The Folk Music Aesthetic

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Folk Music Aesthetic is a site that covers all things related to folk music. From reviews to interviews, we aim to provide our readers with the latest and greatest in folk music.

Defining the Aesthetic

The term “aesthetic” can be defined in many ways, but for the purpose of this paper, the working definition will be: an aesthetic is a set of principles governing the appreciation of an artwork. This paper will explore the folk music aesthetic, specifically as it applies to the music of Woody Guthrie.

Elements of the Aesthetic

The folk music aesthetic is an approach to music that is based on traditional folk music. This type of music is typically passed down from generation to generation, and it has a strong focus on community. The folk music aesthetic is often used in contemporary music, as it can help to create a sense of unity and connection.

There are several elements that are typically associated with the folk music aesthetic. These elements include communal singing, simple instrumentation, and songs that tell stories. Folk music often has a strong sense of rhythm, and it often uses call-and-response vocals. This type of music is often based on oral tradition, and it typically includes ballads, work songs, and lullabies.

The Aesthetic in Practice

There is no single answer to the question of what the folk music aesthetic is. This is in part because there is no one folk music aesthetic, but rather a variety of aesthetics that are often in tension with one another. In addition, the folk music aesthetic is constantly evolving, as the music itself changes and develops over time. However, there are some general principles that can be identified as constituting the folk music aesthetic.

The Aesthetic in Music

There is no precise definition for the term “aesthetic,” but in general it refers to a set of principles or values that guide someone’s artistic and/or musical taste. The folk music aesthetic is a set of qualities that many people associate with traditional folk music: simplicity, authenticity, and a focus on the human experience.

Simplicity is often lauded as a key characteristic of folk music. This may take the form of straightforward lyrics that convey simple emotions or tell simple stories, or it may be an elegant melodic line that is easy to remember and sing. Folk music is also often seen as being more authentic than other genres, due to its roots in the everyday lives of regular people (as opposed to the artificiality of courtly music, for example). Finally, folk music is often said to have a special ability to capture the human experience, whether it be in universal themes like love and loss, or in more specific cultural experiences like growing up in a small town or working in a particular industry.

The Aesthetic in Art

The Aesthetic in Practice

In art, the aesthetic refers to the overall look and feel of a piece. It encompasses the colors, shapes, textures, and forms used, as well as the artist’s intentions for the work. Aesthetic considerations are often what make art beautiful or pleasing to look at.

The term can also refer to a particular style or period in art history. For example, the Baroque period is characterized by its ornate, dramatic aesthetics, while works from the Impressionist movement are typically noted for their light and airy aesthetic.

Some artists may create works with certain aesthetics in mind, while others may let the work’s aesthetics develop organically. Regardless of how it is achieved, the goal is usually to create a pleasing overall effect.

The Aesthetic in Literature

As with any art form, literature can be appreciated for its aesthetic value. This simply means that it can be enjoyed for its beauty or style, without necessarily taking into account its meaning or message. For some, this may seem like a strange way to approach reading, but in reality, it is perfectly valid. After all, we often appreciate music and visual art without needing to understand their hidden depths; why should literature be any different?

Of course, understanding a literary work’s hidden depths can enhance the experience of reading it, but it is not essential. Just as we can enjoy watching a beautiful sunset without needing to understand the science behind it, we can enjoy reading a beautiful poem without needing to analyze its every word.

That being said, appreciate literature aesthetically does not mean that we should ignore its meaning altogether. To truly appreciate a work of literature, we need to strike a balance between understanding its message and simply enjoying its beauty.

The Aesthetic and Authenticity

The folk music aesthetic is about music that is simple, music that is from the heart, and music that is relatable. It is about music that is real and music that is true. Folk music is about the human experience and about human emotions. It is about the music that is all around us, and about the music that is inside of us.

The Aesthetic as an Authentic Expression

What exactly is the folk music aesthetic? In a word, it’s authenticity. But what does that mean?

In order to understand the folk music aesthetic, we have to understand what folk music is. Folk music is the music of the people—the music that is passed down orally from generation to generation. It is the music of everyday life, of work and play, of love and loss. Folk music is the sound of a culture’s soul.

The folk music aesthetic values authenticity above all else. A folk musician is someone who creates folk music—someone who uses their own experiences and observations to create songs that reflect the human condition. A folk musician is not someone who simply copies the songs of others; they are someone who brings their own perspective to the genre.

The folk music aesthetic values traditional instrumentation and song structure. Folk musicians often use acoustic instruments such as guitars, banjos, and fiddles. And while electronic instruments are sometimes used in folk music, they are usually used in a way that complements the organic sound of acoustic instruments.

The folk music aesthetic also values simple lyrics that tell stories about real life experiences. Folk songs often deal with topics such as love, loss, work, and play. And while some folk songs are lighthearted and humorous, others are dark and bleak. But regardless of their subject matter, all good folk songs contain a kernel of truth—a moment of insight into the human condition.

So, if you’re looking for something authentic—something real—then you should listen to folk music.

The Aesthetic and Inauthenticity

The idea of an “authentic” folk music aesthetic has been hotly debated within the folk music community for decades. Some believe that to be considered authentically folk, the music must be passed down through generations within a community, and must show evidence of being shaped by that community’s cultural traditions. Others believe that the music need only be created by someone who self-identifies as a folk musician, and that there are no strict criteria for what constitutes “folk music.”

The debate is further complicated by the fact that many traditional folk communities have been displaced or destroyed, and that many modern folk musicians do not come from traditional folk backgrounds. This has led some to argue that the only “authentic” folk music is that which is created by people who are actively trying to recreate the lost traditions of their ancestors. Others argue that this is an impossible task, and that any attempt to do so is inherently inauthentic.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, it is clear that the question of authenticity is a complex and contested one, and that there is no easy answer.


In conclusion, the folk music aesthetic is defined by its simplicity, traditionalism, and rustic qualities. This genre of music is often associated with storytelling and conveys messages of social and political significance. Folk music has been influential in shaping various musical traditions around the world and continues to be popular today.

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