Folk music, dance and drama are often described as an ‘oral’ tradition. In fact, the oral (or aural) transmission of songs, tunes, dances, stories, and plays has often been presented as a defining feature of the folk arts, and something that distinguishes it from other types of creative activity. The vernacular origins of the folk arts, and the subsequent emphasis by scholars and practitioners on the idea of an oral tradition, would seem to necessitate a relative lack of formalised learning environments or materials (at least compared with those of other forms of creative art). And yet the learning of an instrument, song or dance ‘the traditional way’ (i.e. from an older relative at the hearth, or from the village ‘tradition bearer’), is increasingly unlikely in the modern world. Most folk artists rely on mediated sources for learning their craft, and these increasingly involve digital interventions.
This could include: the use of Skype for regular lessons from a specialist who lives elsewhere; watching YouTube videos of idols and heroes to perfect techniques; using online collections, recordings or YouTube to learn additional repertoire; or recording performers in ad hoc contexts on personal devices such as phones, camcorders and landline answerphones to capture something for later learning.