The Best of Folk Music in Europe

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover the best of folk music in Europe with our top picks for festivals, albums, and artists.

The Origins of Folk Music

Folk music is the music of the people, and it has been around since the beginning of time. It is music that is passed down from generation to generation, and it has a special place in the hearts of the people who listen to it. Folk music is the music of the common man, and it has a rich history in Europe.

Early folk music in Europe

Folk music has been around for centuries, and it has its origins in the oral traditions of various cultures. In Europe, folk music dates back to the Middle Ages, when there was a great deal of interaction between the different cultures that inhabited the continent. This interaction led to the exchange of musical ideas and styles, and it is thought that this is how folk music developed.

The earliest folk music in Europe was probably the music of the Celtic people. This music was very spiritual and often had a mournful quality to it. The Celts were also known for their use of drones, which is a type of musical note that is held for a long time.

Another early type of folk music in Europe was Gregorian chant. This was the type of music that was sung by monks in monasteries. It was very religious in nature and often had a calming effect on those who heard it.

As time went on, folk music began to change and evolve. It became more lively and upbeat, and it began to incorporate instruments such as guitars, fiddles, and drums. Folk music also began to be used for dancing, and this is how many of the traditional dances that we now associate with folk music were developed.

Today, folk music is still very popular in Europe, and it has also gained popularity in other parts of the world. If you are interested in learning more about this type of music, there are many resources available online and in libraries.

The influence of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was one of the most influential periods in the development of folk music. The Romans spread their culture and language throughout Europe, and many of the traditional songs and dances that we now associate with European countries have their roots in Roman times. Some of the most popular folk music styles, such as polkas and waltzes, originated in the Roman Empire.

The spread of Christianity

With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, folk music was increasingly influenced by the church. This is most evident in the way that many folk songs are about religious subjects, and have words that are specifically taken from the Bible. One of the best examples of this is the Christmas carol “Silent Night,” which was originally written in German. The first known version of the song had words that were taken directly from the Christmas story in Luke 2:14-15.

The Celtic Connection

Europe is a continent with a rich and varied musical tradition. One of the most popular genres of music in Europe is folk music. Folk music is a genre of music that is passed down orally from generation to generation. Celtic music is a type of folk music that is very popular in Europe.

The Celtic people

The Celtic people are a group of people with a common heritage who live in parts of Europe. The Celtic cultures have many things in common, including a love of music. Celtic music is folk music that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is often played on traditional instruments, such as the fiddle, bagpipes, and accordion.

The Celts have a long history in Europe. They are believed to have originated in central Europe, and their culture spread to other parts of the continent over time. Today, there are Celtic people living in countries all over Europe, including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia.

Celtic music has been influenced by many different cultures over the years. This can be heard in the different styles of Celtic music that can be found in different parts of Europe. For example, Irish music is often lively and upbeat, while Scottish music tends to be more sentimental and reflective.

If you’re interested in learning more about Celtic music, there are many great ways to do so. You can attend a Celtic music festival, listen to Celtic radio stations online, or buy CDs or DVDs of Celtic music. You can also find plenty of Celtic music resources on the internet.

Celtic music

Celtic music is a genre of folk music that developed out of the folk music of the Celtic people of Western Europe. It refers to both orally-transmitted traditional music and recorded folk music. Celtic music has played a significant role in the shaping of modern European musical traditions, and has also influenced the development of popular music in Australia and North America.

The Celtic Connection is a radio show that features the best of Celtic music from Europe. Tune in every week to hear traditional and contemporary songs, instrumentals, and stories from the people who keep this rich musical heritage alive.

The Celtic languages

The Celtic languages are a group of related languages descended from Proto-Celtic. They form a branch of the Indo-European language family. The term “Celtic” was first used to refer to these languages by Edward Lhuyd in 1707, following James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle.

Today, the Celtic languages are spoken on the northwestern edge of Europe, comprising Ireland and Scotland (Gaelic), Wales (Welsh), Brittany (Breton), the Isle of Man (Manx) and Cornwall (Cornish). Additionally, “Celtic” is sometimes used to refer to regional dialects of English spoken in Celtic areas, particularly in Scotland and Ireland.

There are six living Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Breton. These languages all share a number of features, including similar grammar and vocabulary. However, they also have some significant differences, both in terms of pronunciation and writing system.

The British Isles

The British Isles have a long and varied history with Folk music, and it has had a significant impact on the development of Folk music in Europe as a whole. Many of the most famous and influential Folk musicians have come from the British Isles, and the region has produced some of the most iconic Folk songs and tunes. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best Folk music from the British Isles.


The music of England is a diverse array of styles. England has seen the rise of many different genres and subgenres, from classical and film scores to indie rock and electronic dance music. English musical traditions range from the ancient ballads of the Northumbrian pipes to the modern pop sounds of Adele and Ed Sheeran.

Traditional English music is often based on folk songs, which are passed down from generation to generation. One of the most famous examples is “Scarborough Fair,” which was popularized by Simon & Garfunkel in the 1960s. Other well-known folk songs include “The Water Is Wide,” “The Cruel Sister,” and “Blackberry Blossom.”

During the Renaissance, England saw a flourishing of art and culture. This period saw the birth of some of the country’s most famous composers, including John Dowland, Thomas Tallis, and William Byrd. The music of this era was characterized by intricate counterpoint and elaborate ornamentation.

In the 18th century, England’s musical landscape began to change with the rise of public concerts and opera houses. Classical composers such as George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell became household names, while new genres like Art song began to take hold. The Victorian era saw a further expansion of concert life, as well as the emergence of popular tunes like “Rule Britannia” and “Land of Hope and Glory.”

The 20th century brought about even more change, with strains of jazz, blues, and other American-derived genres becoming increasingly prevalent. In addition, composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten brought a distinctly English flavor to classical music. Today, England boasts a vibrant music scene that incorporates all kinds of different styles.


When it comes to folk music, Scotland is world-renowned. bagpipes, fiddles, and Highland dancing all make Scottish folk music unique and distinctive. With a strong narrative tradition, Scottish folk music often tells stories of love, loss, and historical events. The best-known Scottish folk song is “Auld Lang Syne,” which is often sung at New Year’s celebrations around the world. Other popular Scottish folk songs include “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “The Star of County Down,” and “The Skye Boat Song.”


Irish music is one of the most distinctive and widely-loved genres of European folk music. From the lively jigs and reels of traditional Irish dancing, to the eerie melodies of Celtic mythology, Irish music has something for everyone.

There are four main regions of Ireland which have their own distinct styles of music: Ulster in the north, Connacht in the west, Munster in the south, and Leinster in the east. Each region has its own traditional instruments, songs, and dances.

The most iconic instrument of Irish music is the Celtic harp, which is often featured on traditional Irish recordings. Other popular instruments include the fiddle, tin whistle, accordion, bodhrán (a type of drum), and uilleann pipes (a type of wind instrument).

One of the most famous Irish folk songs is “Danny Boy”, which was written in the early 20th century. Other well-known songs include “The Wild Rover”, “The Galway Piper”, and “I’ll Tell Me Ma”.


Scandinavia has a lot to offer when it comes to folk music. The Nordic countries have a rich history of folk music, and it’s still a big part of their culture today. Scandinavia is home to some of the best folk musicians in the world, and you can find a wide variety of folk music in this region.


Music has been an integral part of the cultures of Norway, Sweden and Denmark for centuries. The region is home to a wealth of traditional music, ranging from the ancient ballads of the British Isles to the lively fiddle tunes of the Scandinavian countries. The music of Scandinavia is both diverse and fascinating, and it has something to offer everyone who enjoys folk music.

Norway is perhaps best known for its hardingfele, or Hardanger fiddle, which is a uniquely Norwegian instrument with a distinctive sound. The hardingfele dates back to the 16th century, and it is still widely used in Norwegian folk music today. Other popular Norwegian instruments include the lur (a horn), the langeleik (a type of zither), and the bukkehorn (a shepherd’s horn).

Norwegian folk music is often upbeat and positive, reflecting the country’s rugged landscape and its cheerful people. Norwegian musicians are known for their skill in playing marching tunes, waltzes and polkas, and many of their songs are about love, nature or family life. One of the most famous Norwegian folk songs is “Ola Gjeilo’s evige vuggevise” (Ola Gjeilo’s Eternal Cradle Song), which was written in 1894 by Ola Gjeilo-Lunde.

If you’re interested in learning more about Norwegian folk music, there are many excellent resources available online and in libraries. You can also find recordings of Norwegian folk music at most online music retailers.


Scandinavian music is some of the richest and most varied in Europe. The countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland have all contributed to the development of traditional music over the centuries. In recent years, Scandinavian musicians have taken their cue from traditional folk music and blended it with elements of rock, jazz, and classical to create a sound that is both unique and exciting.

Sweden is a particularly fertile ground for folk music. The long winters and short summers have produced a musical tradition that is both rich and diverse. Swedish folk music includes everything from ballads and love songs to work songs and dance tunes. There are also a number of regional styles that have developed over the years, including the lively polska from the province of Dalarna and the mournful joik from the Sami people of Lapland.

One of the best-known Swedish folk musicians is singer-songwriter Anders Fingerfalk. Fingerfalk’s music combines traditional folk melodies with modern lyrics to create a sound that is both familiar and new. Other popular Swedish folk musicians include Olov Johansson, Lena Willemark, Mats Edenroth, Lisa Larsson, and Peter Ostlund.


Denmark is a small nation with a big reputation for its music. The country has produced some of the most influential musicians in the folk genre, and its traditional music is enjoyed by people all over the world.

The Danish folk music scene is vibrant and diverse, with many different styles of music being enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. There are plenty of opportunities to experience Danish folk music, whether it’s watching a live performance or listening to a radio station devoted to the genre.

One of the most popular forms of Danish folk music is called spillemand, which literally means “playing man.” This style of music is characterized by its use of traditional instruments like the fiddle, mandolin, and accordion. Spillemand tunes are often lively and upbeat, making them perfect for dancing.

Another popular type of Danish folk music is called strikkemusik, which means “knit music.” This style is similar to spillemand, but it often features more complex melodies and harmonies. Strikkemusik tunes are often slower and more reflective than spillemand tunes, making them ideal for listening to rather than dancing.

If you’re interested in experiencing Danish folk music for yourself, there are many ways to do so. You can attend a live performance at one of Denmark’s many festivals devoted to the genre, or you can listen to one of the many radio stations that specialize in playing folk music from all over Europe. You can also find recordings of Danish folk music online or in record stores.

Central and Eastern Europe

Many people think of folk music as music that is only sung by old people in the mountains. This is not the case! Folk music is enjoyed by people of all ages all over Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. This region has a rich history of folk music that has been passed down from generation to generation.


Polish folk music was collected in the 19th century by Oskar Kolberg, as part of a series titled Lud, the Polish word for “people”. The commission was intended to collect and catalogue authentic pieces of music to be used by Polish composers as source material. In the 1930s Władysław Szpilman and Stefan Jarociński set about creating state-sponsored ensembles to perform these works; thus saving them from obscurity, if not oblivion. Today the best known ensemble playing traditional instrumental polka is Mazowsze.


Folk music in Hungary has been significant for at least 1000 years. The music of Hungary consists mainly of traditional Hungarian folk music, and other music styles developed by the Hungarian people.

Folk music in Hungary includes a wide variety of styles, including folktales, epic poems, ballads, dances, and instrumental pieces. The most important characteristic of Hungarian folk music is its diversity, which is a result of the country’s many different ethnic groups and history.

Hungarian folk music has been influenced by both Eastern and Western European musical traditions. Central European influences include Austrian and Germanic folk music, while Eastern European influences include Romani (Gypsy) music and the music of the Byzantine Empire. Western influences include French, Italian, and Spanish folk music.


Traditional Russian folk music includes a wide variety of styles and genres, which reflect the diverse history and culture of the country. Russian folk music is often divided into two main types: village music and city music. Village music is typically more traditional and often features the use of indigenous instruments, while city music is generally more cosmopolitan and features a mix of different influences.

Among the most popular genres of Russian folk music are skomorokh (a type of Renaissance-era street music), balalaika (a three-stringed instrument) music, bardic poetry, khorovod (a type of choral round dance), and troika (a type of three-horse sleigh).

The Balkans

The Balkans has some of the best folk music in Europe. The music is influenced by the Ottoman Empire and the music of the Romani people. The region has a rich musical history and the music is very diverse. The music is often very emotional and the lyrics are often about love, loss, and happiness.


Romania is a land of great contrast, from the snow-capped Carpathian mountains in the north to the Black Sea in the south. The country is home to a rich diversity of folk traditions, and Romanian folk music is some of the most beautiful and haunting in all of Europe.

The most famous Romanian folk instrument is the pan flute, or nai, which is heard in many traditional songs. Other popular instruments include the cimbalom (a type of hammered dulcimer), violin, accordion, and guitar. Romanian folk music often features complex harmonies and beautiful melodies, and is usually quite melancholic in tone.

One of the most well-known Romanian folk songs is “Hora Unirii” (“The Unity Dance”), which celebrates the union of Romania with Moldova in 1859. Another popular song is “Mioriţa” (“The Little Sheep”), a shepherd’s lament that is believed to be over 700 years old. “Bătrâneţe Frumoasă” (“Beautiful Old Age”) is a lovely song about growing old gracefully, while “Pe-al Nostru Steag E Scris Unire” (“On Our Flag Is Written Unity”) is a patriotic anthem that was written during World War II.


Bulgaria is a country in the Balkans region of Europe. The music of Bulgaria is known for its distinctive folk songs and dances, many of which are centuries old. Bulgarian folk music has been influenced by both Thracian and Ottoman traditions, and it has also had an impact on the music of other countries in the Balkans region, particularly Greece and Romania.

Bulgarian folk music is characterized by fast-paced, often improvisational dances that are typically performed to the accompaniment of folk instruments such as the gadulka (a bowed string instrument), the kaval (a flute), and the tambura (a plucked string instrument). There are also a number of well-known Bulgarian folk songs, such as “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin” and “Duni Vetre”.


Greece is a country with a long musical tradition. Greek music is characterized by its own system ofMode, which is a scale with traditional eight notes, similar but not identical to the major and minor scales of Western music. Many of the Modes used in folk music have ancient roots, often being derived from the works of Greek composer and theoretician, Ptolemy, who lived in Alexandria in the 2nd century A.D.

In addition to the Modes, there are more than fifty different traditional dances from all regions of Greece, each with its own unique musical style. The most famous Greek folk dance is probably the Syrtaki, which was popularized by the film “Zorba the Greek” starring Anthony Quinn. Other popular dances include the Kalamatianos, Karsilamas and Tsamikos.

Greek folk music can be divided into two distinct types: rural (dimotiki) and urban (rebetika). Rural folk music is characteristically simple and direct, while urban folk music is more sophisticated and complex. Rebetika is a particularly interesting form of urban folk music that developed in the early 20th century amongst Greek immigrants in Turkey and Asia Minor. It acquired a rather shady reputation due to its association with crime and drugs, but has since become more mainstream and respected as an important part of Greece’s musical heritage.

If you’re interested in hearing some traditional Greek folk music for yourself, there are many excellent CDs available featuring both rural and urban styles. And if you happen to be visiting Greece, be sure to catch a live performance – it’s an experience you’ll never forget!


We hope you enjoyed our guide to the best of folk music in Europe. As you can see, there is a rich and varied tradition of folk music throughout the continent, and we hope you’ll take the time to explore it further. Thanks for reading!

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