What You Need to Know About Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Folk music is a genre of music that is often passed down through oral tradition. It is usually associated with the music of the common people, and is often considered to be a more simplistic form of music.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is a genre of music that is passed down through the generations by word of mouth. It is usually songs that are about the everyday life of the people who sing them. Folk music is often used to tell stories and to preserve history.

Defining Folk Music

At its simplest, folk music is a category of music created by and for everyday people, as opposed to music created by and for professional musicians. Folk music tends to be transmitted orally, which means it evolves over time to suit the needs of each new generation of singers and musicians. As a result, folk music is often regional in nature, reflecting the unique culture of the people who create and perform it.

Folk music can be further divided into two subcategories: traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. Traditional folk music includes songs that have been passed down over time, typically within a particular community or region. Contemporary folk music, on the other hand, refers to folk music that has been created more recently, often by professional songwriters and performers.

Despite its relatively simple definition, folk music covers a wide range of musical styles from around the world. Folk songs may be accompanied by instruments or sung acapella (without accompaniment), and they may be happy or sad, fast or slow, religious or secular. What all folk songs have in common is that they are designed to be enjoyed by everyone, not just trained musicians.

If you’re interested in learning more about this diverse and fascinating genre of music, keep reading for a closer look at some of the most popular types of folk songs from different cultures around the world.

The Origins of Folk Music

Folk music has its roots in the oral tradition of storytelling. Folk songs were originally passed down from generation to generation, and often told stories of love, loss, and history. As time went on, folk songs began to be written down, making them more accessible to a wider audience.

Folk music began to gain popularity in the early 20th century, with artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger bringing the genre to a new audience. In the 1960s and 1970s, folk music saw a resurgence in popularity with the rise of artists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

Today, folk music is enjoyed by people all over the world. It has been influence by a variety of other genres, including rock, pop, and country.

Characteristics of Folk Music

Folk music has been around for centuries and is a vital part of many cultures. It’s a form of music that is usually passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Folk music is usually simple and catchy, and it often tells a story. The instruments used in folk music are usually acoustic and include guitars, fiddles, banjos, and harmonicas.

Lyrical Content

Folk music often tells stories. The lyrics are usually about real life and real people. They may be about love, loss, work, or play. The lyrics often use the language of the common people. This makes them easy to understand and remember. Many folk songs are ballads. Ballads are stories told in song form. They usually have a repeating chorus. Some folk songs are lullabies, work songs, or play party songs.

Melodic Simplicity

Folk music is known for its simple melodies and often repetitive lyrics. This is because folk songs were originally created to be easy to remember and sing, even after only hearing them once. Many folk songs were passed down through the generations by oral tradition, which also helped to keep the melodies simple.


One of the most defining characteristics of folk music is its use of repetition. This can be seen in both the lyrics and the melodies of folk songs. Repetition helps to create a sense of familiarity and comfort for the listener, and it also makes it easier for people to remember and sing along with the songs.

Folk music often tells stories, and repetition can be used to emphasize important points or themes in those stories. In some cases, a single verse or chorus may be repeated multiple times throughout a song. In other cases, the entire song may be based on a repeating melody or chord progression.

Repetition can also be used for more contemplative purposes, such as creating a sense of meditative trance or inducing feelings of nostalgia. In many traditional cultures, folk music is closely associated with dances, work songs, and other activities that involve repetitive motions. The repetition in these songs can help to regulate breathing or maintain a steady pace during physical activity.

Folk Music Today

Though it has its roots in the simple ballads and laments of medieval Europe, folk music has evolved over the centuries into a complex and diverse genre. Today, folk music is enjoyed by music lovers around the world. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at folk music and explore some of its key characteristics.

The Revival of Folk Music

In the mid-20th century, there was a folk music revival in the United States and United Kingdom. This was a reaction to the industrialization of music and the decline of traditional folk music. The revival of folk music led to the creation of new genres, like blues and country. Folk music also influenced popular music, such as rock and roll.

Today, there is a new wave of folk musicians who are keeping the tradition alive. Some popular folk musicians include Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. These artists have brought folk music to a new audience, and Folk Music is more popular than ever before!

Folk Music Festivals

A folk music festival is a traditional music festival usually featuring folkloric bands and musicians. The kinds of music performed at a folk music festival can range from old time, bluegrass, and Celtic to world music. However, the one common denominator among all folk music festivals is that they focus on quality acoustic music.

Some of the most famous and well-known folk music festivals in the United States include the Newport Folk Festival, MerleFest, and Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. The Newport Folk Festival is perhaps the most iconic of all American folk festivals. Since it was first founded in 1959 by Theodore Bikel, the Newport Folk Festival has been responsible for helping to popularize some of the most important names in American folk music including Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.

If you’re interested in attending a folk music festival, there are literally hundreds to choose from all over the world. Some of the most popular folk festivals include Celtic Colours in Cape Breton Island, Canada; Tønder Festival in Tønder, Denmark; Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia; and Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire, England.

No matter where you go in the world, there is sure to be a folk music festival that celebrates the traditional sounds of that region. So whether you’re interested in bluegrass, old-timey fiddle tunes, or Celtic jigs and reels, make sure to check out afolk music festival near you.

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