What are the Main Instruments in Folk Music?

There are some traditional instruments used in the making of folk music. Whether you want to make some folk music on your own, or you are curious about the instruments used in folk music, this guide should help. We cover many of the instruments used in folk music from the traditional like the banjo and guitar to the non-traditional like the jug or spoons.

Fiddle or Violin

fiddle

When the violin is being played for folk music, it’s called a fiddle. In both cases, it’s a 4- or 5-string instrument that is played in a certain way. While violinists are playing classical music in a style that demands perfection and accuracy for every note, fiddlers are able to give their own interpretation of music in a way that moves them. A fiddle and violin is actually the same instrument played in varying styles.

Banjo

alison brown banjo player

The banjo is one instrument that people think of when they are wondering how to make folk music. They come in different styles from the 5- or 6-string variety. They’re played in styles like the clawhammer or Scruggs They’re a distinctive twang sound that most people associate with folk music.

Read our article talking about the different types of banjos

Dobro

dobro

This instrument is a type of guitar with a resonator attached to the front. It’s an inverted surface that produces a unique sound for the Dobro. While the name and the type of guitar with resonator was developed by the Dopyera brothers, it’s now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation. They make all the current Dobros and have a trademark on the process and name. This guitar produces a unique sound that is well-known for folk music lovers. It’s a common instrument in bluegrass, too.

Accordion

Busking_Accordionist

While mostly associated with polka music, it’s part of Cajun and folk music. The instrument is versatile, and it can be used in all kinds of music with folk topping the list. There are piano keys on one side buttons on the other. In the middle is the bellows, which is opened and closed to produce the sounds.

Harmonica

harmonica

The “mouth harp” is a portable instrument that is used in many folk music songs. It’s made of wood or plastic and metal. The reeds inside the instrument vibrate when the musician blows into it or sucks air out of it. Both produce sounds that differ depending on the holes used. There are 10 numbered holes on the side of the harmonica.

Non-Traditional Instruments

There are a few non-traditional instruments that can be used for folk music like the musical jug.

Tennessee+Mafia+Jug+Band+2016

The jug is made of stoneware, glass, or ceramic, and the musician blows into the top of it to produce a mournful sound that functions as the bass in most songs.

The spoons are another non-traditional instrument used in traditional folk music. Wooden or metal spoons are placed back to back and slapped between the musician’s hands or against their leg. There are musical spoons available or regular spoons can be used.

Acoustic Guitar

acoustic guitar

The biggest instrument in folk music is the acoustic guitar. It’s the most traditional and prevalent instrument in the genre. Many of the greatest folk musicians worked exclusively with an acoustic guitar to create their iconic music. Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch are some of the popular models used by famous folk musicians.

Mandolin

mandolin

The mandolin looks like a tiny guitar. It has a distinct sound that lends itself to bluegrass and folk music quite beautifully. It’s considered a part of the lute family, which shouldn’t be a surprise since it looks like a guitar. It normally has 8 strings that are tuned at the same time. It became popular in the south in the 40s along with the banjo and guitar.

Ukulele

ukelele

This is another instrument in the lute family. The banjo, guitar, ukulele, and mandolin all lend themselves to the genre of folk music. The preferred wood for the ukulele is the acacia koa, which makes sense since the instrument originated in Hawaii. It looks like a miniature acoustic guitar with four courses of strings for 8 total. The size of the ukulele dictates the type of sound it produces. There are 4 sizes, which are the baritone, tenor, concert, and soprano.

This could be a curiosity in your life, or you might be thinking of making folk music solo or in a band. Whatever your reasons for checking out folk instruments, these are some of the most popular in this form of music. At the same time, the intent behind the instrument can be more powerful than the instrument itself for making the kind of music that you want. If you want to make folk music on an instrument not listed here, you should go for it. You are only limited by your ability and imagination when it comes to instruments in folk music.

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