Folk Music Instruments You Need to Try

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking to add a little more flavor to your music? Why not try out some traditional folk instruments? From the Appalachian dulcimer to the Irish bodhrán, there are a wide variety of unique sounds to be discovered. In this blog post, we’ll introduce you to some of the most popular folk instruments and give you a taste of what they can do. So grab your fiddle or your penny whistle and let’s get started!


Folk music is a genre of music that is typically passed down from generation to generation within a culture, and it often has a regional or ethnic original. Though it can be found all over the world, folk music usually has a strong presence in Europe and the Americas. Folk music often has strong ties to the oral tradition, and it often tells stories or shares history through song. Many folk songs are simply about everyday life, but some are about more specific topics like love, loss, war, or religion.

There are many different types of folk music, and each type has its own unique history and sound. Folk music can be categorized by region, by instrumentation, or by theme. Some examples of regional folk music include Celtic music from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; American folk music; Scandinavian folk music; and Eastern European folk music. Instrumentation can also be used to classify types of folk music; for example, there is English Pagan Folk Music which features instruments like the mandolin and penny whistle; there is Appalachian Folk Music which often features the clawhammer banjo; and there is Bluesy Piedmont Folk Music which incorporates the slide guitar.

One of the most beautiful things about folk music is that it is always evolving. As new instruments are invented and as cultures mix together, new types of folk music are born. Here are just a few examples of some of the most popularfolk instruments from around the world:

-The penny whistle is a small fipple flute that was originally made out of tin or clay. It was first popularized in Britain in the 19th century, but it eventually made its way to America where it became a staple in Appalachian and Irish-American folklore. The penny whistle has a sweet, airy sound that can be both cheerful and melancholy.

-The hammered dulcimer is a stringed instrument that originated in medieval Europe. It generally has two rows of strings that are struck with small hammers, though some versions have more than two rows. The hammered dulcimer produces a gentle, almost ethereal sound that can be very soothing.

-The autoharp is a chorded zither that was first invented in Germany in the 19th century. It quickly became popular in America where it was used in various genres ofmusic including blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, and pop. The autoharp has a cheerful sound that lends itself well to upbeat songs.

-The balalaika is a three-stringed Russian instrument that dates back to the 18th century. It generally has a triangular body and an elongated neck. The balalaika first became popular among peasants and workers in Russia, but eventually it made its way into classical Russian orchestras where it remains an essential part of traditional Russian culture


There are all sorts of different drums used in folk music, from the large bodhran to the small handheld doumbek. Each has its own unique sound, and when played together they can create a driving rhythm that will get your feet tapping.

-Bodhran: A large framed drum that is played with a stick, the bodhran is the heartbeat of Irish music. It can be used to provide a steady rhythm or to accent important parts of a song.

-Doumbek: A small handheld drum with a deep, resonant sound, the doumbek is popular in many different types of folk music. It is often used to lead the rhythm in a song, and can be played either with the hands or with sticks.

-Tambourine: A small handheld percussion instrument with metal jingles, the tambourine is used to add excitement and energy to a song. It can be played either with the hands or with sticks, and is often used in addition to other drums to keep the rhythm going.

-Claves: A pair of short wooden sticks that are struck together, claves are an essential part of Latin American folk music. They are usually played in groups of two or more, and can be used to keep the beat or to accent important parts of a song.


Flutes are one of the most popular types of folk music instruments. They come in many different sizes, from the small flute to the great bass flute. Flutes can be made from many different materials, including wood, metal, and plastic.

There are two main types of flutes: the transverse flute and theRECORDER. The transverse flute is held horizontally, and the Recorder is held vertically. Both types of flutes have a hole in the head (embouchure hole) that you blow into to create sound.

Flutes can be played solo or in an ensemble. When playing in an ensemble, flutes usually play the melody or “top line.”

If you’re interested in trying your hand at playing a flute, we recommend starting with a recorder. Recorders are less expensive than transverse flutes and they’re easier to learn how to play. Once you’ve mastered the recorder, you can move on to a transverse flute if you wish.


There are all sorts of different guitars that can be used for folk music, but the most popular and iconic ones are acoustic guitars. These come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, from small travel guitars to big dreadnought models. If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to get a smaller guitar so you can learn the basics without being overwhelmed by a big instrument.

Another popular folk music instrument is the banjo. Banjos come in different sizes and with different numbers of strings (usually 4 or 5), but they all have a characteristic “twangy” sound that is perfect for country and bluegrass music. If you’re interested in playing banjo, it’s a good idea to start with a 4-string model so you can learn the basics before moving on to a more advanced instrument.

The mandolin is another popular folk music instrument, particularly in bluegrass and country music. Mandolins have a similar sound to guitars, but they are played with a pick instead of your fingers (you can also use a pick on a guitar, but it’s not as common). Mandolins are usually played in an “open tunings,” which means that you don’t have to press down on the strings as hard to create the notes. This makes them easier to play for beginners.

If you want to add some rhythm to your folk music playing, consider getting a percussion instrument like a drum or tambourine. These instruments can provide a solid backbeat for your songs and help keep everyone on time. Drums can be as simple as a single snare drum or as complex as a full drum set, so you can choose an instrument that fits your skill level and budget. Tambourines are also available in different sizes and with different numbers of jingles, so you can find an instrument that suits your style of play.


Harmonicas are one of the most popular instruments in folk music. They are also known as mouth organs, blues harps, and Marine bands. Harmonicas are small, portable, and easy to play, making them a great choice for beginner musicians.

There are two main types of harmonicas: diatonic and chromatic. Diatonic harmonicas are tuned to one key and can be played in any key using a simple technique known as cross-harping. Chromatic harmonicas are tuned to Twelve Keys and can be played in any key without cross-harping.

Harmonicas are usually played in first position, which uses the natural notes of the harmonica. However, there are many other positions that can be used to play different notes on the harmonica. These include second position (using the flat or sharp notes of the harmonica), third position (using natural, flat, and sharp notes), fourth position (using natural and flat notes), fifth position (using natural and sharp notes), and sixth position (using only sharp notes).

No matter what type of harmonica you choose, you’re sure to have a blast playing folk music on this versatile instrument!


The accordion is a portable, free-reed musical instrument, owing its name to the Harmonika, its German predecessor. A person who plays an accordion is called an Accordionist. It has multiple reeds that are plucked by the player to produce sound. The bass reeds are larger than the treble and are played with the right hand while pressing on buttons or keys with the left, similar to a piano accordion. If you’re looking for an instrument that is truly unique, give the accordion a try!


The fiddle is one of the most iconic folk instruments, and has been around for centuries. Fiddles come in many different sizes and shapes, but they all have four strings and are played with a bow. Folk fiddles are often used for dances and sing-alongs, and are a staple of many traditional folk bands. If you’re interested in trying your hand at the fiddle, there are a few things you should know.

Fiddles come in many different sizes, but the most common size is the full-size fiddle. You can also find smaller or larger fiddles, but these are less common. There are also different types of fiddles, such as the viola ( which is slightly larger than a fiddle) or the cello (which is much larger). The size of the fiddle you need depends on your experience level and how comfortable you are with the instrument.

If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to start with a less expensive fiddle so you can get a feel for the instrument without spending a lot of money. You can always upgrade to a better quality fiddle later on. It’s also important to get a good bow with your fiddle – a cheap bow will make it difficult to produce a good sound.

There are many different techniques you can use to play the fiddle, but the most important thing is to practice regularly so you can get better at it. You might also want to take some lessons from an experienced player so you can learn proper technique and how to play specific songs. Folk music is all about tradition, so don’t be afraid to ask around for advice from seasoned players.


Bagpipes are a type of musical instrument that has been around for centuries. Often associated with Scotland, bagpipes are actually used in a variety of different folk music traditions from all over the world. If you’re looking to add some traditional flair to your musical repertoire, here are a few different types of bagpipes that you should try out.

Great Highland Bagpipe:

The Great Highland bagpipe is perhaps the most well-known type of bagpipe. It is used in a variety of traditional Scottish music and has become an icon of Scottish culture. This type of bagpipe has three drones (long pipes that play a single note) and a chanter (a shorter pipe with a reed that the player blows into). The player uses their left hand to control the drones and their right hand to play the chanter.

Irish Uilleann Pipes:

The Irish uilleann pipes are similar to the Great Highland bagpipes, but they have a few key differences. First, they have two chanters (one for playing melody and one for playing harmony). Second, they have four drones (instead of three). Third, they have a bellows (a device that forces air into the pipes) instead of being mouth-blown. Lastly, they often have keys that allow the player to change the pitch of certain notes.

Scottish Lowland Bagpipes:

The Scottish lowland bagpipes are another type of Scottish bagpipe. They are very similar to the Great Highland bagpipes, but they have some key differences. First, they only have two drones (instead of three). Second, they often have keys that allow the player to change the pitch of certain notes. Lastly, they usually have a shallower chanter so that the melody is easier to hear over the drones.

penny whistles

penny whistles

The penny whistle, also known as the tin whistle, is a simple yet incredibly versatile folk instrument. It’s easy to learn the basics of penny whistle playing, and with a little practice you can be playing catchy tunes in no time.

Penny whistles come in a range of sizes, from soprano to bass, so you can choose the one that’s right for you. And because they’re relatively inexpensive, you can buy a few different sizes to experiment with.

Penny whistles are commonly used in Irish and Scottish traditional music, but they can be used for other genres as well. If you’re looking for a fun and portable folk instrument to try out, the penny whistle is a great option.


The ukulele is a four-stringed Hawaiian musical instrument typically played with the fingers. The name “ukulele” roughly translates to “jumping flea,” and it is said to have gotten its name from the Hawaiian queen Liliʻuokalani. Ukuleles are commonly used in Hawaiian music, but they have also gained popularity in other genres such as pop and country.

Ukuleles come in different sizes, with the most popular being the soprano ukulele. Soprano ukuleles are small and lightweight, making them easy to carry around with you. They are also very affordable, which makes them a great option for beginner musicians. Concert and tenor ukuleles are larger than soprano ukuleles and have a richer sound. Baritone ukuleles are the largest size of ukulele and have a deeper, more mellow sound.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at playing the ukulele, we recommend starting with a soprano ukulele. They are relatively cheap and easy to find, and they have a cheerful sound that is perfect for beginners.

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