Favorite Folk Tunes

Are there certain American Folk songs kids should know? What are they? MENC members responded at length. Listed below are categories of folk songs that members thought it important for kids to know. Member comments follow, along with some resources.

Categories Important to Learn

  • Sea chanty songs, songs of the sea
  • Railroad songs
  • Spirituals/ African American song
  • Civil War songs
  • Nonsense Songs
  • Party songs
  • Play songs
  • Game songs
  • Patriotic songs
  • Songs about the states
  • Work songs
  • Cowboy songs, Old West songs
  • Appalachian folk songs
  • Dance tunes
  • Shaker tunes
  • Songs from the 1950s – 1990s and contemporary popular music
  • Bluegrass
  • Tall tales


Member Comments

“Aaron Copland songs are wonderful. My middle and high school students love folk songs, especially those that are upbeat and have “cute” and/or catchy titles.”

“Yes, kids should know American folk songs in order to keep the songs alive.”

“Yes, kids should know the songs that represent major events or eras, historical songs (those tied to historical events or places).”

“Nursery rhymes help greatly with learning the syntax and rhythmic nature of reading skills.”

“Songs about the expansion of our country in the early years. Songs relating to our forefathers, and music passed down from one generation to the next; songs about the Revolution, the Civil War, settling the West; Native American songs, and the songs of different immigrant groups that helped to settle this country (Scotts/Irish/British, Italian, French, Scandinavian, German, etc.)”

“Anything by Woody Guthrie and Stephen Foster.”

“The folk music curriculum should concentrate on regional music, but not be limited exclusively to only one region. It’s also good to teach regional variations of particular songs.”

“Kids should learn true American folk music, the diatonic songs not ordinarily used in the limited Kodály sequence of pitch presentation.”

“Pieces that give slices or snapshots of where we have been as a nation.”

“The compositions of every country, if original, are based on the songs of its own people. That is why their folk songs must be constantly sung, observed, and studied.”  — Kodály 

–Sue Rarus, May 11, 2011 © National Association for Music Education