Folk Music Terms and Concepts

Folk musicians when speaking of “the community” refer not only to performers and fans. Instead, the phrase entails shared values, respect for tradition and a dedication to ethical conduct in all aspects of business operations.

Songs have long been passed along through oral tradition and gradually evolved over time. Many influences can influence a folk tune and shape it into something entirely new.


Folk music is deeply embedded into the culture and history of a particular region or community, passed down orally through generations and often featuring simple instruments and arrangements like Appalachian ballads, Irish jigs or African tribal chants. Although folk music refers to various musical genres that fall under this umbrella term, most performers, participants, enthusiasts agree on certain criteria that define this genre: transmission patterns, social functions, origins or performance styles as criteria that define “folk”.

Folk music’s origin is impossible to pinpoint precisely, but we can speculate that its creation occurred within communities or groups. Members would likely have learned songs by listening to elders singing together or reading printed sheets of music. Musicians relied on traditional materials like lyrics and melodies from local communities or regions for inspiration while instruments were typically made using locally available materials.

Folk music reflects its listeners and their daily struggles within society. It can provide a sense of identity and belonging, and provide insight into feelings. Folk music remains relevant today with many artists using their craft as a vehicle for social change.

Scholars of modern folk music believe it has evolved over time to better reflect the needs and concerns of its listeners in today’s society. Many feel the recent economic downturn has spurred an upsurge in folk music revival; new artists are using their craft to drive positive social change; this trend can particularly be found among musicians who focus on working class communities or marginalized populations (LGBT workers or immigrants).

In the 2000s, a subgenre of folk music known as “freak folk” emerged – featuring elements of psychedelia and experimentation with sound and instrumentation. Artists such as Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, and Joanna Newsom have helped this genre flourish – showing that folk music isn’t just something from history – rather it remains relevant and timeless today.


Folk music has its roots in local cultures around the globe and represents their collective cultural history in everything from songs passed down from generation to generation and music composed specifically for community events or rituals. Additionally, this flexible genre often changes along with society as communities adjust social structures over time.

One of the hallmarks of folk songs is their ability to tell a narrative. Their lyrics may narrate historical events or simply share personal tales that mean something to them; folk songs may even express strong emotions like love or hate through lyrics that describe emotions related to certain situations or personal memories.

Folk songs frequently make use of musical ornamentation to add beauty and depth to their melodies, such as appoggiaturas, acciaccaturas and rolls. These types of notes typically play before main notes within melodies to create interesting chromatic flashes which give songs their traditional folk sound.

Folk songs differ from other forms of music in that they tend to evolve over time and change frequently, usually because the tradition was passed along orally and performed repeatedly by various individuals and audiences. Due to these various influences on each performance and transmission process, some folk songs might become shorter or similar to popular styles of music at its time of creation; such adaptability has played an essential role in its survival and evolution.

Folk music varies based on its audience. As folk musicians often face audiences that include members from multiple ethnic communities, their style must adapt accordingly in order to appeal to everyone present in the room.

Folk music’s revival in the 20th century has resulted in its worldwide appeal, garnering many new followers called folkies who are passionate about this form of expression and tend to display unique lifestyles associated with folkie culture. While identifying typical folkies may be challenging, certain characteristics tend to unify all folkies into one group.


Folk music often serves a symbolic function, allowing people to reconnect with both past and future cultures through its lyrical content, often non-specific in nature and covering anything from everyday life to political upheaval – often emphasizing community and inclusion; for instance Woody Guthrie used his song “This Land Is Your Land” during the Great Depression to encourage workers and stay united during difficult times; Bob Dylan employed folk songs as a means of addressing racial tensions during his 1960s career – with his lyrics advocating that everyone should be treated equally regardless of background – an incredible achievement for any artist!

Folk music can be difficult to define; some refer to it as any traditional form that has been handed down through generations while others use the term to refer to specific genres of music. Typically, however, folk encompasses any music passed down orally and without written documentation and tends to originate in rural areas; it typically uses acoustic instruments and often lacks written notations compared to other forms.

Folk music differs from other musical forms by being less sophisticated and written-record dependent, often associated with specific social groups and widely available through mass media – it may even be called folk by critics and fans, such as when popular rock bands are labeled “folk.”

Folk music varies between cultures, yet most experts can agree on certain criteria that determine its existence. These include being performed by general populations sung in songs passed from generation to generation orally and having identifiable regional traditions; being spontaneously created rather than being orchestrated by professional musicians and featuring similar or identical words/tunes across cultures as evidenced by similarities among them; variations on similar themes also being common.


Politics surrounding folk music can be complicated. Musicologists, enthusiasts, and critics often disagree about what qualifies as folk. For instance, contemporary mainstream bands that perform clawhammer banjo-style songs may not qualify as folk if they do not use them to perpetuate traditions; but if their song serves other functions such as raising awareness about an issue or revitalising old customs then it could qualify as folk.

Folk music reflects its listeners’ experiences and serves as a voice for those without one in larger society. The genre can range from right wing nationalistic composers to left wing cultural revolutionaries; its revival during the 1960s in America saw numerous topical songwriters create music with strong social or political messages such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs as examples of such composers.

Folk music also serves a ritualistic function; it is typically played at special events to commemorate historical or personal happenings or celebrate holidays and life-cycle milestones like birthdays, weddings and funerals. Music may even be accompanied by dance and special costumes to add an extra festive atmosphere!

Folk music stands in contrast to art music which serves aesthetic pleasure, and popular music which serves utilitarian entertainment purposes combined with social dancing. Folk music typically occurs within private arenas or small gatherings of friends or family members and tends to be transmitted orally and aurally rather than through written materials like books, records or newspapers; songs may even pass from generation to generation without formal instruction – unlike art and religious forms of music which tend to be taught within schools and churches respectively; in modern technology has replaced much of this face-to-face transmission method of folk music transmission over the centuries.