English folk music is often strophic in structure and makes use of modes and heterophonic textures.
Scarborough Fair is an example of an English folk song, written in the Dorian mode, here performed by Martin Carthy.
Scarborough Fair by Martin Carthy
Traditional instruments used in traditional folk music include the fiddle, melodeon, accordion and squeezebox. The pipe and tabor is also a part of the English folk tradition, as are regional instruments such as the Northumbrian Pipes.
Eliza Carthy performing on stage with an accordion
The Northumbrian pipes
Preserving the English folk tradition has long been considered important, and in the early 20th century Cecil Sharp was well known for seeking out a huge number of folk melodies and notating them so that they would not be lost.
Later the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was also inspired by folk songs, as can be heard in music such as his Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905 and 1906) and English Folk Song Suite (1923).
Eliza Carthy talks about composing in the folk tradition
Folk melodies also feature in the Church of England’s English Hymnal, of which Vaughan Williams was editor. In the early 1950s, projects on English folk music included the Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme, which resulted in the preservation of much traditional English music.
In England, folk music can be heard as part of Morris dancing, with its traditional white costumes, bells, sticks, handkerchiefs and colourful ribbons.