The Origins of Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Folk music has its origins in the medieval period, and it has been shaped and influenced by a variety of cultures and nations over the years. In this blog post, we explore the origins of folk music and how it has evolved into the genre we know and love today.

The British Isles

The British Isles have a rich and varied musical heritage, and folk music is an important part of that tradition. The term “folk music” can refer to a wide variety of musical styles, from traditional songs and dances to more modern, contemporary folk.


Folk music of England is traditionally based around the social groupings of common people, and it has developed from various both indigenous and imported sources.

The origins of English folk music are often traced back to the medieval period, when the traditions of minstrelsy and courtly love songs were developed. In the later medieval period, ballads became an important part of the musical tradition, and they were often used to convey stories about real or imaginary people and events.

The Renaissance saw a renewed interest in classical music, which had a significant impact on the development of English folk music. The popularity of ballad opera, a genre that combined elements of folk and classical music, also helped to shape the evolution of English folk music.

In the eighteenth century, there was a growing interest in collecting and publishing folk songs from around the country. This led to the development of an oral tradition of folk song collecting, which was continued by such notable figures as Cecil Sharp and Percy Grainger in the early twentieth century.

Notwithstanding its classical and ballad influences, English folk music has always maintained its own distinctive character. The varied geographical regions of England have each contributed their own regional styles to the overall canon of English folk music.


The origins of Scottish folk music are largely unknown. There is evidence of ancient Celtic music in Scotland, but the first organized genre of Scottish folk music emerged in the late Middle Ages with the works of Robert Burns. Burns is considered by many to be the father of Scottish folk music, and his work helped to shape the sound and style of traditional Scottish music.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Scottish folk music was strongly influenced by the sounds of Ireland and England. This can be heard in the use of Irish and English instruments, such as the fiddle, accordion, and mandolin. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that Scottishfolk music began to forge its own identity, with the emergence of artists such as Johnnie Gray, Jimmie MacGregor, and Alex Campbell.

Today, Scottish folk music is enjoyed around the world. It often features traditional instruments such as the Highland bagpipes, fiddle, accordion, and mandolin. The sound of Scottish folk music is uniquely beautiful and has a rich history that is definitely worth exploring.


The music of Ireland has evolved over centuries. The traditional music of Ireland is Celtic music, which includes both instrumental tunes and songs. These musical traditions were passed down orally until the mid-20th century, when they were recorded and transcribed into notation.

Irish folk music is typically associated with dance music and ballads, but it also includes a wide range of other genres, including religious music, work songs, laments, and drinking songs. Celtic music is often categorized by region, with the four main regions being Munster, Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster.

While traditional Irish music is very distinctly Celtic in sound, there has been a significant influence from other genre of music in more recent years due to globalization. This can be heard in the increasing popularity of Irish-influenced genres such as Celtic rock and Celtic hip hop.


Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It covers 20,779 square kilometers (8,023 sq mi) in total, comprising Wales mainland and offshore islands. It has over 3 million inhabitants, with Cardiff as its capital city and Swansea as its largest city.

The geography of Wales is diverse, with a coastline of 1,560 kilometers (966 mi). There are several uplands in the North and South Wales, including Snowdonia which contains Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1,085 meters (3,560 ft). The country has five national parks: Brecon Beacons National Park, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Snowdonia National Park covers 823 square miles (2,140 km2) making it the third-largest national park in England and Wales.

The United States

Folk music is music that is passed down through the generations by word of mouth. It is often about the lives of the people who create it and is usually handed down within a family or community. Folk music has its roots in the oral tradition and has been around since people first began to sing and play music.


Appalachia is a region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. It is home to a unique form of folk music known as Appalachian folk music.

The origins of Appalachian folk music can be traced back to the British and Irish immigrants who settled in the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. These immigrants brought with them their own musical traditions, which they eventually adapted to their new surroundings.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Appalachian folk music is its use of mountain dulcimers. Dulcimers are stringed instruments that are played by plucking or strumming the strings with the fingers. They were originally brought to Appalachia by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.

Appalachian folk music has been influences by a number of different genres over the years, including bluegrass, country, gospel, and blues. This diversity is reflected in the wide range of styles that can be heard within the genre today.

If you’re interested in learning more about Appalachian folk music, there are a number of resources available online and in libraries. You can also find many recordings of this type of music on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

The Deep South

The Deep South is home to a unique form of music called swamp pop, which is a blend of rock, R&B, and country. This genre was popularized in the 1960s by artists such as Frankie Ford, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jimmy Dean. Swamp pop is characterized by its slow, bluesy sound and its focus on themes of love and loss.

Swamp pop reached its peak of popularity in the 1970s, but it continues to be popular in the southern United States today. Louisiana is particularly well-known for its swamp pop scene, and the city of Baton Rouge even has its own swamp pop music festival. If you’re interested in experiencing this uniquely American genre of music, be sure to check out some swamp pop artists from the Deep South.

The Midwest

The Midwest is a region of the United States of America known as “America’s Heartland”, which refers to its primary role in the nation’s manufacturing and farming sectors as well as its “flyover country” image. The Midwest is home to an extremely large and diverse number of cultures, traditions, and values.

One of the most important aspects of the Midwestern cultural identity is the region’s strong tradition of folk music. Folk music is a genre of music that is passed down orally from generation to generation, and it often has roots in the music of a particular region or culture. The Midwest is home to a number of different folk music traditions, including Irish, Scottish, and English folk music, as well as African-American and Native American folk music.

The Midwest has also been a breeding ground for a number of important folk musicians, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Philip Sousa, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Kris Kristofferson. Folk music has always been an important part of the Midwest’s cultural identity, and it continues to play a significant role in the region today.

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