Folk Music of the Blue Ridge

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to a rich tradition of folk music. In this blog, we’ll explore the history and evolution of this musical genre, and highlight some of the most popular folk songs from the Blue Ridge region.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is the traditional music of the people of a region or country. It is often passed down orally from generation to generation. Folk music is usually based on the musical traditions of the common people of a region and is often reflective of their way of life. The instruments used in folk music are often simple and portable, such as guitars, fiddles, and harmonicas.

Folk music has been an important part of the Appalachian culture since the 18th century. Scotch-Irish and German immigrants brought their own folk songs with them when they settled in the Appalachian Mountains. Over time, these songs began to meld with the existing folk traditions of the region, creating a unique form of Appalachian folk music.

Appalachian folk music is often characterized by its use of simple melodies, strict meters, and clear vocal harmony. The lyrics of Appalachian folk songs often deal with topics such as love, loss, work, and death. Many Appalachian folk songs also include references to supernatural creatures such as ghosts and witches.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to many different types of folk music. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in this type of music among both young and old alike. If you’re interested in exploring the world of Appalachian folk music, there are many fantastic festivals and venues throughout the Blue Ridge where you can enjoy this unique form of Americana

The Origins of Folk Music

Folk music is a genre of music that is typically passed down from generation to generation. It is music that is created by the people, for the people. Folk music often has roots in the music of the country or region in which it is created. For example, the folk music of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a type of music that is specific to the region.

The British Isles

The British Isles have a rich musical tradition that includes many different kinds of music. Traditional folk music is an important part of that musical heritage.

Folk music is the music of the people, and it has been passed down from generation to generation orally. It is usually associated with the working class, and it often tells stories about the everyday lives of ordinary people.

The British Isles have a long history of folk music, dating back to the Middle Ages. By the early 1800s, folk music was becoming more popular, and it soon spread to other parts of Europe and the Americas.

Folk music was originally created for entertainment, but it also served as a way for people to share their culture and traditions. Folk songs often contained important information about local events or history, and they were a way for people to connect with their community.

The British Isles have a wide variety of traditional folk songs, some of which are still sung today. “Danny Boy” is a popular Irish folk song that was written in the early 1900s. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is an American folk song that became the national anthem of the United States in 1931.

Folk music has continued to evolve over time, and it has been influenced by many different genres of music. In the mid-20th century, American folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger began to experiment with electric instruments and new musical styles. This new brand of folk music became known as “folk rock” or “roots rock”, and it had a significant impact on popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, there are many different types of folk music from all over the world. The British Isles still have a strong folk tradition, and there are also vibrant folk scenes in countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Folk music continues to be an important part of our cultural heritage, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon!

The United States

Folk music of the United States is varied and complex. It is a product of the many peoples who have inhabited the country since its earliest days. European, African, Native American, and Asian traditions all play a role in American folk music.

The first American folk music was brought to the country by English and Scottish immigrants in the 1600s. This music was based on traditional ballads and dances from England and Scotland. The immigrants also brought instruments with them, including the fiddle, banjo, and accordion.

African Americans have played a significant role in the development of American folk music. Their contributions can be heard in such genres as blues, jazz, gospel, and rock & roll.

Native Americans have also contributed to the folk tradition. Their music is often based on nature and includes drums, flutes, and chants.

As America has become more multicultural, folk music from other parts of the world has become more prevalent. Music from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East can now be heard in American folk music.

The Instruments of Folk Music

The Blue Ridge Mountains have a long and rich history of folk music. The music of the Blue Ridge is often passed down from generation to generation, and many of the instruments used are traditional folk instruments. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most common instruments used in Blue Ridge folk music.

The Fiddle

The fiddle is by far the most common instrument found in traditional bluegrass and old-time music. It is a member of the violin family, and like all violins, is played under the chin with a bow. The fiddle has a long neck and four strings tuned in perfect fifths (G, D, A, E). Thestrings are usually made of steel, although some fiddlers prefer gut or synthetic guts because they have a softer sound.

The steel-string fiddle is believed to have originated in Scotland in the 16th or 17th century. Scottish immigrants brought the instrument to the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century, where it quickly became popular. Fiddles were also brought to the New World by Irish and English immigrants.

In America, the fiddle was originally used for dance music, such as reels and jigs. However, by the early 20th century, it had become an important part of both bluegrass and old-time music. Famous fiddlers include Chubby Wise, Curly Fox, Tommy Jackson, Vassar Clements, and Mark O’Connor.

The Banjo

The banjo is of African origin and was brought to the Americas by slaves. It is thought to be a derivative of the “banjar,” a four-stringed instrument played in West Africa. There are three main types of banjos: the five-string, the six-string, and the twelve-string. The five-string banjo is the most prevalent type in traditional American folk music. It has a short neck and a round body with a Resonator attached to amplify the sound. The six-string banjo is tuned and played like a guitar. The twelve-string banjo is also tuned like a guitar but has an additional set of strings that are buzzed with the right hand to provide a droning sound.

The Guitar

Guitars are the most commonly found instruments in Blue Ridge folk music. They are generally played in a fingerstyle picking pattern, using the thumb and first two fingers. Most guitarists use a flatpick in their right hand for lead work and chord strumming, reserving their left hand for fingerpicking.

Instrumentals are an important part of Blue Ridge music, and many guitarists specialize in playing them. The traditional fiddle tune “Devil’s Dream” is often played on the guitar, even though it was originally written for the fiddle.

The Styles of Folk Music

Folk music of the Blue Ridge is a style of Americana music. It is rooted in the English, Scottish, and Irish traditions brought over by settlers to Appalachia. These traditions were then combined with the music of African Americans who were brought over as slaves. The result is a unique form of music that is mountainous, and often features the use of Appalachian instruments such as the banjo and fiddle.


Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dancing, clogging, and Appalachian step dancing. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a fiddle and any combination of banjo, guitar, mandolin, pennywhistle, bones, spoons, and drums. Instruments in old-time music are generally played in unison rather than in harmony.

Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dancing, clogging, and Appalachian step dancing. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a fiddle and any combination of banjo, guitar(s), mandolin(s), pennywhistle(s), bones (a percussion instrument), spoons (a percussion instrument), and drums. Instruments in old-time music are generally played in unison rather than in harmony.


Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and arose out of the traditions of English, Scottish and Irish music brought to Appalachia by immigrants from these countries. It is named for the bluegrass found in many of the pastures in that region. Bluegrass is characterized by its string bands, and use of banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar, and singing in harmony featuring poorer mountain residents.


Celtic music is a very broad term which can include anything from traditional Irish and Scottish tunes, to modern-day singer-songwriters with Celtic influences. In general, Celtic music has a strong focus on melody and rhythm, with instruments like the fiddle, bagpipes, and penny whistle playing prominent roles.

One of the most famous Celtic bands is the Irish group The Chieftains, who have been performing since the 1960s. The Chieftains are known for their innovative approach to traditional Celtic music, incorporating elements from other genres such as rock and jazz. Another popular Celtic band is Gaelic Storm, who formed in 1996 and have released a number of well-received albums.

If you’re interested in exploring Celtic music further, there are many great resources available online. The Celtic Music Association is a good place to start, as they have a extensive directory of resources ranging from podcasts to online radio stations.

The Future of Folk Music

The Blue Ridge Mountains have a long and storied history of traditional music. For generations, folk musicians have been creating and performing music that is unique to the region. Today, the future of folk music in the Blue Ridge is uncertain. With the rise of digital streaming platforms and the popularity of other genres of music, folk musicians are struggling to find an audience.

The Blue Ridge Music Center

The Blue Ridge Music Center is a unique outdoor amphitheater and museum dedicated to the preservation and performance of Appalachian music. The center is located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the border of Virginia and North Carolina.

The music center offers a variety of concerts and events throughout the year, featuring both traditional and contemporary Appalachian music. The center also houses a Museum of Traditional Instruments, which is home to a collection of over 200 traditional musical instruments from the Appalachian region.

The Blue Ridge Music Center is an important part of the region’s musical heritage, and it plays a vital role in preserving the folk music of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Appalachian Folk Music Festival

The Appalachian Folk Music Festival is one of the most important folk music events in the United States. It is held every year in the mountains of Virginia, and features some of the best folk musicians from around the country.

The festival began in 1965, and has been held annually ever since. It is organized by the Appalachian Folk Music Association, and takes place on the fourth weekend in July.

Over the years, the festival has featured many renowned musicians, including Doc Watson, Maybelle Carter, Ralph Stanley, The Greenbrier Boys, and The Seldom Scene.

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