Folk rock is a popular musical genre which combines the elements of rock music and folk music. The narrowest and earliest sense of the term referred to the genre that stemmed out of a folk music revival sometime in the mid-1960s in the UK and the United States.
Apparently, the folk music revival which eventually came to be known as folk rock was started by The Byrds, a band in Los Angeles, when they played traditional folk songs and material penned by Bob Dylan with instruments in the feel of rock music. The way they did it has their style influenced greatly by the Beatles as well as other British bands. It was in June 1965 when press in the U.S. groped for a term to describe the music of The Byrds, and they came up with “folk rock.” It was the same month when the debut album of the band was issued. This release, with a cover version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” led to commercial success which subsequently led to the explosion of folk rock.
The antecedents of folk rock lie in the folk music revival of America as well as the beat music of British bands like The Beatles. Indeed, the world-renowned The Beatles had a strong influence on folk rock, particularly thanks to songs they sang that had a tinge of folk music in it. Bob Dylan also served as an instrumental force behind the genre.
Musically, the folk rock genre is characterized by vocal harmonies that are clear, as well as a relatively distortion-free and effects-free use of electric instruments. For example, the 12-string guitar sound has been epitomized by The Birds, with the jangly sound having come from the sound that came out on recordings of The Beatles during the mid-1960s.
This original launch of folk rock has led right into the distinct style of electric folk, with its eclectic feel. Artists like Alan Stivell, Fairport Convention, and Pentangle pioneered this British folk rock in the late 1960s. They did this by incorporating elements of traditional folk music of the UK into their music. Other traditional folk musicians followed suit, incorporating overt rock elements into the music, which resulted in numerous variants including English folk rock and Celtic rock.
It would seem that folk rock is no longer limited to English-speaking musicians, as music in Europe and Asia also felt its influences. Of course, it is nearly impossible to define the borders of folk rock, as is the case with all other musical genres. In terms of instrumentation, it may lean more towards folk or more towards rock, but there remains no clear definition as to what kind of folk songs can be considered part of its influences.
For people who wish to learn to play folk rock, it would seem that the basic definition of its musical characteristics and coverage would suffice. Given how folk rock is characterized by clean electric sounds, it would be a good idea to learn how to play music on, say, the Yamaha Full-Size Nylon String Classical Guitar to get a feel of “clean” guitar playing, with no dependence of effects or distortion gadgets. Of course, performance-wise, you would have to switch to an electric guitar for the “rock” feel, but once you are used to playing clean, it will come out much more comfortably.
Another way would be to listen to folk rock music, particularly those that led to the birth of the genre. If you can get your hands on The Beatles records, or perhaps download music by The Byrds, you will get a clearer idea of what kind of sound folk rock consists of. From there, you can learn the instrumentation, and if you sing, you can also try your singing voice out. You will likely find folk rock to be just the right middle ground for people who love traditional folk songs but want them to feel modern enough to be performed live in modern gatherings like parties or bars. If anything, you will definitely find it an interesting blend of the past and the present, and learning the nuances of the genre will surely be a fun adventure for you as a musician!