What is the Difference Between Folk and Country Music?

We bet you have a taste for all sorts of tunes, just like us. From rock to soothing instrumentals, we can’t get enough of the good stuff. But, we gotta admit, our ultimate fave is country music. Why, you ask? Well, it’s got everything we need – captivating stories, upbeat rhythms, and all-around fun dancing!

Speaking of genres, have you ever noticed how similar they can be? As time passes, music styles change and evolve. That’s probably why there’s a striking resemblance between the lyrical folk songs of the past and present-day country music. Did you know that folk music used to be considered a type of country music? So, is it still the case? We thought it’d be fun to find out!

Let’s dive into the topic, shall we? In this article, we’ll be discussing the difference between folk and country music.

Get to Know the Roots of Country Music

Did you know that country music got its start in the southeastern and western parts of the good ol’ US of A? Yep, that’s right! The stories told in country music are all about the rough and tumble life of cowboys, missing cattle, love troubles, and plenty of hard liquor at the local watering hole.

When country music first got going, it was mostly accompanied by stringed instruments like the acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, and mandolin. The vocals in country music are usually simple ballads, foot-stomping tunes, or heart-wrenching love songs. If there’s harmony, it’s usually just a couple of voices singing together.

What is Folk Music?

While country music is rooted in folk music, there are some key differences in their origins, sound, and themes.

Folk music has been around since the 1800s, with American folk songs tracing their roots back to the Revolutionary and Colonization period. These songs, like “Barbara Allen,” were passed down from generation to generation by immigrants from the British Isles who settled in America. Over time, these traditional ballads became a part of American culture.

What’s unique about folk music is that it’s specific to a particular area but also universal within that community. Folk singers didn’t always have formal training and often played whatever instruments they had on hand. In the twentieth century, a new type of folk music emerged – the second wave of folk music or the folk revival – which reached its peak in the 1960s.

You may also learn different types of folk music here.

Exploring the Similarities between Folk and Country Music


Folk and county music have their roots in the stories of the working class. They’re the music of blue-collar Americans. Both genres blend styles from Irish Celtic melodies and English tunes.


Folk music and traditional country music sound quite similar. They both repeat simple melodies and have lyrics that tell stories. They use repetition of a catchy chorus or memorable phrase to engage their audiences and tempt them to sing along.


The chords, melodies, and rhythms for both folk and country music are easy to tap, clap, and play spoons to. Simple and regular rhythms encourage listeners to participate.


Both folk and country music often include stringed instruments like guitar, fiddle, upright bass, and mandolin. Folk groups might also use whatever they can find, like spoons or a washboard. Country music adds steel and electric guitars, dobros, and percussion instruments.


Many musicians have dabbled in both folk and country music. For example, the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers, Roger Miller, and Woody Guthrie. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash have also recorded both folk and country. Jewel started in country but also sings folk and pop. BJ Thomas, Brandi Carlyle, and Lucinda Williams are pop singers who have also sung country.

Exploring the Differences Between Folk and Country Music

Folk Music: More Than Just Country

Folk music is a genre that goes far beyond just country music. While country is a unique style of folk music, it is just one part of the wider breadth of folk music. Even during its second wave, folk music stayed true to its pure form, whereas country has blended with pop and even ventured into rock.

Famous Folk and Country Artists

While there were some crossover artists, most famous folk singers stayed true to their genre. Some big names in the folk genre include Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt, Mama Cass Eliot, Joanna Newson, and groups like The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Limelighters, the Weavers, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and The Mamas and the Papas.

On the other hand, big names in country music include Hank Williams, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Gene Autry, Barbara Mandrel, Eddie Arnold, Reba McIntire, BJ Thomas, George Strait, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn.

Themes in Folk and Country Music

Country music often tells stories about mama, trains, trucks, prison, getting drunk, religion, patriotism, the south, loving and losing, sexy women, feeling lonesome, red-neck life, and yearning for the past. In contrast, folk music themes include protest songs, historical events, war songs, nostalgia for places or ways of life lost, and work songs such as sea chanties, railroad songs, and cowboy songs. Folk songs also address current issues like slavery, war, backbreaking jobs, social unrest, and political issues.

Folk songs often take on a regional flavor, such as Cajun music, songs of the South, Texas-southwest songs, Appalachian and Midwest folk songs.

Sounds and Rhythm in Folk and Country Music

Folk songs use acoustic instruments and often rely on found objects to establish a beat, such as sticks, spoons, washboards, food stamps, handclaps, and finger snaps. Folk songs change from generation to generation largely because they were passed on orally. The songs have several verses with an easy-to-remember chorus sung between each. Aptly, folk songs were written for the common folk.

Country music often consists of ballads and Texas two-step and line-dance tunes. The harmony is simple, and the sounds often include banjos, electric guitars, steel guitars, acoustic guitars, fiddles, dobros, harmonicas, and Irish whistles. Tunes can range from haunting to sprightly. While folk was light rhythm instrumentation, country can often involve a powerful drum part.

Final Thoughts

Both folk and country music can trace their origins back to the early days of Appalachian music. But as time has gone on, the lines between the two genres have become a bit blurred. There are now plenty of artists who have crossed over from one genre to the other, and changes in instrumentation have further muddied the waters.

On top of that, country music has started to shift more toward pop in recent years, which has only added to the confusion. It can be tough to tell what’s “real” country anymore with all the complicated melodies and big sounds coming from artists like Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Shania Twain. Even longtime country stars like Reba McIntire and Kenny Rogers are using full orchestras in their music.

So, in short, the difference between folk and country music isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy both genres for what they are. After all, great music is great music, no matter what label you put on it.

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