Uncovering the Folk Ways in Music History

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Uncovering the Folk Ways in Music History is a blog that explores the impact of folk music on society and culture.

Music Folkways

Music Folkways can be defined as the distinct musical traditions that are passed down from generation to generation within a community. This could be a specific style of music, a certain way of playing an instrument, or a certain singing technique. Folkways are usually passed down within families or small groups of musicians, and they often stay the same for centuries.

Defining Folkways

Folkways are the traditional,generally unwritten rules that govern social behavior. In music, folkways govern everything from instrumentation and vocal techniques to performance practices and the transmission of songs. Though often taken for granted, these musical conventions play an important role in shaping the sound and feel of a folk tradition.

Over time, folkways can change, either slowly or suddenly. For example, the once-common practice of field hollering—a form of rhythmic singing used by workers in agricultural fields—began to die out in the early 20th century as new technologies (like mechanical cotton pickers) made field work less labor-intensive. Similarly, the use of slide guitars in blues music was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s by legendary musicians like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell—but it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that slide guitar became a standard part of the electric blues sound.

Sometimes, changes in folkways are more sudden and dramatic. In 1967, for instance, John Lennon shocked the music world by announcing that he “didn’t believe in Beatles”—a statement that violated all sorts of longstanding musical conventions about band unity and commercial success. (It’s worth noting that, just a few years later, Paul McCartney would make a very similar declaration when he announced the breakup of The Beatles.)

Folkways can also be specific to certain musical genres or cultures. In American country music, for example, it’s considered a violation of folkway to use electronic instruments on stage—a rule that was put into place in the 1930s as a way to differentiate country music from its pop counterpart. Similarly, jazz musicians have their own set of unwritten rules governing improvisation, composition, and band dynamics.

The Origins of Folkways

Folkways can be found in every corner of the music world. They are the traditions, customs, and practices that musicians follow when creating and performing music. Most folkways are passed down from generation to generation, and many of them have been around for centuries.

Some folkways are specific to certain genres or styles of music, while others are more general. For example, some folkways dictate how a song should be structured, while others dictate what instruments should be used.

Folkways play an important role in music history because they help us understand where certain musical traditions come from. They can also tell us a lot about the people who created and performed the music.

There is no one correct way to play or create music. Folkways simply provide a framework for musicians to work within. They give musicians a shared language and set of conventions to follow, which can make it easier to communicate with each other and collaborate on musical projects.

The origins of folkways can be traced back to the oral tradition. This is the process by which information is passed down from one person to another through speech or song. For centuries, folkways were passed down orally from generation to generation. This was especially true for folkways that were specific to certain regions or cultures.

As time went on, some folkways began to be written down in books or manuscripts. This allowed them to be preserved and shared with a wider audience. In some cases, folkways that were once specific to a particular region or culture have now been adopted by musicians all over the world.

Folkways in Music

Folkways are the traditional and customary ways of living of a community that are passed down from generation to generation. Folkways include customs, beliefs, values, and traditions. In music, folkways are the musical traditions and practices of a people or community.

Folkways in America

In the early twentieth century, American music was transformed by the popularity of folkways. Folkways are traditional songs and dances that are passed down from generation to generation, often within a specific ethnic or cultural group. Many folkways originated in Europe, but they were brought to America by immigrants and then adapted to fit the new country’s culture.

Folkways became especially popular in the years after World War II, when people were looking for a way to connect with their heritage. Folk music was seen as a way to preserve tradition and keep alive the stories of earlier generations. It also provided a way for people of different cultures to share their customs with each other.

Folkways continue to be an important part of American music today. Folk musicians often use traditional instruments and styles to create new music that reflects the experiences of modern life. Some folk musicians have even been able to cross over into the mainstream, bringing the sounds of folkways to a wider audience.

Folkways in Europe

Folk music is the music of the people, and has been passed down orally from generation to generation. It is the music of the common man, and often reflects the traditions, values, and history of a culture. Folkways in music are the musical traditions and practices of a people or a culture.

Folk music is found all over the world, and each culture has its own unique folkways. In Europe, folk music has been an important part of the cultural landscape for centuries. From England to Ireland to Italy and beyond, folk music has been a part of European culture for as long as anyone can remember.

Folkways in Europe are often characterized by a strong sense of regional identity. In England, for example, folk music is often very different from region to region. In the north of England, folk music is often more dark and serious in tone, while in the south it is generally lighter and more upbeat. This regionalism is also found in other parts of Europe, such as Italy and Ireland.

Irish folk music is some of the most well-known in the world. Irish traditional music is characterized by its use of traditional instruments like the Irish flute, tin whistle, fiddle, and accordion. Irish folk music is often upbeat and lively, and has been adopted by cultures all over the world.

Italian folk music is also quite popular globally. Italian traditional instruments include the mandolin, accordion, guitar, and clarinet. Italian folk songsoften tell stories of love, loss, triumph, and heartache. They are emotive and passionate, and Italians are known for their beautiful singing voices.

Folkways in European music reflect the history and traditions of each culture they come from. They are an important part of what makes each culture unique.

Folkways in Asia

There are numerous folkways in Asia, both rural and urban. One of the more interesting rural folkways is the use of music in labor. In China, for example, it is not uncommon for farmers to repetitively sing work songs while toiling in the fields. The same is true in Vietnam, where farmers often work together in rice paddies while singing songs that help them maintain a steady rhythm. In other parts of Asia, like Japan, Indonesia, and India, labor-related folk songs are also common.

Urban folkways are often more associated with leisure activities, such as music and dance. For example, in Chinese cities it is not uncommon for people to gather in public parks to sing karaoke or ballads together. This activity often takes place in the evening or on weekends when people have more free time.Another popular urban folkway is street performance, which can be found in cities all across Asia. Musicians, acrobats, and other performers entertain crowds by performing on sidewalks or in public squares. This type of folkway is particularly common in Thailand and Indonesia.

The Influence of Folkways

Folkways were traditions and beliefs of the people that were passed down from generation to generation. Music was a big part of the folkways and helped to shape the music history. The folkways were a huge influence on the music history.

The Influence of Folkways on American Music

The folk music of the United States is often thought of as music that comes from the mountains and hills of the country. This is only partially true. Folk music is music that is passed down from generation to generation, usually within a family or a community. It is not written down or recorded, but it is sung and played at gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and holidays. Folk music can be religious or secular, happy or sad, simple or complex.

The first people to settle in what is now the United States came from many different cultures around the world. They brought with them their own folk songs, which they sang in their native languages. As these immigrants settled into their new homes, they began to learn English and to sing English-language folk songs as well. Over time, the various cultures began to blend together, and American folk music was born.

Folk music has always been an important part of American culture. It was the music of the early settlers and it has continued to be popular throughout the country’s history. Some of the most famous American folk songs, such as “Yankee Doodle” and “Amazing Grace”, are known around the world.

Folk music has also had a great influence on other genres of American music, such as country and western, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll. Many famous American musicians got their start by playing folk music on street corners or in small clubs. They took what they had learned from folk music and blended it with other styles to create new genres that are now loved by people all over the world.

The Influence of Folkways on European Music

Folkways are cultural traditions or beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation, often orally. In music, folkways can refer to the musical traditions of a particular culture or region. These traditions can include everything from the instruments that are used, to the way the music is composed and performed.

Folkways have had a significant impact on European music. Many of the most popular and well-known genres of European music, such as classical and jazz, have been influenced by folkways. For example, classical music was heavily influenced by the folk music of Europe. Composers such as Bach and Beethoven drew inspiration from the folk tunes of their homeland, and incorporated these tunes into their own compositions. Jazz also has its roots in European folk music. The African-American slaves who were brought to America during the slave trade brought with them their own folk music traditions. These traditions were combined with the European folk tunes that they heard in America, resulting in the birth of jazz.

Today, many Folk musicians are keeping the tradition alive by incorporating Folkways into their own music. This allows listeners to experience the richness and variety of European Folk music, while also learning about the cultures that these tunes come from.

The Influence of Folkways on Asian Music

The influence of folkways can be seen in many aspects of music history, especially in the music of Asia. Asian music has been shaped by the region’s climate, geography, and cultures, as well as by the flow of people and trade through its borders. One of the most important folk traditions in Asia is the practice of using classical instruments to perform folk melodies. This tradition, known as “gagaku,” has its origins in ancient China and Japan. Gagaku ensembles typically consist of a wind instrument (such as a flute), a string instrument (such as a zither or bow), and a percussion instrument (such as a gong or cymbal).

The use of classical instruments to perform folk melodies is not limited to Asia. In Europe, folk musicians often use violins, flutes, and other classical instruments to play traditional tunes. In some cases, these tunes have been passed down from generation to generation, while in others they have been adapted from popular songs or other sources.

The influence of folkways on music history is not limited to the use of classical instruments. Folk traditions have also had an impact on the development of new musical genres. For example, jazz emerged from a blend of African and European musical traditions. Similarly, rock ‘n’ roll was influenced by both black rhythm and blues and white country music.

Folkways continue to exert an influence on music today. Many popular musicians incorporate elements of traditional folk music into their work, keeping alive the spirit of their ancestors while creating something new and exciting for contemporary audiences.


Folk music traditions are an important part of music history. They provide a way for people to connect to their heritage and to their community. They also offer a glimpse into the past, when people lived close to the land and their music reflected their daily lives.

Today, there are many ways to uncover the folk traditions in your own community. You can attend local festivals, visit museums and historic sites, listen to folk music radio programs, and search online for folk music recordings. By taking the time to learn about the folk traditions in your area, you can help keep these important musical traditions alive.

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