The term folk music typically refers to traditional music, but it also includes the genre that sprang up in the 20th century, in what music enthusiasts recognize as a folk revival. It was back in the 19th century when this term came into use, but typically, it refers to music that had been around way before the 19th century. In fact, some types of folk music are also known as world music.
The term actually came about as an extension of the term “folk lore,” coined only in 1846 when William Thoms, an English antiquarian, sought to describe the customs, traditions, and superstitious beliefs of uncultured people groups. Going back even further, the term may also be traced to an expression used by Germans “Volk,” which, when defined, means “the people as a whole.”
Several features are defined as characteristic of traditional folk music. The first is that it is typically transmitted by mouth. Prior to this generation, which has its own ways of recording music and transmitting it via recorded copies, from the vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs and eventually mp3 formats, there has been no way of keeping a record of music. What people did was to transmit the songs from one generation to another with the adults teaching the children to memorize the songs, much like the way they did with memorizing cultural creeds and other word-of-mouth transferred information. Oral transmission also has the connotation of the musical pieces being part of the customs of a particular people group over a lengthy period of time.
Another feature that distinguishes traditional folk music is that it is usually the music sung by the lower classes, or of the general population, and that which has no known composer. Folk music, in a sense, is the music of the people by the people, wherein there is no single person that can be credited with the composition of the songs. In the U.S., such music also goes by the name “roots music.”
In the middle of the 20th century, traditional folk music experienced an evolution into a new type of popular folk music. This period and the process is known as the second folk revival, reaching its peak in the 1960s. To differentiate it from traditional folk music, this type of music is better known as folk revival or contemporary folk music. This genre includes fusion types like folk metal, folk rock, and electric folk. Of course, contemporary folk music is definitely different from traditional folk music, but with the same name, the two types often have the same venues and performers. If anything, they share the common characteristic of typically being performed live, with musical instruments that may or may not be part of mainstream music-playing.
Traditional folk music typically refers to indigenous music, such as bagpipe music of Scotland or indigenous music using percussion instruments in the Southeast Asian regions. For example, when a person looks for traditional folk music instruments, he will likely come across the bagpipe. With more than just people in Scotland being interested in this type of music, it is no surprise that there is a rising availability of bagpipes and chanters, such as the Rosewood Practice Chanter. In addition to the interest in these seemingly rare types of music, some types of folk music also receive much attention due to the cultural links. For example, the Ram Horn Shofar, as a mainstay in Hebraic culture, has received a greater level of interest in recent years as Christians have learned to appreciate the Hebraic roots of their faith, appreciating what the shofar represents in declaring the work of salvation finished and completed.
Still, even the folk revival season of the 20th century can call for instrumental music, usually with the help of the acoustic guitar, such as the Yamaha Full Size Nylon-String Classical Guitar. While it can be played in much the same way as an electric guitar, learning to play classical or folk guitar entails more focus on plucking and other skills relating to instrumental playing, allowing the user to deliver folk music with or without vocals.
Folk music continues to be a branch of music that just about anybody can still enjoy.