What Is a Folk Sing?

What this guide covers

There are lots of styles of folk singing communities and events and lots of names for them. Terms like Folk Sing, Pub Sing, Song Swap, Round Robin, Sing Along, and Hootenany — these may all mean the same thing to you, or they may connote different atmospheres. This guide discusses some potential common elements of these events; it reflects our own interests but hey, all of this is flexible. See How Will Your Sing Work? for a starter list of possibilities.

Characteristics of folk sings:

  • They are participatory, not performance oriented, so everyone gets a turn.
  • There’s usually a leader for each song.
  • Usually participants can sing along on the chorus (of songs that have one) and only need to know all the words to songs they want to lead.
  • They focus on vocal participation first. Instruments, if present, are used for back-up.

These events might include sea music and sea shanties, gospel, work songs, drinking songs, ballads, and much more. (This guide does not delve into the singing of Shape Note music or rounds.)

The best way to ensure a good time for all is to clearly envision and proactively communicate the kind of singing experience you want to create with participants. To this end, we’ve distilled the building blocks of these events. You can use them to help you clarify the aspects of your singing event that are unique.

What makes group singing fun?

The aim of a good singing session is to make every attendee feel like a participant, not just a passive listener. Some hallmarks of a good session are:

  1. Inclusion: Everyone should feel they are part of the session.
  2. Acceptance: Even if the singer or the song is not top quality, or is not to an individual’s taste, each singer and each song is accepted by the group and given an attentive hearing.
  3. Encouragement: Applause, a word of approval, a thumbs-up, or a smile makes a singer very happy. This is a great way to make sure new singers feel welcomed and valued in the group.
  4. Surprise: Learning a new song, remembering an old song you’ve forgotten, hearing a new person sing, all offer variety and new experiences that add to the success of the session.