The world of folk music is rich in history and creativity. These qualities are evident in the range of instruments that have been crafted through the centuries to create the unique sounds each tradition demands.
Folk and Traditional Instruments
As cultures passed their folk music down through the generations, they also handed on the instruments they crafted to play that music. Just as these traditions grew out of different cultures' drive to create and sustain the music of their community, they created the instruments they needed for their songs. Learning about folk instruments teaches us more about these traditions because each style was created to produce the sounds that fit their style of music.
Here are a few special folk instruments that we love.
This stringed instrument is an iconic part of folk music, including country and bluegrass. Banjos are available in four, five, or six-stringed styles, and each is popular in different musical traditions. Four-stringed banjos are often used in Dixieland jazz, while five-stringed banjos produce the more familiar sound often used in bluegrass. Six-stringed versions are rare but a great option for guitar players who want to incorporate the banjo's distinctive sound into their music.
The kind of wood from which a banjo is made also affects the instrument's tone. The most common wood is mahogany, but other woods are available. Wider nuts and long scale lengths provide the broad spacing and high tension that works best for hard fingerpicking.
High Spirit Flutes
The musical traditions of Indigenous communities include flutes such as those made by High Spirit Flutes. High spirit flutes are crafted out of a single piece of wood with a precise tolerance within a thousandth of an inch. These instruments have six holes and are tuned to the key of G minor. The resulting flute is both beautiful and has an unmatched sound quality.
They come with a leather thong, giving you the option of covering one of the holes for a minor pentatonic scale.
The mandolin is an instrument that has contributed to music from the era of Beethoven to informal Bluegrass performances today. Its eight metal strings are coupled into pairs and tuned to perfect fifths.
You can find mandolins in many shapes and sizes; the build, number of sound holes, and type of wood used all contribute to their tone. These different builds provide the classic sound for different styles of music. For example, a round-backed Neapolitan style is generally used in European classical music, while a carved top is more common in American folk and Bluegrass.
Mandolins range in size from piccolo to contrabass models, but the most common size is the soprano, which has a scale length (distance between the nut and the bridge) of roughly 14 inches.
Mariachi is a form of Mexican folk music that usually features violins, trumpets, one or more guitars, and often an accordion. All the members of Mariachi bands take turns singing, taking up either lead or background vocals.
The instruments used in a Mariachi ensemble are adapted to create the style's unique sound. For example, one of the guitars commonly used is the guitarrón, a deep-bodied six-string instrument. Despite its name, the guitarrón isn't derived from the guitar, but is a version of a 16th Century six-stringed Spanish instrument called Bajo de uña.
The rich history of folk music unfolds in the extraordinary instruments that musicians have crafted through the ages. Each tradition has unique instruments designed to create the perfect sound for that music.
For more information or to take a look at our collection of folk instruments, contact us today!