Defining Folk Music: A Simple Task?

Folk music is often thought of as simple and easy to define. However, upon closer inspection, it is anything but. In this blog post, we will explore the many complexities of folk music and try to come to a conclusion about what, exactly, it is.


Folk music can be defined in many ways, but one common characteristic is that it is passed down orally from one generation to the next. This means that folk music is often a reflection of the cultural values and traditions of a community. It is also typically simple in form and style, making it easy to remember and sing.

There are many different types of folk music, ranging from traditional songs to more modern ballads. Some folk music is also written and performed by professional musicians. However, the term “folk music” is usually used to refer to the older, traditional styles of music.

What is Folk Music?

Different people have different ideas about what folk music is. In its broadest sense, folk music can be said to be the music of the people. It is the music that has been created and performed by ordinary people, rather than by professional musicians. This includes the music that they have created themselves, as well as the traditional songs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Folk music covers a wide range of musical styles, from the simple and straightforward to the highly complex. It can be sung or played on a variety of instruments, including guitars, violins, and even computers. It is often based on traditional melodies and chord progressions, but this is not always the case.

Some people believe that folk music must be traditional in order to truly be considered folk music. This means that it must be at least fifty years old and must be passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Others believe that any music created by ordinary people can be considered folk music, regardless of its age or how it is disseminated.

Definitions from various sources

In short, there is no one answer to the question, “What is folk music?” It mean different things to different people. Folk music can be old or new, traditional or contemporary. It can be the music of a certain country or region, or it can be the music of a particular ethnic group. It can be the music of the common people, or it can be the music of the elites. It can be anonymous or composed by well-known musicians. It can be performed by professional musicians or by amateurs. In other words, folk music is a very diverse and complex phenomenon.

One way to approach the study of folk music is to look at how various scholars and institutions have defined it. The following are some examples:

-The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress defines folklife as “the traditional expressive culture shared within groups of individuals which reflect their sense of identity and community.” This definition includes not only music, but also dance, storytelling, foodways, visual arts, crafts, and other forms of cultural expression.

-In his book Folk Music: A Regional Exploration (Greenwood Press, 2006), Dr. Christopher folke provides this definition: “Folk music…is best defined as the musical output of a musical tradition that is typically passed on orally within familial, communal, occupational, ethnic, religious groups and from one generation to another without formalinstruction outside those groups…and with relatively little commercial interaction with wider society outside those groups.”

-The International Council for Traditional Music defines folk music as “the unwritten and unperformed musics composed and performed by amateurs in their local communities…[including] all non-commercial musics which are created and transmitted within small face-to-face social groups.”

These are just a few examples of how folk music has been defined by scholars and institutions. As you can see, there is no one simple answer to the question “What is folk music?” But hopefully these definitions have given you a better understanding of this complex and diverse phenomenon.

The Many Faces of Folk Music

Folk music is as varied and diverse as the people who create it. That’s one of the things that makes it so special. It can be upbeat and lively, or slow and mellow. It can tell a story, or make you think about life in a different way. It can be passed down from generation to generation, or it can be created in the moment.

There are many different styles of folk music, and each one has its own unique history and purpose. Here are just a few of the most popular types:

Celtic Folk Music: This type of folk music is typically associated with the Celtic regions of Europe, including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. Celtic folk music often has a very distinct sound, thanks to the use of traditional instruments like the Irish flute, bagpipes, penny whistle, and Celtic harp.

Americana Folk Music: Americana is a broad category that encompasses many different types of folk music from the United States. This can include everything from bluegrass and country to blues and gospel. Americana folk music often has a very rootsy feel to it, drawing on the rich history of traditional folk styles from across the country.

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Folk music from around the world

Folk music from around the world has been defined in many ways. Most recently, it has been commonly defined as music that is orally transmitted, music that is learned and performed by memory, and music that is a part of the traditions of a culture. While this definition covers a wide range of music, it does not include all music that meets these criteria. For example, it excludes popular music, which is often transmitted orally and learned by memory, but which is not a part of the traditions of a culture. In addition, it excludes art music, which is often transmitted orally and/or learned by memory, but which is not a part of the traditions of a culture.

The Evolution of Folk Music

Folk music can be defined as a type of music that is typically passed down orally, is unique to a certain culture, and expresses the traditions and values of that culture. Folk music has evolved over time, and its definition has changed as well.

The term “folk music” originated in the 19th century, when it was used to describe the music of the lower classes. At that time, folk music was not considered to be a genre of its own; it was simply the music of the people. As such, it was not seen as being worthy of study or serious attention.

However, in the early 20th century, there was a renewed interest in folk music, and it began to be seen as a genre in its own right. This was partly due to the work of scholars and collectors who began to document and study folk songs from around the world.

One of the most important figures in this movement was American folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax travelled around the United States collecting folk songs, and he also travelled to Europe and other parts of the world to document folk music traditions. His work helped to raise awareness of folk music and its importance.

In recent years, there has been a further revival of interest in folk music. This is partly due to the growing popularity of new forms of folk music such as “neo-folk” and “alt-folk”; but it is also due to an increasing appreciation for traditional forms of folk music from around the world.

Folk music continues to evolve, and its definition is likely to change further in the future. However, one thing remains constant: Folk music is the voice of the people, and it provides us with a unique insight into the cultures from which it comes.

Folk music over the years

Folk music has been around for centuries, and its definition has changed over time. In general, folk music can be defined as music that is passed down orally, or music that is created by the people and for the people. Folk music is usually based on traditional musical styles and forms, and it often tells a story or expresses the culture of a particular group of people.

Some folk music is very old, while other folk music is relatively new. For example, some folk songs date back to the Middle Ages, while others were created in the 20th century. Folk music can be found all over the world, and it often varies from region to region.

Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of what constitutes folk music. For some people, folk music includes only traditional songs and tunes that have been passed down from generation to generation. For others, folk music also includes more modern songs that were created by professional songwriters but that share many of the same characteristics as traditional folk songs.

What all types of folk music have in common is that they are based on the traditions and cultures of a particular group of people. Folk music often reflects the history, values, and beliefs of a particular community or region.


In conclusion, defining folk music is not a simple task. There are many different opinions on what qualifies as folk music, and what does not. However, there are some general characteristics that are often used to define the genre. These include traditional instrumentation, use of oral tradition, and common musical forms. Ultimately, the definition of folk music is up to the listener.

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