On transcribing African music


  • A.M. Jones London School of Oriental and African Studies




Music -- Africa, Arrangement (Music) -- Africa, Musical meter and rhythm -- Africa, Music -- Africa -- Research


There are two standpoints from which to survey African music. One is the impressionist point of view. This seeks to evaluate the total effect of the music on the listener or the performer. It is concerned more with quality than with detail; with descriptions of the people and the instruments engaged in making the music and the sort of sound they produce. It is an aesthetic approach and is therefore essentially subjective in character. It attempts to answer the question ‘From the musical point of view, what is to be said about African music? Is it beautiful? Is it colourful? Is it rhythmically virile? What does it sound like?’ Such an approach has its value and yet by itself it can never reveal African music to the world. The reason is that it concentrates on the effect of the music produced and does not seek to discover the way it is produced. Were the fundamental techniques of African music-making the same as those used by the observer there would be no point in this latter inquiry. But if they are not, then in order to apprehend this music it is essentially to study not only its aesthetic aspects, but also, and we would say predominantly, the exact techniques used in producing it. In contrast with the impressionist, this is the analytical point of view.

Author Biography

A.M. Jones, London School of Oriental and African Studies

Research Member of the African Music Society. Lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. For many years a missionary at Mpanza, Northern Rhodesia. Author of Studies in African Music.




How to Cite

Jones, A.M. 1958. “On Transcribing African Music”. African Music : Journal of the International Library of African Music 2 (1):11-14. https://doi.org/10.21504/amj.v2i1.521.

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