Songwriting Advice

How To Write A Folk Song

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Do you find yourself drawn to the enchanting and timeless sound of folk music? Are you dreaming of penning the perfect folk song – one which tugs at the heartstrings and evokes a sense of nostalgia? You're in the right place! Writing a folk song doesn't have to be an overwhelming task. With the help of our tips and tricks below, you'll be well on your way to crafting a masterpiece that resonates deeply with your listeners. And to help you achieve this even faster, Lyric Assistant is the perfect tool to elevate your songwriting journey.

1. Immerse yourself in the world of folk music

The best way to understand what makes a great folk song is to listen to the greats. Begin by exploring the music of legends such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Woody Guthrie, and pay attention to the themes, structures and instrumentation in their songs.

2. Identify your song's theme and narrative

Folk music is known for its storytelling aspect, which often delves into the lives of ordinary people, their struggles, and their joys. Choose a theme or a story that is relatable and rooted in emotions. This could be anything from the sweetness of first love to tales of social and political issues.

3. Pick a song structure

Many folk songs follow a verse-chorus-verse structure, which makes it easy for the listener to follow the narrative. However, feel free to experiment with other formats, such as a ballad structure (A-A-B-A), where each verse has the same melody, and the B section serves as a bridge.

4. Create a simple and memorable melody

Remember that folk music is often passed down through generations, so keep your melody uncomplicated and easy to remember. Incorporating a catchy hook or a timeless refrain can make your song even more memorable and sing-along-friendly.

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5. Write evocative lyrics

Use vivid imagery and strong emotions to make your lyrics compelling, while maintaining a conversational tone. Avoid cliches and focus on painting a vivid picture of the characters, places, and emotions in your song.

6. Instrumentation

Acoustic instruments such as guitars, banjos, fiddles, and harmonicas are staples in the folk genre. Keep your instrumentation simple, organic and authentic to the folk sound.

How To Write A Folk Song Example

Suppose you've decided to write a folk song about a small-town love story. Start by immersing yourself in songs with similar themes – for example, Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" or Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".

Next, outline your narrative, focusing on relatable emotions and situations. Settle on a song structure and begin creating a simple melody that complements your story. Once you have a strong foundation in place, work on writing evocative lyrics that paint a vivid picture of your characters and their experiences.

For instrumentation, consider using an acoustic guitar to lay down the backbone of your song, and add other traditional folk instruments to create texture and depth. Keep the arrangement simple and natural, staying true to your chosen theme.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a folk song?

A folk song is a traditional or composed song typically associated with the common people of a region and forms part of their culture. It's often passed down orally through generations and is characterized by simple melodies that are easy to sing and remember.

What are the main characteristics of folk music?

Folk music is usually marked by its poignant lyrics that tell a story or express the emotions, experiences, and values of a culture. This genre of music often includes the use of acoustic instruments such as the guitar, banjo, and violin. Strophic song structure, repetitive refrains, and regional dialects are also characteristic features of folk music.

Do I need to play an instrument to write a folk song?

While playing an instrument can help in composing the melody and accompaniment, it isn't absolutely necessary. You can write the lyrics and create the melody using your voice, and collaborate with musicians later for the instrumentation.

Where can I find inspiration for writing a folk song?

Inspiration for a folk song can come from a variety of sources such as personal experiences, historical events, folklore, societal issues, nature, or local culture. Look to your community, heritage, and the stories that resonate with you for ideas.

How do I start writing a folk song?

Begin by choosing a subject or tale that speaks to you. Then consider the message or emotion you want to convey. Next, draft your lyrics - starting with a key line or a chorus can often be a helpful way in. Finally, craft your melody, keeping in mind that simplicity is key to a folk tune.

Can anyone write a folk song?

Yes, absolutely. Writing a folk song doesn't require formal musical education. With passion, a basic understanding of song structure, and a story to tell, anyone can compose a folk song.

What should I write about in a folk song?

Common themes in folk music include love, hardship, struggle, politics, or tales of common folk. Think about what you want to express or share, whether it's a personal anecdote or a more universal story.

Should my folk song rhyme?

While many folk songs do rhyme, it is not a strict requirement. Focus on telling your story in a way that feels authentic. If rhyming contributes to the flow and feel of the song, use it; otherwise, don't feel constrained by it.

How complex should the melody be?

Folk music melodies tend to be straightforward and memorable. Complexity is not typically a hallmark of folk tunes, so aim for a melody that is singable and easy to remember.

How do I create a melody for my folk song?

You can create a melody by humming or singing different notes until you find a tune that feels fitting for your lyrics. If you play an instrument, you can also experiment with chords and notes that complement your song's message and emotion.

Can a folk song have a political message?

Folk music has a rich history of conveying political messages and has often been used as a form of protest or social commentary. If there's a political message you wish to express through your song, folk music can be an appropriate and powerful medium.

What instruments are commonly used in folk music?

Typical instruments include the acoustic guitar, banjo, violin (fiddle), mandolin, harmonica, accordion, and sometimes percussion instruments like the bodhrán or tambourine. However, the use of instruments can vary widely depending on the regional style of the folk music.

Is it important to know music theory to write a folk song?

While knowledge of music theory can be helpful, it is not essential for writing a folk song. Much of folk music is created by ear, with a focus on storytelling and emotion rather than technical composition.

How long should a folk song be?

The length of a folk song can vary, but most are succinct, often comprising three to five verses and a repeating chorus. It should be long enough to tell the story or express the intended feeling, but simple enough to be easily learned and remembered.

What is a strophic form in folk music?

A strophic form is a song structure where all verses or stanzas of the text are sung to the same repeated melody. This is a common format in folk music because it allows for easy storytelling and memorization.

Can I incorporate personal experiences into a folk song?

Definitely. Many of the most compelling folk songs are grounded in personal experience. Sharing your own stories can bring authenticity and emotional depth to your music.

Should I use a specific dialect or language style?

Using regional dialects or language styles can add character and authenticity to your folk song, making it more relatable and immersive for listeners familiar with that culture. However, it's not a necessity, and clarity of your message is also important.

How important is the rhythm in a folk song?

Rhythm is essential as it carries the song and supports the story or message. The rhythm should be steady and consistent, aiding the overall smoothness and memorability of the song.

Can I update a traditional folk song to make it my own?

Many folk musicians adapt traditional songs, adding their own verses, altering melodies, or updating the language. This is very much in the spirit of folk music, which evolves as it is passed down through generations.

How should I end my folk song?

The ending of your folk song should provide resolution to the story or bring the message home. Consider repeating the chorus, summarizing the moral of the story, or ending with a poignant final verse that leaves an impact.

Is there a community or audience for new folk music?

Yes, there is a vibrant and active community of folk music enthusiasts who appreciate both traditional and contemporary folk songs. Online platforms, local music scenes, and folk festivals are great places to share your music and connect with like-minded listeners.

How can I share my folk song with others?

You can share your folk song through live performances, online streaming platforms, social media, and by recording and distributing it through various music services. Networking with other folk musicians and participating in folk music communities can also help you reach a wider audience.

Write Hit Songs Like a Professional Songwriter

The ultimate songwriting tool that takes your creative vision to the next level! With just a few clicks, you can unleash your inner songwriter and craft a hit that's uniquely yours. You own it.

Example: Pop, Rock, Rap, Electronic, R&B, K-Pop, Drill...
Example: Happy, sad, inspirational, romantic, gritty...
Example: Love, loss, overcoming adversity, party, faith, personal growth, reflection...
Example: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Grimes, Beyonce, Billie Eillish, Pink Floyd, BTS ...
A bridge is used to provide a new perspective or shift in your song's mood
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About Toni Mercia

Toni Mercia is a Grammy award-winning songwriter and the founder of Lyric Assistant. With over 15 years of experience in the music industry, Toni has written hit songs for some of the biggest names in music. She has a passion for helping aspiring songwriters unlock their creativity and take their craft to the next level. Through Lyric Assistant, Toni has created a tool that empowers songwriters to make great lyrics and turn their musical dreams into reality.

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