Folk Music: Characteristics and Origins

Folk music is a type of music that is typically passed down from generation to generation. It usually has a simple melody and is often accompanied by acoustic instruments. Folk music often has a strong connection to the culture and history of a community.


Folk music, type of traditional and generally rural music that originally was akin to, or was influenced by, the music played in the courts of the nobles and country dance music.Customarily, folk music has been transmitted orally, by word of mouth. This has resulted in a great variability in the style and content of folk music from one place to another and from one generation to another. Nevertheless, certain broad characteristics are found in nearly all folk musics. The first is that folk songs are usually created anonymously and are passed on from singer to singer with varying degrees of change; secondly, folk songs normally deal with the realities and concerns of everyday life, as experienced by common people; thirdly, they are relatively short and simple in structure; fourthly, they rely heavily on oral transmission; fifthly, they lack professional authorship or composition; sixthly, they exhibit some kind of “traditional” quality—meaning that they have been performed for many years by many people and have acquired certain standardized features.

The roots of European folk music can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. It is generally thought that most medieval folk songs were passed down orally from person to person until they were finally written down sometime in the 13th or 14th century. These early songs were primarily about love— either unrequited (“The Unquiet Grave”) or lost (“Barbara Allen”). Other popular themes included drinking songs (“John Barleycorn Must Die”), work songs (“The Miller of Dee”), children’s game songs (“Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clements’”), and dancing tunes (“Gathering Peascods”). Many of these early songs were based on already existing liturgical or secular melodies—a practice known as “borrowing.”

As time went on, more original compositions began to appear, often composed by professional minstrels or troubadours. These new tunes reflected current social issues and events— such as war (“Rowan Tree”), religion (“Sir Patrick Spens”), or political corruption (“King Henry”). In addition to new compositions, old ones continued to be passed down from generation to generation— sometimes acquiring new lyrics along the way. This organic process eventually led to the formation of regional song traditions throughout Europe.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is the traditional music of a people or nation. It is usually passed down orally from generation to generation. Folk music is usually simple and catchy, and it often tells a story. Folk music often has a strong connection to the land and the people who live on it.

Characteristics of Folk Music

Folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. A more modern definition of folk music can be used to describe a musical genre that is based on popular culture and tradition, and is often passed down from generation to generation.

Folk music is usually created and performed by people who have a strong connection to their heritage and culture. The songs and instrumental pieces are often about everyday life, love, work, and death. Folk musicians often use traditional instruments, such as acoustic guitars, banjos, and fiddles. They may also sing in regional dialects or languages.

The origins of folk music can be traced back to the medieval period. It was during this time that troubadours and jongleurs would travel from town to town to entertain people with stories and songs. As time went on, folk music became more rooted in the oral tradition. This means that the songs were passed down from one generation to the next without being written down.

One of the biggest influences on folk music was the Celtic culture. The Celts were a group of people who lived in parts of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany (a region in northwestern France). The Celtic sound can still be heard in some modern-day folk music. Other important influences came from Africa and the Americas.

In the United States, folk music began to take root in the 18th century with the arrival of immigrants from Europe. These new Americans brought with them their own traditional songs and instrumental pieces. The sounds of Folk Music continued to evolve through the years with influences from blues, country, gospel, and rock & roll

Origins of Folk Music

Folk music is the music of the people. It is music that has been passed down by oral tradition and has never been written down. It usually reflective of the history, culture, and values of a community.

Folk music originates from various countries around the world. In Europe, for example, some countries have their own unique style of folk music. Ireland has Celtic music, Scotland has bagpipes, and England has Morris dancing. In America, there are many different types of folk music from different cultures, including blues, country, Cajun, and bluegrass.

The term “folk music” can also refer to a specific genre of popular music that is influenced by traditional folk music. This includes artists such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Woody Guthrie.

The Revival of Folk Music

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, folk music was revived in the United States and elsewhere. Singers such as Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly had been rediscovered, and groups like the Weavers and the Almanac Singers were enjoying popularity. The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and many others became popular performers of folk music.

The British Folk Revival

The British folk music revival was a phenomenon which began in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century and reached its height during the first half of the 20th century. The revival was a reaction to the industrialisation of Britain and the consequent loss of traditional ways of life. The movement sought to preserve and promote traditional music, electromechanical sound recording, and dance.

One of the most significant figures in the British folk music revival was Cecil Sharp, who collectedmore than 1,000 songs between 1911 and 1914. His work helped inspire a new generation of folk musicians, including Martin Carthy, Davy Graham, Ewan MacColl, The Albion Band, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, and Pentangle.

The American Folk Revival

The American Folk Revival was a movement in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s that rediscovered and popularized traditional folk music. Often called simply “the Folk Revival”, it spans a period from the work of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in the 1940s to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in the early 1960s.

The term “revival” is used in two senses here. First, it refers to a renewed interest in the music of earlier generations, particularly that of rural America. Second, it denotes a new style of folk music, which was distinctly different from that which had been played previously. The most striking feature of this new style was its use of electric instruments and amplification, which made it louder and more powerful than anything that had been heard before.

The Folk Revival had its roots in two earlier movements: the social protest songs of the 1930s, such as those written by Guthrie and Seeger, and the Traditionalist movement of the 1940s and 1950s, which sought to preserve and perform older forms of folk music. These two streams came together in the late 1950s and early 1960s to create a new form of folk music that would soon become hugely popular.

Contemporary Folk Music

While folk music is often associated with traditional songs passed down from previous generations, contemporary folk music refers to a wide range of genres that have evolved since the 1960s. Contemporary folk music is often based on traditional folk music, but includes elements of pop, rock, jazz, and even hip-hop.

The British Scene

TheBritish scene of the early 1960s was very different from that of the United States. The folk music revival there had been started by a small group of university students who were avid readers of American magazines such as Sing Out! and Broadside. Among these students were future superstars Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The British scene, however, was populated mostly by middle-class white kids who were not interested in politics or protest. Instead, they were drawn to the music because it was “authentic” and “traditional.”

The American Scene

During the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, many white American folklorists and musicologists, such as John Lomax, Robert W. Gordon, Alan Lomax, Dorothy Scarborough, Howard Odum, George Pullen Jackson, A. P. Spielman, and Hazel Dickens turned to the study of black American folk music. At about the same time, a number of African American musicians and musicologists (including Eileen Southern, Augustus Hill Garland [1863-1949], Willis Laurence James [1899-1977], Howard W. Odum [1884-1942], and Guy Johnson [1899-1988]) became interested in researching and preserving the musical traditions of their own people. In general, these scholars agreed that there was a fundamental similarity between black and white American folk music; moreover, they believed that this music derived primarily from British Isles sources. Over the past thirty years or so, however , a number of musicologists have suggested that African musical traditions have had a significant impact on various aspects of black American folk music—including southern work songs , spirituals , gospel songs , blues ,and jazz .


Folk music is the music of the people. It is passed down from generation to generation, evolving and changing over time to reflect the cultural values and traditions of each community. Folk music is typically simple in structure and melody, and it often tells stories of life, love, and loss. The instruments used in folk music are often everyday objects, such as pots and pans, washboards, or even bones.

Folk music has its roots in the oral tradition, and it has been shaped by factors such as geography, history, and social change. The term “folk music” can refer to both traditional songs that have been passed down over time, as well as contemporary songs that reflect the culture of a community. While folk music is often associated with rural communities and traditional values, it can be found in cities and suburbs all over the world.

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