How Jazz Incorporates Elements of Folk Music

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


How Jazz Incorporates Elements of Folk Music
Jazz is a music genre that is often associated with the African American experience. However, the origins of jazz are actually rooted in the music of Europe and West Africa. One of the key elements of jazz is improvisation, which is also a characteristic of folk music. In this blog post, we’ll explore how jazz incorporates elements of folk music.

Defining Folk Music

Folk music is the music of the people, and it’s often handed down from generation to generation. Folk music is usually about love, loss, and hard times. It’s meant to be sung by everyone, and it often has a strong sense of community. Jazz incorporates elements of folk music, but it also has its own unique sound.

Characteristics of Folk Music

Folk music is, simply put, music by and for the people. Most folk music is learned orally, within the context of the community, rather than being taught by formal instruction. Folk music varies widely from place to place and from generation to generation, but there are some common threads that can be used to identify it.

Some of the typical characteristics of folk music include the use of traditional instrumentation and techniques; a focus on the musical traditions of a particular region or culture; the use of primarily oral transmission to preserve songs and musical traditions; the use of simple, often memorable melodies; and a reliance on improvisation within performances.

Jazz incorporates many elements of folk music, including its focus on tradition and improvisation. Jazz musicians often come from humble beginnings and build on the musical styles that they heard growing up. Many jazz standards are based on folk songs or blues compositions, which were themselves passed down orally over generations.

How Jazz Incorporates Folk Music

Jazz is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jazz is a fusion of African and European music traditions. The African influences on jazz are evident in the use of call-and-response, blue notes, polyrhythms, and improvisation. Jazz also incorporates elements of folk music, such as work songs, spirituals, and blues.


Ragtime is a genre of music that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by a syncopated, or “ragged,” rhythm created by irregular accents on off-beats or “weak” beats. This type of music was commonly played on piano, and it influenced many other genres of music, such as blues, jazz, and country.

There are three main types of ragtime: classic ragtime, stride ragtime, and novelty ragtime. Classic ragtime is the earliest form of the genre and is typified by a slow tempo and simple harmony. Stride ragtime is a more upbeat form of the genre that features fast tempos and more complex harmony. Novelty ragtime is a subgenre of ragtime that incorporates elements of other genres, such as pop music or vaudeville.

Ragtime originated in the southern United States in the late 19th century. It was created by African American musicians who blended elements of European classical music with the folk music of their homeland. Ragtime gained popularity in cities such as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago; however, its popularity spread throughout the country and even to Europe.

Ragtime was an important precursor to jazz. Jazz is often considered to be a ” descendant” of ragtime because it incorporates many of the same elements, such as syncopated rhythms and blue notes. In addition, several important jazz musicians got their start playing ragtime, including Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin.

The Blues

The blues is a form of music that originated in the African-American community in the United States. The genre developed out of the spirituals, work songs, and field hollers that were popular in the rural south. These songs were often accompanied by a banjo or guitar and often had a call and response format. The blues became popular in the urban north during the early 1900s, where it was influenced by ragtime and minstrelsy. Jazz artists began to incorporate elements of the blues into their music in the 1920s, and the genre has been a major influence on jazz ever since.


Dixieland, also sometimes referred to as traditional jazz, is a style of jazz based on the music that emerged in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century. One of the earliest styles of jazz, Dixieland features a combination of European harmony and African-American rhythms and sounds.

Dixieland is typified by a light, cheerful sound and is often played at a fast tempo. The style is most commonly associated with solo trumpet or cornet playing, backed by a rhythm section featuring piano, banjo, string bass, and drums. Clarinet and trombone are also commonly used in Dixieland bands.


Bebop was the first style of jazz that incorporated significant elements of folk music. In bebop, improvisation was more important than thewritten melody, and the music tended to be faster and more complex than earlier jazz styles. Bebop was also characterized by a greater use of dissonance (a clash of notes that creates a sense of tension).


The word “fusion” is often used in music to describe the melding of two or more genres or styles. In jazz, fusion refers to the incorporation of elements of other music styles into the art form. Jazz fusion often uses elements from funk, rock, and Latin music, and the resulting sound is typically a high-energy, groove-oriented style that retains the improvisational roots of jazz.

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