Indigenous Hungarian music is unique in all of Europe in its similarities to the musical forms of north-eastern China, where the people are descended from the same ancestors (Huns) as modern Hungarians. Shared characteristics include the pentatonic scale and the fifth structure, which creates a distinctive sound. Musician and musical theorist Bela Bartok, probably the most internationally famous Hungarian musician, has studied the similarities between Hungarian and Turkish folk music.
Hungarian folk music was first recorded in 1895 by Béla Vikár, setting the stage for Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály's pioneering work. Modern Hungarian folk music began its history with the Hapsburg Empire in the 18th century, when central European influences became paramount. Gypsy orchestras arose playing new music, and soon dominated the country's popular music.
Hungarian Gypsy music is often represented as the only music of the Gypsies, though multiple forms of Gypsy music are common throughout Europe and are unrelated to Hungarian forms. In the 19th century, verbunkos was the most popular style in Hungary, especially the virtuosos János Bihari and Czinka Panna. Verbunkos was originally played at recruitment ceremonies to convince young men to join the army. Many of the biggest names in modern Hungarian music are the verbunkos-playing Lakatos family.
Bihari and others after his death helped invent the nota, a popular form written by composers like Lóránt Fráter, Árpád Balázs, Pista Dankó, Béni Egressy, Mark Rózsavölgyi and Imre Farkas. Rózsavölgyi's invention of the csárdás makes him especially important. Verbunkos, nota and csárdás are sometimes collectively called cigányzene,
Táncház is a form of dance music which first appeared in the 1970s as a reaction against state-supported homogenized folk music. Musicians like Béla Halmos and Ferenc Sebo collected rural songs for popular, urban consumption. The most important rural source of these songs was Transylvania, which is actually in Romania but has a large ethnic Hungarian minority. Many of the biggest names in modern Hungarian music emerged from the táncház scene, including Mucsikás and Márta Sebestyén.