Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.
Folk music takes its name from the German word Volk, which essentially means 'the people.' Folk music came to be used derisively to refer to the music of the uncultured class of people. This differentiates folk music from the traditional European concert music, establishing the class conflict between the folk and the elite.
The contemporary folk music genre is defined as a primarily English genre utilizing traditional, acoustic instruments. Commonly the topics involve the plight of the common people (folk), including depression, oppression, and war. As the genre developed from traditional folk music, the music came to be known more for its storytelling, regardless of instrumentation and musicality. Traditional folk music is commonly associated with folklore, and was transmitted orally. There is a strong nationalist component to the music, as it is largely associated with the national culture, rather than the artistic elite. Typical instrumentation includes acoustic guitars, banjo, fiddle, and accordion, accompanying a voice. More exotic (though equally common) instruments may include the dulcimer, a simple stringed lap instrument; the zither, another stringed lap instrument; and various percussive instruments.
The earliest folk musicians include Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Jimmie Rogers, and Burl Ives. Of the four, Woody Guthrie in the 1930s is often seen as the first significant contributor to the genre. His earliest works focused on the plight of the working class in the Dust Bowl Midwest, and he and his music were largely associated with the far-left political spectrum (think socialists and communists).
One of the most prolific early folk musicians (prolific up until his death in 2014) was Pete Seeger. Much like Woody Guthrie, his music largely focused on the plight of protest music, aligning himself with the political left to the degree of being blacklisted as a Communist. Seeger was frequently associated with the civil rights movement as well, with his version of 'We Shall Overcome' becoming an anthem of the movement. Seeger was well known for involving the crowd (folk) in his performances, frequently turning 'concerts' into sing-alongs.
Bob Dylan. Dylan's music wasn't particularly new or unique. It developed naturally in the genre, yet became truly transcendent. Dylan's primary importance to the genre was his ability to move it from a niche to the mainstream. His work was progressive, much like Seeger and Guthrie, to whom he was most frequently compared, yet he was not as controversial or even feared (by the establishment anyways) like they were. In 1965 Dylan broke from tradition and began using electric instruments (see his album Bringing It All Back Home). This marked an important transition into the use of electro-acoustic instruments, which though not entirely accepted at the time, continues to today.
The 60s had a number of musicians who, despite being largely successful within the genre, did not achieve the same mainstream notoriety that Dylan achieved. Joan Baez was Dylan's close friend and may have been one of the reasons he was so well known: she used to introduce him as the opening act at her shows. Donovan, the first of the popular folk musicians from England, came to be known as the London Dylan. Jody Collins was a powerful protest singer, though perhaps because of this she did not achieve the same commercial success. Her renditions of Seeger's Turn Turn Turn is well regarded, and she followed Dylan into electrics with her recordings of Beatles songs. Finally, there's Peter, Paul and Mary, whose renditions of Dylan's works, including Blowin' in the Wind and Don't Think Twice, It's All Right helped bring further recognition for Dylan and brought the genre further into the mainstream.
By the 70s folk music continued as a primary genre with both acoustic and electric acts, the most influential of which were Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & the Papas, Arlo Guthrie, and John Denver, though in reality each had taken the genre in entirely different directions, foreshadowing the subgenre development to come. The Mamas & the Papas were far more influenced by pop music than most of their predecessors, John Denver's music had a distinctly country sound, while Arlo Guthrie continued the traditional folk sound his father started in the early 30s.
Subgenres are the development of a new genre based on different musical elements, or the merging of multiple genres. Of the multiple ways in which folk music developed, the most commercially successful has been the Punk Folk genre, with the Pogues representing the earliest version of this. Successfully combining folk musical elements (storytelling and folk instruments) with punk music ethos (including distorted guitars and fast rhythms), the Pogues achieved commercial success in the early 80s. Continuing down this musical tree, the Dropkick Murphys, though commonly classified as Celtic Punk, represent further development from Folk to Folk Punk to Celtic Punk. Other subgenres include Folk Metal, where elements of folklore and traditional instrumentation are mixed with the metal genre; Viking Metal, which is a specific subgenre of Folk Metal, using Viking mythology; and to some extent Skiffle, which is seen as a merger of the popular musics of America into a stylistically UK genre (and yes, from which the Beatles came).
Folk music is the music of the common people, as opposed to the European classical concert music. Its name is derived from the German Volk, which means 'people.' Folk music began as a traditional genre, associated with the folklore of the region. By the 1930s the genre had changed, and of early contemporary folk musicians, Woody Guthrie is widely seen as the first significant contributor to the genre. Early folk musicians were primarily associated with the political left (communists and socialists), and their music typically dealt with social issues, including war, depression, and oppression. This association continued through the development of the genre, including through the 60s, with Dylan, and beyond, with the Pogues. Folk music developed into multiple subgenres, blending disparate forms of music into new hybrid genres, including Folk Metal, Folk Punk, Viking Metal, and Skiffle to name a few.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons