Folk and Classical Music – What’s the Difference?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Folk and Classical music might seem like two completely different genres, but they actually have quite a bit in common. In this blog post, we explore the similarities and differences between these two styles of music.


What exactly is the difference between folk and classical music? Is it simply a matter of taste, or are there objective musical differences between the two genres?

To answer these questions, we must first understand what each type of music is. Folk music is often defined as music that is passed down orally, without any formal musical notation. In contrast, classical music is written down using precise musical notation. It is typically performed by trained musicians in formal settings such as concert halls and opera houses.

Folk music often has a simple, rustic sound, while classical music tends to be more complex and ornate. Folk songs are usually about everyday life, love, and loss, while classical pieces often tell stories or express emotions. Classical music is usually performed by an orchestra (a large group of musicians), while folk music may be played by a single musician or a small group.

So, what exactly is the difference between folk and classical music? Taste is certainly a factor, but there are also objective musical differences between the two genres. If you enjoy both types of music, why not give them both a try?

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is a type of traditional music that is typically passed down from generation to generation. Folk music often has a strong connection to the culture and history of a community. Many folk songs are about real-life events and often tell stories. Folk music is often used to express social and political issues.


Folk music has its origins in the oral tradition, and was transmitted by song. The earliest folk music was probably created by prehistoric cultures using their own musical instruments or by imitating the musical instruments they heard played by other groups.

As cultures developed, their folk music became more complex, with distinct styles developing for different purposes. Folk music was used for entertainment, to celebrate religious festivals, and to pass on social and moral values.

Different types of folk music developed in different parts of the world. In Europe, folk music includes traditional music from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and other countries. In America, there is a rich tradition of folk music from many different cultures, including Native American music, African American spirituals and blues, and the songs of immigrants from Europe and Asia.


Folk music is the music of the people. It is music passed down orally, often with no idea of its origins. Folk music is Irish and Scottish music, Appalachian music, sea shanties and cowboy songs. It is a part of the oral tradition.

Some characteristics of folk music are that it is:
-Simple: The melodies are usually short and easy to sing. The harmonies are simple. The lyrics often tell a story.
-Modal: Folk songs often use modes instead of major or minor keys. A mode is a set of notes with a specific pattern of whole steps and half steps between them. The most common mode in folk music is the Dorian mode.
-Repetitive: Folk songs often have repeating sections, such as a chorus, verse or refrain.
-Asymmetrical: Folk tunes often have an odd number of measures, such as 5, 7 or 9, instead of the more symmetrical 4 or 8.
-Diatonic: Most folk tunes use only notes from the major or minor scale (diatonic notes).

What is Classical Music?

Classical music is a genre of music that encompasses a wide variety of styles. It is generally considered to be art music, and is distinguished from folk or popular music. Classical music is often performed by symphony orchestras, and uses a set of specific instruments. It also often follows specific compositional techniques.


Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.


Classical music is generally considered to be art music, while folk music is often seen as more of a tradition or cultural expression. There are, however, some key differences between the two styles.

For one, classical music is typically written by a composer and then performed by professional musicians, while folk music is often created and performed by people who are not professional musicians. Classical music is also usually more complex in terms of its harmonic structure and melodic lines, while folk music tends to be more simple and direct.

Another key difference has to do with the role of the audience. In classical music, the audience is typically seen as being separate from the performers (i.e. they sit in silence and listen), while in folk music, the audience is often more interactive and participatory (i.e. they may sing along or clap their hands).

Finally, another key distinction between these two types of music is that classical music is typically performed in formal settings like concert halls or opera houses, while folk music is often performed in less formal settings like living rooms or pubs.


Folk music can be described as music that is passed down orally, or music that is unique to a culture or region. Classical music, on the other hand, is music that has been written by composers and usually performed by trained musicians in a concert setting.


Though classical and folk music may seem to be very different, they actually share some similarities. Firstly, both genres are organic in the sense that they evolve over time based on the creativity of individual artists. Secondly, both genres are based on traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Finally, both genres are enjoyed by people all over the world.


Though often considered two opposite genres, folk and classical music actually share a number of similarities. Both styles emerged during the medieval period, and both are distinguished by their complex melodies and use of collaboration. However, there are several key ways in which these two genres differ.

One major difference between folk and classical music is how they are composed. Folk songs are typically created by anonymous composers and passed down orally from generation to generation. Classical pieces, on the other hand, are usually composed by a specific individual and written down in sheet music. As a result, classical music is usually more complex and structured than folk music.

Another major difference is the instruments used in each genre. Folk music is typically made with acoustic instruments like guitars, banjos, and fiddles. Classical music, however, is usually performed with orchestral instruments like violins, cellos, and flutes.

Finally, folk and classical music differ in their purpose or function. Folk songs are often used for dancing or as work songs, while classical pieces are typically created for listening purposes only.

Despite their differences, folk and classical music have both had a significant impact on the history of music. Each genre has its own unique sound that continues to resonate with audiences today.


Though they share some similarities, folk and classical music differ in several ways. Folk music is often less complex harmonically and melodically than classical music, and it usually is meant to be sung or played on acoustic instruments. Classical music, on the other hand, usually is composed for large orchestras or concert halls and often explores complex harmonic and melodic ideas.

Similar Posts