These ballads were originally music for the song dance or kjededans, which was popular in the High Middle Ages among the upper classes in Europe and is still found today in the Færoe Islands.

One can find similarities in the text of Norwegian ballads with those from many places in Europe. However, the melodies for these imported texts most likely had their origins in Norway. A great many different melodies can exist for the same ballad text within a small area, a fact that indicates that singers were free to choose their own melodies.

It is common to divide ballads into genres such as heilagviser, kjempeviser, trollviser, skjemteviser, etc. The difference between these genres lies in the textual material, not in the melodies.