There are two basic ways to define a folk song: first is a traditional song that has been handed down from generation to generation via oral transmission, and the second is a song that has been part of the folk music revival of the 1960s. But the more common way of viewing folk songs would be those that have formed part of the cultural heritage of a particular nation.
Many folk songs have become commonplace in the lives of families as children’s songs. For example, the Alphabet Song is actually a folk song in the sense that there is no known songwriter and the song has been handed down through many generations. You probably will be ill-equipped to find an English-speaking child who does not know the song. Other versions of the song with the same melody, such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Baa-Baa Black Sheep are also considered folk songs, and other non-English speaking countries may even know the song but having lyrics that are in their own language. This shows us the extent of hold that folk songs have in the culture of the nations. The song “The More We Get Together” has also been translated into many languages, with the basic though intact.
There are also other children’s songs that are folk songs in origin. For example, the B-I-N-G-O kids’ song about the dog called Bingo is considered a traditional folk song, as is “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” The latter is very easy to sing for anybody because he can just imagine what sort of animals and animal sounds to put into the song, and it will still sound correct, as there seems to be no correct or wrong way to sing a folk song that has not had any real copyright anytime in history! The song “The Bear Went over the Mountain” is also a folk song that has been popularized in this generation through Barney CDs and videos, but it has actually been around for many generations. Indeed, kids’ videos like Barney and many others benefit greatly from adapting many traditional folk songs into their shows. For example, “The Green Grass Grew All Around” is also a song that every toddler who has watched Barney can memorize both in terms of the lyrics and even in the actions that are linked to it. This is interesting, because the average adult may not even be familiar with it as a folk song!
This tells us that traditional folk songs are actually great learning tools for children. Although the lyrics may not always make sense, it helps a child learn the basic language set to music. Folk songs typically have melody lines that are very easy to remember, partly because it usually comprises of only one verse worth of melody, with the lyrics changing. This allows the child to memorize it easily, which also contributes to the ease of oral transmission. Other kids’ songs include “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” which many sectors of society have even adapted to their own needs. For the church group, for example, instead of the last verse telling the child to shout “Hurrah,” they tell the children to shout “Amen!” While this makes the song appear a bit stilted, it is still a good way to get the kids up singing and dancing.
The great thing about the appeal of folk songs to children is that it becomes an easy and unconscious introduction to music. This makes it easy for kids to learn a musical instrument when they get older. Children who start to learn a musical instrument, such as the piano, will do well to have familiarity with such songs, because the traditional piano teacher will typically draw from the child’s existing familiarity with music. It is no surprise that the beginner pianist will usually have “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” as his first piece for a recital! Folk instruments like the Hohner Old Standby Harmonica are also a great tool to get children started learning to play folk songs on their own, as they can be familiar with the melody line and learn to listen if they are playing the right notes. Many dads can also enjoy playing familiar songs for their kids on, say, the Yamaha Full-Size Nylon String Classical Guitar, and the children will find it a fun dancing session!
Overall, folk songs are a fun way to get anyone learning the music of a particular nation, thanks to the easy way they can be memorized and sung.