Capital District Folk Music
What is folk music?

Different people have different views on what exactly folk music is. Sometimes people feel quite strongly as to whether something should or shouldn't be labeled as folk music. To me, part of the essence of folk music is that it belongs to the people, so I think it's not anyone's business to tell someone else that they can't call something folk music.

On this page, I provide some definitions of folk music for those who don't know much about it and want to know what it's all about. Once you get more into it, you may well develop your own definitions, different from mine.

In my view, there are two different meanings for the term "folk music." The first meaning refers to traditional music. Folk music is the music that is sung by the people, not music recorded in a studio or performed on a stage. People learn these songs by singing them with others. The songs are passed down from generation to generation, and are often changed as they are passed down (such changing is known as the "folk process"). These days, people don't sing as much as they did in the past, but we still sing sometimes. Examples of folk songs in the United States today include "Happy Birthday," camp songs, and children's songs.

The second meaning of "folk music" is a particular genre of music. The roots of this genre are in traditional music, but it is by no means all traditional. This genre is also referred to as "acoustic music" because usually acoustic instruments are used. To me, what defines this genre is not whether the music is traditional or whether it's played on acoustic instruments, but whether it's part of the folk community. This genre has a community of its own -- as you can see on this web site, we have venues, radio programs, organizations, and publications. If I hear music from any of these sources, then I consider that music to be part of the folk community, even if it doesn't meet any strict definition of folk music.

There are a number of different types of music which can be considered part of folk music, including traditional, acoustic, bluegrass, Celtic, roots, and old-timey.

Besides sharing an interest in the same type of music, many in the folk community have similar values. Folk music is music of the people. It's expected that anyone can play and sing it, not just professional musicians. For many in the folk community, an interest in folk music is just one part of an interest in promoting grassroots participation. Many people in the folk community prefer to frequent local, independently owned businesses rather than large corporations. You may find them buying their food at farmer's markets, directly from the people who grew the food, or growing as much of their own food as they can. Many in the folk community are politically liberal, advocating causes such as the environment, peace, labor unions, racial equality, and gay and lesbian rights, and you'll often hear these concerns expressed in folk music.

Here are some other definitions of folk music: