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What is Folk Music? (a broad look)

Last week we explored Classical Music in a very broad sense. This week, it’s folk music’s turn.

Folk is traditional music, usually learned by ear which is music to dance to. Each area has its own ‘dialect’. This means that a tune played in the Cotswolds will be played differently in the Shetlands. Folk music is split up by area and types of dance. Here are a few examples:


Tam Lin (Glasgow Reel)


And now played by an Irish cellist:






Here are 2 jigs, both Irish. Notice how the basic rhythm is the same even though the tunes are very different:



Slip jigs

Slip jigs are jigs that sound a bit unstable or drunk because the tunes don’t start on the main beat.



Liverpool hornpipe



Folk tunes are often played in sets of tunes in the same keys to give variation and last whole dances. Here’s an example of 2 Shetland tunes, The Full Rigged Ship (jig) and The New Rigged Ship (reel).


Another side to these jolly dance tunes are beautiful, slow, airs. Airs are more listening tunes than ones to dance to. Here’s Ilse de Ziah again with Aisling an Oighir


Now we can’t talk about folk without discussing the growing trend of folk pop and folk rock. Think Mumford & Sons and The Wishing Well. This kind of folk music tells a story, from legends to current day events. These combine traditional folk elements with more modern techniques and sounds to fuse together into a new style. Here are a three examples to finish off our look at folk:




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