3 with g in the melody the tone a third above is b (= h in German notation), which may be chosen by a musician wanting to play a two part to the melody. But b is not part of the chord, so we turn to another proposal:

Proposal 1 for A voice
In bar 3 beat 3 with g in the melody the first tone in the D chord above g is a. But that is too close, giving dissonance, so the next tone, d is selected. In bar 4 beat 1 a third above the melody tone f sharp is a, which (happens) to be in A triad, so a is OK. Bar 5 - 8 are created in the same way, using only triad tones from A (and not the seventh tone g which is (can be) in dissonance with the root a).
Final A voice
For proposal 1 we considered the tones on the beats. Should then the tones in between, the unmarked semiquavers (1/16), be chosen more freely as shown in proposal 1 in bar 4 with g sharp to give a more interesting melodic form for this voice? In the final selection also these small tones are chosen from the chord triads, because this makes the many parts of the whole score more easy to keep out of dissonant conflicts. This gives for bar 4 only the same tone, a, 5 times, which may seem a tedious melodic form. But this here is not the melody. Its is a supplement to enhance the melody. And when you get used to this way of making parts, the sound of parts should sound that simple to be in the right accordance with the simplicity of old folk tunes.
I was happy with proposal 1 for a long time. But you have more free means to make the other parts, the n parts of my score, if you use the simple principle, the more confined principle, of the final selection.
Intonation is not always easy for folk musician groups, for fiddlers. In concern of the correct intonation it is better with simple pure harmonies as proposed here. A few years ago I composed parts for this type of folk dancing music which even included other tonal systems. I liked the sound. At rare occasions you may hear such music from a couple of excellent Swedish groups. But among common folk music groups its is difficult enough to play even my proposals here with the wanted performance. And the common folk music groups, the ordinary person, is important for the continuation of our culture here.

B part, B voice

Now we in the same way construct the B part, the voice nearest below the melody without dissonance, i.e. a third or little more below. A traditional B voice could be the one shown here:
   Traditional B voice

But we want to use the tones of the selected chords on the 3 beats of all bars, and then we get proposal 1:
     Proposal 1 for B voice

When also the semiquavers off beat are corrected to be part of the chords we get the final part B:
Final B voice
The A and B part are the basic parts, together with the melody. They could be made by a computer, when the chord text is there, or at least checked by a computer, like the spelling check. (Is there a program?) This may sound boring, because this is music alive, where it is the sound, and not theory that counts.

C parts, C voices

With the tones from A and B parts we make new parts for this dancing music, C parts or C voices. They can be played together with the melody, or played as an improvisation to the melody. C parts are then in every tone two parts to the melody. With tones from the melody included in a more free choice for improvisations we have the n parts of my score. A more special C part is the contra part (mod-stemme) which (mostly) moves up when the melody moves down, etc.

I have wanted to make a simple C1 part and a more lively C2 part. The C1 part should be more simple to play than the A part and B part, and should often be simple dance orientated in rhythm. Then the C2 part can be chosen more freely and maybe used as a so-called solo for a suitable instrument, with the rest of the band as an underlying "dance motor".

C1 and C2 voices bar 1-4
We shall here see how C1 and C2 can be constructed  from A and B of proposal 1 in bar 1 - 4.
For C2 it is possible to use 2 f sharp, 2 d, 2 a, for (almost) the first 3 bars, and then a different figure in bar 4, all the way with the exact same rhythm pattern as the melody. (In the final proposal bar 4 of C2 has to be slightly different from what is shown here).
Constructing C1 we first observe that the dance rhythm is: marked beat 1 and beat 3. To emphasize those beats, the beat 3, I for  beat 1 and 2 select 4 alike tones including semiquavers (1/16 note) + then a crotchet (1/4 note) of higher pitch on beat 3. So that you "kind of run" for the "pounding" of beat 3. (To make the 4 alike d I have to include d from the melody on one of the semiquavers).
C1 is easier to play than the melody, and even C2 is not so difficult. Mostly I want C1 to be easier, to be capable for not so well trained musicians, or to be used on the "slower" instruments (like bassoon and brass).

C1 and C2 voices bar 5-8
For bar 5 - 8 C1 and C2 are made in the same way. I want C1 to come to "and end" in bar 8 with 3 crotchets. The beat 2 with f sharp crotchet here gives a short dissonance with the semiquavers of A and B. There is no other crotchet solution possible here. With the A and B parts form the final proposal we do not get this conflict, see the score c1.

More C parts can be made according to these principles, e.g. "altered A or B parts" all below the melody to be played as two parts to the melody.

The voices made in this way resemble the melody in form, so that it is felt as a type of imitation. The melody has proved its good dancing abilities for generations, so this must be the right form.

ns part

ns voice bar 1-4

Usually in a musical arrangement you want a simple low voice to give the tonic feeling and rhythm. To widely use the root note on the first beat of the bar is not always possible here because of my strict rules for disharmony. So the melodic form may be more important. In n voices tones from the melody can be included, giving more freedom. (But still I prefer that most tones are two part to the melody, because it in bands of folk musicians like ours usually is more easy to get a lot of musicians "that happens to drop by" to play the melody than to play by note after "strange constructed voices").
Usually there are 3 tones to select from in the chord triad, as we have in bar 1 and 2. But with f sharp in the melody on the important beat 1 of bar 4 in an A chord, the tone e cannot be selected, leaving c sharp and a to be used. The note before, g in the melody with D chord in bar 3 beat 3, leaves only one tone, the tone d to be used. (The minim (1/2 note) c sharp in bar 4 is not OK the last 1/16 with the melody semiquaver d sharp, but the other choice the minim a does not fit in melodically, I feel).
nss is simple and has the right tones. But ns is better in dance rhythm, which is: marked beat 1 and beat 3 and weak beat 2. To weaken beat 2 and emphasize beat 3 it is better to use the shown pattern with two notes on beat 2. The music must not be waltz like, what nss could easily be played. To avoid the waltz character also in ns the proposal of C1 with the same note in beat 1 and beat 2 is even better, at least to have in the first bar with a change of dance style.

So when the dancers shift to running steps in bar 9 I let the ns voice have 3 alike crotchet tones in each of the first 3 bars.
There is also a shift in style in C1 and C2 in bar 9:

C1, C2, ns voices bar 9-12

10 folk dances

Before we reached the above analysed dance, Snurrebocken (Whirring Buck), dance no. 10 on this web site, we had 9 other dances, see index.
Let us shortly look on some of the music for them:

Dance no. 9, Stødt kanel (Pounded Cinnamon) is also with the time signature 3/4, but this is all different 3/4. The dance is a waltz all the way through, with 3 beats = 1 pounded beat 1 + the two lighter beats 2 and 3. So the ns part looks as shown here, and is played with a slur from beat 1 to beat 2 to give a good "dance motor":
Stødt kanel
Dance no. 1, Sjijnmyravalsen (Sjijn Bog Waltz) is a waltz, with some figuring. So the first section, with waltz, has a C1 part that in the first 3 bars (hopefully) leads the musician to play waltz:
Dance no. 3, Trommelvalsen (Roller Waltz) is also a waltz in 3/4, but the dancers are running in the first section of the dance, so the 3 beats of the bar are more equal, and with no slur from beat 1 to beat 2 (do not tie beat 1 and 2). This is achieved by making the 3 tones alike, with the same pitch (tonehøjde):
In dance no. 6, Bitte mand i knibe (Little man in a fix), we also have running in waltz as a start.

Then we change to the time signature 2/4, to Tater hopsa (Gipsy Hopsa), dance no. 7. Here we have 2 beats per bar, or on accordion even 2+2 beats per bar (in a very fast play). But beat 1 is so much heavier than the rest that you could consider having only one beat per bar. So to facilitate this one beat per bar, C1 is started with 4 alike tones per bar:
Tater hopsa
A polka has also 2 beats per bar (2+2 beats per bar on accordion) (in a slower tempo). But here beat 2 is more marked (beat 1 is still as always the most marked). To facilitate a marked beat 2 I let the melodic course change direction on beat 2, as we see in dance no. 5, Bedstefars rheinlænderpolka nr ½5 (Grandfather's Polka no ½5):
Bedstefars rheinlænderpolka nr. ½5
We walk a gånglåt in Denmark with 2 slow steps per bar to adjusted tempo of music. The melody of Gärdeby gånglåt (Gerdeby Walking Tune), dance no 4, facilitates this walk with the many groups of semiquavers. And I have made the ns part with 2 tones per bar = 2 beats per bar. Sometimes you may see a gånglåt used as a quick march in Scandinavia, played slower and walked with 4 steps per bar. I have here made a C2 part that is better for 4 steps per bar, but here to have an interesting solo (e.g. flute, piccolo) as a contrast to the good underlying motor of the rest of the band playing other parts in clear 2 beats per bar. (The quaver should be before the two semiquavers to make it a typical two-beats-per-bar melody). So the musical leader must think of how the band as a whole sounds in dance rhythm and what the dancers want (and their skill).
In Fætter Mikkel (Cousin Mikkel), dance no. 2 you walk in the first section with two steps per bar, as also given by the contra part here:
Fætter Mikkel
I hope that I have made some very easy parts to Fætter Mikkel because this is a good dance and good music for beginners.

In 2-tur fra Vejle (2-trip from Vejle), dance no. 8, we also walk in the first section with 2 steps (2 beats) per bar:
2-tur fra Vejle
In the second section there is polka.

There are still some types of folk dances and rhythms to come the next weeks.


All the above theory is not more important, than it is how the music sounds that counts.

Index page.

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