Violin Basics

13 Beloved Folk Songs for Violin From Around the World

Before we get into a few beloved folk songs for the violin, let’s talk about the differences between the violin and the fiddle. In short, there aren’t any! They're the same instrument — the only difference is what style of music you play. 

Typically, musicians use the term “fiddle” in bluegrass and folk music and “violin” in classical music. But there’s no real difference between them.

We’ll use the terms interchangeably in this post as we explore some examples of iconic folk violin music. The violin is a top choice for playing folk tunes, as it helps preserve the music’s cultural heritage and allows for effective musical expression, which are crucial aspects of folk music. 

1. "El Condor Pasa"

In 1913, Daniel Alomia Robles wrote "El Condor Pasa" — a popular Peruvian folk song based on Andean music. 

Robles originally wrote it as part of a zarzuela (a play that incorporates both sung and spoken parts), but it has since been reproduced into thousands of versions. The most popular version is Simon & Garfunkel's adaptation, featured in the tune "If I Could," which popularized the tune in the English-speaking world. 

Since then, the piece has become one of Peru's most popular folk songs and is considered the unofficial second national anthem. In fact, the country declared the fiddle tune a key part of its cultural heritage in 2004. 

It's a great tune to learn, as it represents the Andean and broader Peruvian culture, and its iconic pan flute melody can be beautifully rendered on the violin. 

Get free "El Condor Pasa" sheet music from Trala. 

2. "Come Back to Sorrento"

"Torna a Surriento," translated to English as "Come Back to Sorrento," is a Neapolitan song composed in 1894 by Ernesto De Curtis, a popular Italian musician. 

De Curtis created the tune based on his brother Giambattista De Curtis's words, which he wrote for the then-prime minister, Giuseppe Zanardelli. The song was meant as a plea to the prime minister to help the city of Sorrento and, as such, highlighted its immense beauty and the love of its people. 

Only the violin can showcase this piece’s melodic richness, making it one of the best tunes to practice and perform. 

Get free “Come Back to Sorrento” sheet music from Trala. 

3. "Alouette"

"Alouette" is a children's French-Canadian folk song that grew popular during World War I. The piece explores the different parts of a lark, hinting that the singer will pluck each part — this plucking is also referred to as pizzicato. 

Many soldiers learned the tune when serving in France and brought it back home to teach their children, who passed it on to their grandchildren and so on. Its playful nature makes it easy to pick up, which is why, despite the language barrier, it has become part of Canadian culture. 

Today, the song plays a key role in teaching English and French-speaking children the names of body parts in each other's languages. Typically, singers point to or touch the body part being referred to in the tune. 

Get free "Alouette's" sheet music from Trala. 

4. "Aura Lea"

"Aura Lea" is a beautiful Civil War-era song written by W. W. Fosdick and George R. Poulton about a maiden with golden hair. The U.S. Military Academy adapted the tune as a graduation tune, and Elvis Presley used it in his hit song "Love Me Tender," propelling it to one of America's most popular folk tunes. 

When playing it on the violin, you can capture its gentle and nostalgic melodies by incorporating expressive dynamics and adding vibrato to bring warmth and emotion to the piece. 

Get free “Aura Lea” sheet music from Trala. 

5. "Buffalo Gals"

The famous American classic "Buffalo Gals" traces its roots back to John Hodges, a minstrel character known as "Cool White." It began as "Lubly Fan," a song that called on Lovely Fanny (Lubly Fan) to come out to dance, but it later became "Buffalo Gals," "New York Gals," "Boston Gals," and more to suit local audiences. 

To properly execute this folk classic, practice the rhythmic aspects central to its style, like syncopation and 2/4 time signature.

Get free “Buffalo Gals” sheet music from Trala. 

6. "All Through the Night"

"All Through the Night" is a lullaby by Harold Boulton. The piece has its origins in the popular Welsh melody "Ar Hyd Y Nos" by John Ceiriog Hughes. As a lullaby, the tune has a gentle flow that can put anyone to sleep. To capture its lyrical flow, practice smooth bowing techniques like legato, utilizing the whole bow. 

Get free “All Through the Night” sheet music from Trala.

7. "Big Rock Candy Mountain"

"Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a country folk song first recorded in 1928 by Harry McClintock. The tune portrays a hobo's utopia with playful lines like "The cops have wooden legs" and "There's a lake of stew and whiskey too." 

Get free “Big Rock Candy Mountain” sheet music from Trala. 

8. "Aunt Rhody"

"Aunt Rhody" is a famous American folk song from the 18th century that focuses on the loss of an "old gray goose." This piece of traditional music has a simple melody and repetitive structure, making it ideal for beginners who are just starting out with fiddle lessons

Get free “Aunt Rhody” sheet music from Trala. 

9. "Animal Fair"

"Animal Fair" is exactly what it sounds like. It's a long-established American folk tune that details what one would typically see at an animal fair, making it an excellent addition to children's music. Its quirky nature makes it fun to sing and play, while its lines teach kids about different animals. 

Get free “Animal Fair” sheet music from Trala. 

10. "House of the Rising Sun"

"House of the Rising Sun" is a song with ambiguous origins. Some musicologists argue it's based on the "The Unfortunate Rake" ballad, and others say its origins lie in the "Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave" folk tune. 

Either way, this Appalachian folk tune tells the story of a life gone wrong in New Orleans and urges listeners not to go down the same road as the person in the story. 

While there are many versions, the most popular one was recorded by the British pop-rock band The Animals in 1964. Currently, there are two violin versions available on Trala — compare them to see how each arrangement affects the mood and narrative of the song. 

Get free “House of the Rising Sun 1” and “House of the Rising Sun 2” sheet music from Trala.

11. "Auld Lang Syne"

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish folk tune based on a poem by Robert Burns. However, its popularity has expanded beyond Scotland and into the broader English-speaking world.

The song symbolizes endings and new beginnings. So you'll hear it on New Year's Eve as people say goodbye to the previous year, at graduations as they welcome a new phase of life, and even during funerals as they say goodbye to loved ones. 

To execute the piece appropriately, focus on emotional expression, particularly during its climax. If you're a beginner, consider taking lessons to learn how to play the fiddle in a way that allows you to capture the tune’s emotional depth.

Get free “Auld Lang Syne” sheet music from Trala. 

12. "Skye Boat Song"

"Skye Boat Song" is a beloved folk song with Scottish roots. It details Prince Charles Edward Stuart's flight from Benbecula to the Isle of Skye after his defeat in 1746, hinting that the prince disguised himself as a serving maid and escaped Benbecula in a small boat. 

Its lilting rhythm highlights this idea, mimicking the movement of a boat, so you’ll need to develop a smooth, flowing bowing technique to capture this tune’s essence.

Get free "Skye Boat Song" sheet music from Trala. 

13. "The Blackbird"

If you're a Beatles fan, you're likely already familiar with this tune. Written by Paul McCartney, "The Blackbird" is a sort of political allegory on Black Americans' civil rights struggle, making it a vital part of American history. 

The piece has a rewarding but intricate melody that requires players to use ornamentation to enrich its performance. You can use trills to add flourish to the piece, slides for an expressive quality, and grace notes to add a touch of elegance. 

Get free “The Blackbird” sheet music from Trala.

Become a better folk musician with Trala's resources

Want to explore American, Celtic, Irish, or Scottish heritage? Explore the fiddle music highlighted in this post. These tunes will not only help you understand different cultures but also improve your violin playing, setting you up to become a better musician. 

With Trala, you get all the resources and guidance you need to explore new genres of music and enhance your skills. Trala connects you with qualified violin instructors who can help with everything from reading sheet music to learning advanced bowing techniques. 

Start with Trala today to get access to a vast library of folk music and expert instruction from professional folk musicians!

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