How To Write A Folk Song

Celtic Folk Song 2

Folk is a musical genre that blends elements of oral tradition with acoustic music. It is known as a piece of world music because its format spans the globe. Themes of folk music include repeated tunes accompanied by one or more acoustic instruments. A boom in popularity known as the folk revival came in the 20th century.

If this genre inspires you to write something new, we’ll teach you how to write a folk song.

What Is a Folk Song?

The world is full of folk songs. They may vary in style, but every folk song finds its roots in traditional popular culture. It’s easy to distinguish a folk song from other genres of music. This musical style focuses on telling a story that passes on through oral tradition.

A range of American folk styles includes Blues, Cajun, Country, and Bluegrass music. Famous American folk singers include Lead Belly and Woodie Guthrie. The folk revival of the 20th century also jumpstarted the careers of artists Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Celtic music became popular in Europe during the folk revival of the 20th century. Traditional Celtic music blends Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Brenton styles. Gaelic music incorporates bagpipes and is another popular style of European folk music. The Clancy Brothers popularized traditional Irish music in the 1960s.

Celtic Folk Song 2

Elements of Folk Music

Before writing a folk song, a composer must understand the elements that make up this style of music. Three elements of traditional folk music are a collected experience, singing style, and acoustic instruments.

A collected experience

Oral tradition is a component of folk music. The folk genre became well-known during the 19th century before sound recordings were available. Because of the inability to mass produce music, composers often told stories familiar to the popular culture of their region. That is why modern folk music continues to tell stories that focus on topical issues or moments. 

Singing style

The singing style of folk songs mirrors the language and cadence of the region. Musicians like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan used gruff and bitter voices to exemplify the difficulties faced in rural America in the early 20th century. Irish folk singers often drag out their vocals in a long accent known as the Sineadh Fada. This vocal style reflects the lilting brogue accent of the Gaelic region.

Folk Song Woodie Guthrie
Woodie Guthrie

Acoustic instruments

There are several acoustic instruments used to accompany traditional folk lyrics. A component of the folk music experience is regional traditions. Artists use regional musical instruments for their musical accompaniment because of this. Acoustic instruments used by traveling folk singers include the banjo, fiddle, accordion, harmonica, and guitar. But musicians are not afraid to pull out a washboard, empty jug, washtub, or a pair of spoons to spin a yarn. 

Different Types of Folk Music

After understanding the elements necessary to create a folk song, the composer needs to choose which form of folk music they are going to use. Every part of the world has its version of folk music. The style is popular in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia. However, there are a few types that are more popular than others. 

Traditional Folk Songs

Traditional folk music is the most standard style of the genre. These folk songs are more about the region of origin. These songs only require a shared experience and a sense of community. They are also passed down through the generations orally. Whether Balkan, Latin American, or Nordic is up to the composer.

Contemporary Folk Music

This contemporary version of the genre is a modern format. Contemporary folk music appeared after the second half of the 20th century. The traditional form is commonly written anonymously and passed down through the generations. This song format is written and recorded by particular artists for mass consumption. Artists like Arlo Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot, and the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary are contemporary folk musicians.

Folk Song

The fourth album by the Breton quartet Poppy Seeds, released in 2022. This is an album of contemporary Irish music, with certain bluegrass accents coming from the folk artist Arís.

American Folk Music

American Folk Song

The American Folk Revival rose to popularity in the 1960s. This style evolved from the songs of African American slaves in the deep south. American folk music centers around political turmoil. Protest songs against the United States government were among the most popular. Musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are often associated with American folk music.

Celtic Folk Music

This style of the genre is notable for the musical instruments associated with it. Celtic folk music utilizes fiddles, flutes, and bagpipes to accommodate its lyrics. Traditional Irish ditties that are centuries old are categorized versions of this genre. So are Scottish and Gaelic tunes.

Celtic Folk Song

Examples of Folk Songs

In this quest to learn how to write a folk song, we need to talk about some examples of folk songs. When writing a folk song, become familiar with different song styles. Among the most popular are those written and composed in America after the 20th century. American artists borrowed heavily from the traditional spirituals sung by African Americans in the 19th century. These spirituals paved the way for the creation of the American Blues.

Pioneers of blues music included Robert Johnson and Lead Belly. Robert Johnson is considered the King of the Blues. His songs “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail” continue to inspire generations of folk singers. Lead Belly recordings “Cotton Fields” and “Boll Weevil” are still well-known today. 

Another popular genre of the 20th century is the Dust Bowl-era style of folk music. This version focused on the struggles of migrant workers during the Great Depression. Woodie Guthrie is an example of folk song. He stood out as the mouthpiece for this style of folk music. His compositions “This Land is Your Land,” “Hobo’s Lullaby,” and “I Ain’t Got No Home” are famous Dust Bowl-era songs.

How To Start a Song 

Becoming familiar with the elements of folk music is the first step to writing a folk songs lyrics. Learning the different styles of the genre is the next stage. Knowing popular songs throughout the centuries improves the ability to create original compositions. Now, all that is left is the writing process. The common song formats are often 3 steps:

Selecting a Topic 

The first step in writing a folk song is selecting a topic. Common themes are politics, stories of legendary folk heroes, social issues, and historical events. Think of something happening in the present and look to memorialize that person or event. Other topics include the rural experience, human struggles, and the cultural experience of a particular part of the world.

Traditional Song Structure

Ensure the proper folk song structure is maintained. The standard format is the strophic form. This structure appears for centuries in the composition of traditional music. It is designed for the verses to repeat to the music. In the time before recording was possible, this repetition ensured that the music and the lyrics lasted throughout the years.


After the topic has been selected and the folk songs lyrics have been composed, there’s just one thing left in this guide on how to write a folk song. Selecting the appropriate companion musical instrument brings the song to life. For contemporary music, an acoustic guitar will do the trick. Flutes and bagpipes will be necessary for Irish and Celtic music.

Thinking beyond traditional folk music might require the incorporation of African drums or Aboriginal didgeridoos. The process will lead the way. Understand the message, and the rest will come naturally. After all, folk music has been around for centuries for a reason.



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