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For questions about folk music, both traditional as well as contemporary.

Folk music could mean either traditional folk music, or it could mean any of the genres of contemporary folk music that evolved in the mid-20th century during the period of folk revival.

Traditional folk music literally refers to the music that is created by the people (of a community, nation, etc.). It is not easy to define, nor is there a clear consensus on its definition. However, there are some characteristics of traditional folk music that are shared by many forms of traditional folk music, such as:

  • It is often transmitted through an oral tradition, rather than a written tradition. There are exceptions to this: distinctions are made between Indian folk music and Indian classical music even though both have had oral traditions for a large part of their history.

  • It often arose from the desire to alleviate the boredom of repetitive activity in manual labour; for instance, there are songs sung in farming communities dedicated to sowing, cropping, etc. that fall under traditional folk music. Similarly, there are songs pertaining to the onset and departure of the seasons of the year.

  • It is often related to national and cultural identity: songs on important historical characters and events pertaining to the community, and a lot of hymns and other forms of religious music fall under traditional folk music.

  • The tunes are often quite simple so as to allow every listener to participate in the chorus. The simplicity also allows ample scope for improvisation. So, it is common for many versions of the same song to be sung in different places, and it is usually impossible to identify any one to be the authentic or original version.

Contemporary folk music is a broad term for the music that arose starting from the mid-20th century from the combination of traditional folk music with popular music. Since the emergence of this music was somewhat centred in the United States of America, it is also called the Americal folk music revival. Fusion genres such as folk rock, folktronica, and others also evolved within this phenomenon.

Major performers who emerged from the 1940s to the early 1960s included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. Starting in the 1970s folk music was fuelled by new singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, John Denver, and Harry Chapin.