Consider this a “whet your appetite” type of article on ballads. At some point later when I’ve done more research I’ll write a series describing what makes a song a ballad, and the wonders that they are. For now here’s a bit of what I’ve found so far:
Greg Lindahl’s site on 16th century ballads, is an excellent place to get started. There’s a lot of information there on both the history of ballads and on where to find them and what’s within SCA period. I especially enjoyed the reprint of the article from the Complete Anachronist. It gave me a lot to think about.
If you like making your own transcriptions or want to see what year the English songs you’ve been singing date back to, Early English Books Online is a great place to check. Many university libraries have contracts with EEBO, so if you have an account with your local college library there’s a good chance you’ll have access. I’ve been accessing it through my University of Michigan account. If you’ve seen the choral transcriptions I’ve posted, for several of the songs a facsimile can be found on EEBO. (Now I’m just waiting for the equivalent for other countries/languages.) I know of at least one book of ballads in there.
The Child Ballads are of course another excellent source for ballads. However, they only include lyrics (no melody line, and no chords), so it’ll require a bit of work on your part to find a tune to go with them. Also many of them are from the 18th or 19th century, which is usually too late for Early Music groups.
Another collection of fun ballads dating to 1682 is D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy. It’s a bit on the late side, and hard to find outside of EEBO, but if you do have EEBO access they’re certainly worth considering. To get a taste, listen to a Hesperus’s My Thing is My Own.
So there’s some info to get you started. For performance ideas, check out the article I wrote earlier on performing solo singing music with instruments. Like I said earlier, after I’ve done some more research I’ll post a more in depth series on ballads. ‘Til then, enjoy!