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What Are Folk Musicians?

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  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Folk musicians are musicians who play folk music. Similar to other kinds of wide-spanning music genres, folk music includes numerous other sub-genres such as folk rock, folk metal, and progressive folk. Due to these sub-genres, some folk musicians might differ from others in terms of the kinds of songs they sing and the types of instruments they play.

Although the English term “folk music” can be traced back to the 19th century, it’s probably safe to say the music and its musicians have been around for much longer. Too, given the age of the overall genre, folk music that came about during the middle of the 20th century typically is referred to as contemporary folk music or folk revival music. Folk songwriters write about a variety of themes, including love, friendship, family, religion, politics, and war. Generally, folk musicians sing and play songs about dealing with hardships but also making good lives for themselves or the subjects of the songs. Regardless of all other themes present, many folk songs also feature death as a major or at least minor theme.

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Many of the earliest folk musicians weren’t musicians in the way that we define musicians today. Since most early folk songs were sung without instrumental accompaniment, most folk musicians of the past were actually folk singers. These days, however, folk singers often sing along with instruments like acoustic guitars, banjos, and harmonicas. Sometimes, the instruments a folk musician plays depends on where he lives or from where the song originated. For example, folk artists in Scotland might use bagpipes whereas those in America’s Appalachian region might favor the dulcimer, fiddle, and upright bass.

The various sub-genres within the folk music genre help open up a wider market for folk musicians. In addition to the more common sub-genres of progressive folk and folk rock and metal, a folk musician might play electric folk, psychedelic folks, freak folk, or neofolk. Some of these sub-genres sound quite different from one another, making folk musicians as diverse as the songs they sing and play. Like other kinds of musicians, a musician who focuses on folk music might record and sell albums, perform concerts, and have their music featured on television or radio broadcasts. Also similar to other kinds of musicians, folk musicians might make careers of performing folk music, or they might sing and play as part-time jobs or even as hobbies.

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