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a type of music popular in the 1950s, often played with unusual instruments

Origin and usage

The word skiffle is of unknown origin. It is likely derived from an American slang word from the 1920s meaning ‘jazz music played with improvised instruments’. The word skiffle became popular in UK English around 1957.


Skiffle refers to a kind of British pop music that was heavily influenced by American folk, country, jazz and blues. Its popularity in the UK during the late 1950s was short-lived but very intense and paved the way for successful British pop and rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.

Skiffle bands were immensely popular throughout the UK. The music was easy to learn and the unusual instruments used to play it were simple and inexpensive – washboard, jug, kazoo, tea-chest bass, acoustic guitar. Groups typically performed in small theatres and concert halls, or in the trendy coffee shops that were fashionable with British youngsters at the time.

Some of the most well-known skiffle groups included Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, The Vipers, the City Ramblers and The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group. Famous British rock musicians who got their start in skiffle bands include John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey.


“Even today, skiffle is a defining part of my music. If I get the opportunity to just have a jam, skiffle is what I love to play.”
(Van Morrison)

“My parents liked to go dancing, and they encouraged all of us to bring our friends home. My brother had a skiffle group, and there would often be dancing in the house. And my parents would come and dance with us.”
(Diana Quick)

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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