What Is Folk Music?

the folk music

Folk music has endured over time. At one time it was very fashionable; gaining widespread acclaim as workers fled California in search of jobs during the Great Depression.

Woody Guthrie sang songs that captured the working class struggles of his era, while Bob Dylan addressed civil rights and equality for all people through his lyrics. Additionally, this genre collapses time and space by permitting traditional and new repertory to coexist without external chronology dictating their relationship (Anderson 1983:28-31).


Folk music can be an incomprehensible genre to define. The term itself is broad enough to encompass an array of traditions ranging from bagpipe and drumming, singing choirs and samba to bagpipe and drumming, drumming ensembles, bagpipers and drummers, choir singing choirs and samba. Folk is also used to refer to musical, oral and cultural traditions associated with specific regions or societies that emphasize community over individualism – the key characteristic that gives folk its essence.

Scholarly investigations of folk music’s roots have generally focused on two major considerations. Some theories rely on ageless tradition as an explanation, with long periods between its creation and current performance; other research seeks a direct relationship between new forms of folk music emerging and social change.

Searching for these connections raises an essential question about how societies produce new songs. Early attempts to explain folk music origins typically assumed some supernatural force was responsible for creating and repeating pieces over time; more recent scholars, however, tend to favor empirical explanations that explore various methods for creating new folk music compositions.

These processes may take many forms; from recognising an author, to recounting an experience or even developing an entire style from different elements (Merriam 1967:23-24), or general ones like dream sources being often associated with songs among the Flathead (Merriam 1967:24-25). Theories may highlight various aspects of these processes. Composer-centred theories tend to emphasize transformation processes as crucial; such an approach may result in creating something like an amalgamated style.

Folk music’s origins lie in times of social disruption and crisis. For instance, during the Great Depression in California in 1930s, thousands of farmers fled their farms in search of better lives – this period witnessed the emergence of iconic singers such as Woody Guthrie who sang about common man struggles while believing in the power of music to influence positive social change.


Folk music has long been subject to outside influences that extend far beyond its cultural core, from songs and lyrics being modified or removed altogether, to role changes for composers within a tradition and songs being classified into different genres altogether. Some theorists have taken advantage of these changes by emphasizing composition’s importance within folk song composition as an argument that folk song composition can best represent democracy.

Phillips Barry was one of the early folk music theorists to provide controversial commentary, suggesting that individual musicians compose folk songs, with community influences understood as processes of creative variation (Barry 1961). Cecil Sharp offered similar ideas; she believed that folk songs were shared products which were constantly recreated. Both positions remain influential today, however their meaning has evolved over time so as to place more importance on individual creativity than communal influence.

Theories that large geographical units, like nations or continents, contain unchanging cultural cores have become less plausible over the course of the 20th century, due to war and population migrations within these areas. As a result, cultural boundaries became much more permeable and their ability (or lack thereof) to support or resist change was more obvious.

This has had far-reaching ramifications for the study of folk music, since the concept of one musical style representing cultural core is no longer valid. Instead, research on folk music must consider complex processes which mediate internal and external influences upon it such as subgroup formation, repertoire reshaping and venue changes.

An essential aspect of these processes is how they interact and create new patterns. Their interplay may create hybrid forms like Celtic-pop music or diverge like in Andean music.


Folk music is typically an acoustic genre characterized by an effortless sound and its lyrics often reflect culture events or history that are relevant to common people. Acoustic instruments like guitars and banjos may be featured, with traditional folk accompaniment providing vocal support. Bluegrass, Americana Celtica roots all contribute influences that add color and depth to this music genre which has recently gained increasing popularity thanks to artists like Bob Dylan and Passenger shaping modern musical scenes.

Folk music and its social context have traditionally been seen as interdependent processes of crystallization. Its development could be seen as similar to that of other cultural aspects within society such as language, art and religion – its survival depending on being adaptable enough to change to fit with its social environment and fulfill its functions.

Early European theories describing this interrelationship emphasized the significance of folk music’s relationship to noncomplex societies’ cultural core, particularly noncomplex societies lacking complex societies such as Rome or England. Folk music served as a repository of traditions which comprised cultures and which should be protected; modernized social institutions typically reformulate traditions instead of completely abolishing them.

In a pluralistic culture, ethnic group boundaries often exhibit flexibility and permeability, adapting to accommodate new cultural content that emerges within them. Ethnic folk music in particular responds by adapting to its shifting social surroundings.

Folk music cannot be easily defined, yet most performers, participants, and enthusiasts would likely agree upon certain criteria such as transmission patterns, social function, origins and performance styles as indicators of its definition. Folk music refers to any style of musical performance passed on orally from performer to audience without personal connection, such as a song passed along orally and performed before an unrelated audience. Furthermore, folk music applies to an expansive range of musical styles from around the world and sharing similar social functions – for instance English folk music; French and Italian musique populaire/musica popolare; German Volkslied/Vonggesang and Volksgesang/Narodn MUSiK or Indian Log GiT all illustrate elements of this concept.


Folk musicians frequently draw upon history and culture of certain regions or countries when creating music of this genre, creating a sense of unity among fans of this style of music. Additionally, folk artists strive to preserve the traditional acoustic sound that characterizes their style of music while connecting with audiences via social media – thus forging connections beyond geographical borders.

Folk music encompasses many musical genres, but one instrument often associated with this subgenre is the acoustic guitar. Folk is considered more authentic than other types of music and as its sound can easily reach listeners of all ages, making its presence lasting throughout time.

Scholars of folk music traditionally saw it as an effective means of strengthening nationalism and ethnic identity by connecting musical styles to an ethnic core, furthering this concept through terms like narod (nation) and Volksmusik. Today however, large geographical units such as nations are dissolving and contact between societies breaks cultural norms – thus complicating such views of folk music’s use for nation-building purposes.

As a result, musical styles no longer correspond directly with cultural norms, and notions of cultural core have been replaced with models based on stylistic features rather than location. This approach has led to less rigid views of folk music yet remains less clear-cut than geographic models of folk music.

Today’s folk music continues to adapt and adapt with the changing world. Streaming platforms and social media have opened it up to new audiences, while musicians can collaborate more easily and share their passion for folk music on platforms such as Youtube or Soundcloud. This has contributed to its longevity in our increasingly multicultural environment; folk music today can range from political activism to nostalgia for past ways of life.