There are two major traditions of folk music in Finland, namely, music of the Kalevala form, and Nordic folk music or pelimanni music (North Germanic spelman, "player of music"). The former is considered the older one. Its most important form is called runonlaulanta ("poem singing", or chanting) which is traditionally performed in a trochaic tetrametre using only the first five notes on a scale. Making use of alliteration, this type of singing was used to tell stories about heroes like Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen, and Kullervo. The songs were memorised, not written down, and performed by a soloist, or by a soloist and a chorus in antiphony (see: Kalevala). The Vantaa Chamber Choir is an example of a choir that sings such poems in modern arrangements.
Suomen laulu sung by a choir in 1929.
Pelimanni music is the Finnish version of the Nordic folk dance music, and it is tonal. It came to Finland from Central Europe via Scandinavia, starting in the 17th century, and in the 19th century, it replaced the Kalevalaic tradition. Pelimanni music was generally played on the fiddle and clarinet. Later, the harmonium and various types of accordions were also used. Common dances in the pelimanni traditions include: polka, mazurka, schottische, quadrille, waltz, and minuet.
A form of rhyming sleighride singing called rekilaulu also became popular in the 17th century. Despite opposition from most of the churches in Finland, rekilaulu remained popular and is today a common element in pop songs. Since the 1920s, several popular Finnish performers have used rekilaulu as an integral part of their repertoire. Early pioneers in this field of pop rekilaulu included Arthur Kylander, while Erkki Rankaviita, Kuunkuiskaajat, and Pinnin Pojat have kept the tradition alive.
Early in the 20th century, the region of Kaustinen became a center of innovation for pelimanni music. Friiti Ojala and Antti Järvelä were fiddlers of the period. Konsta Jylhä and the other members of Purpuripelimannit (formed in 1946) became perhaps the most influential group of this classical period. Well-known Finnish folk music groups of today in the Kaustinen tradition include JPP, Frigg (although part Norwegian), and Troka. A group more focused on the earlier Kalevala singing traditions and the kantele is Värttinä. Another important folk musician of today is the accordionist Maria Kalaniemi.
Sikerma Laulaunaytelmasta performed in 1929.
Common instruments today also include trumpets, horns and whistle. Important musical virtuosos are Leena Joutsenlahti, Teppo Repo and Virpi Forsberg. More traditional Finnish instruments include the kantele, which is a chordophone, and was used in the Kalevala by the hero Väinämöinen. More primitive instruments like the jouhikko (a bowed lyre) and the säkkipilli (Finnish bagpipe) had fallen into disuse, but are now finding new popularity in a folk revival.
In the 20th century, influences from modern music and dances such as jazz and foxtrot led to distinctively Finnish forms of dance music, such as humppa and jenkka.
The Sami of northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway are known for highly spiritual songs called joik, reminiscent of a few types of Native American singing. The same word sometimes refers to lavlu or vuelie songs, though this is technically incorrect. The hip hop artist Amoc is noted for rapping in Inari Sami, a Sami language from the area of Inari.