Hi everyone! Please sing along with the songs I post! Don’t let “but I can’t sing” stop you. Even if you are genuinely tone-deaf, try speaking the words in rhythm. I promise they will feel much more animated. Don’t worry about getting the melody exactly as I’ve set it, or the words in exactly the right rhythm — after all, I’ve taken some small liberties to make them scan better the way I sing them, and you should feel free to do the same.
Jeff Warner has what I think is the best and pithiest way of putting it:
The only thing you can do wrong with a folk song is not sing it.
Jean Ritchie expands on this idea in the introduction to her Swapping Song Book (emphasis in the original):
I wish that, when you sing these songs, you won’t feel bound to sing every note as you see it in the book. It is almost impossible to capture a folk tune on a piece of paper, with all the little variations that the individual singer puts into the tune each time he sings it. It is impossible, too, to put every word under the right note, or to write notes for every word. Whenever you find a line that has too many words in it for the given music, you just use your own feeling about it and fit them in as it seems best to you. You will find that all the extra words will fall very naturally into place, and you will be singing the song your way, which is what all true folk singers do.
Feel free with these songs, have fun with them. I don’t mean that you should consciously change the tune; rather that your voice should give it your own interpretation. However, don’t try to dramatize or “put over” these songs when you sing them. Folk songs are straightforward and simple and they have their greatest charm when they are sung just that way.
If you just haven’t had much practice singing, folk songs are one of the best ways to get started. Folk songs come from an oral tradition, so they’ve evolved to be easily sung by people with no technical training at all, just a reasonable amount of practice. Sing in the shower or the car if you’re afraid of someone hearing you.
If you can’t read music and I haven’t provided any audio for a particular song, just try searching Google or YouTube and you’ll probably find something. It’s often a lot easier to learn by ear than by sight.