Music genre

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A music genre is a conventional category (i.e, genre) that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. [1] Genre is to be distinguished from musical form and musical style, although in practice these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. [2]


Music can be divided into genres in numerous ways, sometimes broadly and with polarity, such as for popular music, as opposed to art music or folk music; or, as another example, religious music and secular music. The artistic nature of music means that these classifications are often subjective and controversial, and some genres may overlap. As genres evolve, sometimes new music is lumped into existing categories or else a proliferation of derivative subgenres, fusion genres and "micro genres" starts to accrue.


Douglass M. Green distinguishes between genre and form in his book Form in Tonal Music. He lists madrigal, motet, canzona, ricercar, and dance as examples of genres from the Renaissance period. To further clarify the meaning of genre, Green writes "Beethoven's Op. 61" and "Mendelssohn's Op. 64 ". He explains that both are identical in genre and are violin concertos that have different forms. However, Mozart's Rondo for Piano, K. 511, and the Agnus Dei from his Mass, K. 317, are quite different in genre but happen to be similar in form." [3]

In 1982, Franco Fabbri proposed a definition of the musical genre that is now considered to be normative: [4] "musical genre is a set of musical events (real or possible) whose course is governed by a definite set of socially accepted rules", where a musical event can be defined as "any type of activity performed around any type of event involving sound". [5]

A music genre or subgenre may be defined by the musical techniques, the cultural context, and the content and spirit of the themes. Geographical origin is sometimes used to identify a music genre, though a single geographical category will often include a wide variety of subgenres. Timothy Laurie argues that, since the early 1980s, "genre has graduated from being a subset of popular music studies to being an almost ubiquitous framework for constituting and evaluating musical research objects". [6]

The term genre is generally defined similarly by many authors and musicologists, while the related term style has different interpretations and definitions. Some, like Peter van der Merwe, treat the terms genre and style as the same, saying that genre should be defined as pieces of music that share a certain style or "basic musical language". [7] Others, such as Allan F. Moore, state that genre and style are two separate terms, and that secondary characteristics such as subject matter can also differentiate between genres. [4]


A subgenre is a subordinate within a genre. [8] [9] In music terms, it is a subcategory of a musical genre that adopts its basic characteristics, but also has its own set of characteristics that clearly distinguish and set it apart within the genre. A subgenre is also often being referred to as a style of the genre. [10] [11] [12] The proliferation of popular music in the 20th century has led to over 1,200 definable subgenres of music.

A musical composition may be situated in the intersection of two or more genres, sharing characteristics of each parent genre, and therefore belong to each of them at the same time. [5] Such subgenres are known as fusion genres. Examples of fusion genres include jazz fusion, which is a fusion of jazz and rock music, and country rock which is a fusion of country music and rock music.

A microgenre is a niche genre, [13] as well as a subcategory within major genres or their subgenres.

Categorization and emergence of new genres

The genealogy of musical genres expresses, often in the form of a written chart. New genres of music can arise through the development of new styles of music; in addition to simply creating a new categorization. Although it is conceivable to create a musical style with no relation to existing genres, new styles usually appear under the influence of pre-existing genres.

Musicologists have sometimes classified music according to a trichotomous distinction such as Philip Tagg's "axiomatic triangle consisting of 'folk', 'art' and 'popular' musics". [14] He explains that each of these three is distinguishable from the others according to certain criteria. [14]

Automatic recognition of genres

Automatic methods of musical similarity detection, based on data mining and co-occurrence analysis, have been developed to classify music titles for electronic music distribution. [15] [16]

Glenn McDonald, the employee of The Echo Nest, music intelligence and data platform, owned by Spotify, has created a categorical perception spectrum of genres and subgenres based on "an algorithmically generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 5,315 genre-shaped distinctions by Spotify" called Every Noise at Once. [17] [18]

Alternative approaches

Alternatively, music can be assessed on the three dimensions of "arousal", "valence", and "depth". [19] Arousal reflects physiological processes such as stimulation and relaxation (intense, forceful, abrasive, thrilling vs. gentle, calming, mellow), valence reflects emotion and mood processes (fun, happy, lively, enthusiastic, joyful vs. depressing, sad), and depth reflects cognitive processes (intelligent, sophisticated, inspiring, complex, poetic, deep, emotional, thoughtful vs. party music, danceable). [19] These help explain why many people like similar songs from different traditionally segregated genres. [19]

Starting from the end of 1900s, Vincenzo Caporaletti has proposed a more comprehensive distinction of music genres based on the "formative medium" with which a music is created, that is the creative interface (cognitive milieu) employed by the artist. Following this framework, formative media may belong to two different matrixes: visual or audiotactile with regards to the role played in the creative process by the visual rationality or the bodily sensitivity and embodied cognition. The theory developed by Caporaletti, named Audiotactile Music Theory, categorises music in three different branches: 1) written music, like the so-called classical music, that is created using the visual matrix; 2) oral music (like folk music or ethnic music before the advent of sound recording technologies); 3) Audiotactile music, which are process of production and transmission is pivoted around sound recording technologies (for example jazz, pop, rock, rap and so on). These last two branches are created by means of the above-mentioned audiotactile matrix in which the formative medium is the Audiotactile Principle. [20] [21]

Major music genres

Art music

Art music primarily includes classical traditions, including both contemporary and historical classical music forms. Art music exists in many parts of the world. It emphasizes formal styles that invite technical and detailed deconstruction [22] and criticism, and demand focused attention from the listener. In Western practice, art music is considered primarily a written musical tradition, [23] preserved in some form of music notation rather than being transmitted orally, by rote, or in recordings, as popular and traditional music usually are. [23] [24] Historically, most western art music has been written down using the standard forms of music notation that evolved in Europe, beginning well before the Renaissance and reaching its maturity in the Romantic period.

The identity of a "work" or "piece" of art music is usually defined by the notated version rather than by a particular performance and is primarily associated with the composer rather than the performer (though composers may leave performers with some opportunity for interpretation or improvisation). This is so particularly in the case of western classical music. Art music may include certain forms of jazz, though some feel that jazz is primarily a form of popular music. The 1960s saw a wave of avant-garde experimentation in free jazz, represented by artists such as Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp and Don Cherry. [25] Additionally, avant-garde rock artists such as Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Residents released art music albums.

Popular music is any musical style accessible to the general public and disseminated by the mass media. Musicologist and popular music specialist Philip Tagg defined the notion in the light of sociocultural and economical aspects:

Popular music, unlike art music, is (1) conceived for mass distribution to large and often socioculturally heterogeneous groups of listeners, (2) stored and distributed in non-written form, (3) only possible in an industrial monetary economy where it becomes a commodity and (4) in capitalist societies, subject to the laws of 'free' enterprise_ it should ideally sell as much as possible. [14]

The distinction between classical and popular music has sometimes been blurred in marginal areas [26] such as minimalist music and light classics. Background music for films/movies often draws on both traditions. In this respect, music is like fiction, which likewise draws a distinction between literary fiction and popular fiction that is not always precise.

Country music

Country music, also known as country and western (or simply country) and hillbilly music, is a genre of popular music that originated in the southern United States in the early 1920s.

Electronic music

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments, or circuitry-based music technology in its creation. Contemporary electronic music includes many varieties and ranges from experimental art music to popular forms such as electronic dance music (EDM).


Funk is a music genre that originated in African American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B).

Hip hop music

Two DJs practicing turntablism DJ Hypnotize and Baby Cee.jpg
Two DJs practicing turntablism

Hip Hop music, also referred to as hip-hop or rap music, is a genre of music that was started in the United States, specifically the South Bronx in the New York City by African-American youth from the inner cities during the 1970s. It can be broadly defined as a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, [27] a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. [28] Hip hop music derives from the hip hop culture itself, including four key elements: emceeing (MCing)/rapping, Disc jockeying (DJing) with turntablism, breakdancing and graffiti art.


Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with its roots in blues and ragtime.

Latin music

Latin music is a genre of music that originated in the United States due to the growing influence of Latino Americans in the music industry. It is a term used by the music industry to describe music in a catch-all category for various music styles from Ibero-America.

Pop music

Pop is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form during the mid-1950s in the United States and the United Kingdom. The terms popular music and pop music are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many disparate styles.


The aggressiveness of the musical and performative style, based on structural simplicity and the vigorous rhythms of rock'n'roll style, reinforced the challenging and provocative character, within the universe of modern music.


Reggae music, originating from the late 1960s Jamaica, is a genre of music that was originally used by Jamaicans to define themselves with their lifestyle and social aspects. [29] The meaning behind reggae songs tend to be about love, faith or a higher power, and freedom. [30] Reggae music is important to Jamaican culture as it has been used as inspiration for many third world liberation movements. Bob Marley, an artist primarily known for reggae music, was honored by Zimbabwe's 1980 Independence celebration due to his music giving inspirations to freedom fighters. The music genre of reggae is known to incorporate stylistic techniques from rhythm and blues, jazz, African, Caribbean, and other genres as well but what makes reggae unique are the vocals and lyrics.[ citation needed ] The vocals tend to be sung in Jamaican Patois, Jamaican English, and Iyaric dialects. The lyrics of reggae music usually tend to raise political awareness and on cultural perspectives. [31]

Rock music

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Heavy Metal/Metal music

Heavy metal evolved from hard rock, psychedelic rock, and blues rock in late 1960s and 1970s with notable acts such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Motörhead. The popularity of heavy metal soared in the 1980s with bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and Guns 'n' Roses. It has a rougher style and heavier sound than other forms of rock music, with notable subgenres such as thrash metal, hair metal and death metal.[ citation needed ]

Soul music and R&B

Soul music became a musical genre that came to include a wide variety of R&B-based music styles from the pop R&B acts at Motown Records in Detroit, such as the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye and Four Tops, to "deep soul" singers such as Percy Sledge and James Carr. [32]


The polka is originally a Czech dance and genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. [33]

Religious music

Religious music (also referred as sacred music) is music performed or composed for religious use or through religious influence. Gospel, spiritual, and Christian music are examples of religious music.

Traditional and folk music

Piano accordion: Italian instrument used in several cultures Sonolite.jpg
Piano accordion: Italian instrument used in several cultures

Traditional and folk music are very similar categories. Although the traditional music is a very broad category and can include several genres, it is widely accepted that traditional music encompasses folk music. [34] According to the ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music), traditional music are songs and tunes that have been performed over a long period of time (usually several generations). [35]

The folk music genre is classified as the music that is orally passed from one generation to another. Usually, the artist is unknown, and there are several versions of the same song. [36] The genre is transmitted by singing, listening and dancing to popular songs. This type of communication allows culture to transmit the styles (pitches and cadences) as well as the context it was developed. [37]

Culturally transmitting folk songs maintain rich evidence about the period of history when they were created and the social class in which they developed. [38] Some examples of the Folk Genre can be seen in the folk music of England and Turkish folk music. English folk music has developed since the medieval period and has been transmitted from that time until today. Similarly, Turkish folk music relates to all the civilizations that once passed thorough Turkey, thereby being a world reference since the east–west tensions during the Early Modern Period.

Traditional folk music usually refers to songs composed in the twentieth century, which tend to be written as universal truths and big issues of the time they were composed. [39] Artists including Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; James Taylor; and Leonard Cohen, transformed folk music to what it is known today. [40] Newer composers such as Ed Sheeran (pop folk) and the Lumineers (American folk) are examples of contemporary folk music, which has been recorded and adapted to the new way of listening to music (online)—unlike the traditional way of orally transmitting music. [41]

Each country in the world, in some cases each region, district and community, has its own folk music style. The sub-divisions of folk genre are developed by each place, cultural identity and history. [42] Because the music is developed in different places, many of the instruments are characteristic to location and population—but some are used everywhere: button or piano accordion, different types of flutes or trumpets, banjo, and ukulele. Both French and Scottish folk music use related instruments such as the fiddle, the harp and variations of bagpipes. [43]

Psychology of music preference

Metallica performing at the O2 Arena, March 28, 2009 Metallica at the O2 Arena, March 28th 2009.jpg
Metallica performing at the O2 Arena, March 28, 2009
John Scofield at the stage of Energimolla. The concert was part of Kongsberg Jazzfestival and took place on July 6, 2017 John Scofield Kongsberg Jazzfestival 2017 (191409).jpg
John Scofield at the stage of Energimølla. The concert was part of Kongsberg Jazzfestival and took place on July 6, 2017

Social influences on music selection

Since music has become more easily accessible (Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, etc.), more people have begun listening to a broader and wider range of music styles. [44] In addition, social identity also plays a large role in music preference. Personality is a key contributor for music selection. Those who consider themselves to be "rebels" will tend to choose heavier music styles like heavy metal or hard rock, while those who consider themselves to be more "relaxed" or "laid back" will tend to choose lighter music styles like jazz or classical music. [44] According to one model, there are five main factors that exist that underlie music preferences that are genre-free,[ contradictory ] and reflect emotional/affective responses. [45] These five factors are:

  1. A Mellow factor consisting of smooth and relaxing styles (jazz, classical, etc.).
  2. An Urban factor defined largely by rhythmic and percussive music (rap, hip-hop, funk, etc.).
  3. A Sophisticated factor (operatic, world, etc.)
  4. An Intensity factor that is defined by forceful, loud, and energetic music (rock, metal, etc.).
  5. A campestral factor, which refers to singer-songwriter genres and country. [45]

Individual and situational influences

Studies have shown that while women prefer more treble oriented music, men prefer to listen to bass-heavy music. A preference for bass-heavy music is sometimes paired with borderline and antisocial personalities. [46]

Age is another strong factor that contributes to musical preference. Evidence is available that shows that music preference can change as one gets older. [47] A Canadian study showed that adolescents show greater interest in pop music artists while adults and the elderly population prefer classic genres such as rock, opera, and jazz. [48]

See also

Related Research Articles

World music is an English phrase for styles of music from non-Western countries, including quasi-traditional, intercultural, and traditional music. World music's broad nature and elasticity as a musical category pose obstacles to a universal definition, but its ethic of interest in the culturally exotic is encapsulated in Roots magazine's description of the genre as "local music from out there".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music of Australia</span> Overview of music traditions in Australia

The music of Australia has an extensive history made of music societies. Indigenous Australian music forms a significant part of the unique heritage of a 40,000- to 60,000-year history which produced the iconic didgeridoo. Contemporary fusions of indigenous and Western styles are exemplified in the works of Yothu Yindi, No Fixed Address, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Christine Anu, and mark distinctly Australian contributions to world music.

Worldbeat is a music genre that blends pop music or rock music with world music or traditional music. Worldbeat is similar to other cross-pollination labels of contemporary and roots genres, and which suggest a rhythmic, harmonic or textural contrast between its modern and ethnic elements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music of the United Kingdom</span> Aspect of British culture

Throughout the history of the British Isles, the land that is now the United Kingdom has been a major music producer, drawing inspiration from church music and traditional folk music, using instruments from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Each of the four countries of the United Kingdom has its own diverse and distinctive folk music forms, which flourished until the era of industrialisation when they began to be replaced by new forms of popular music, including music hall and brass bands. Many British musicians have influenced modern music on a global scale, and the UK has one of the world's largest music industries. English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh folk music as well as other British styles of music heavily influenced American music such as American folk music, American march music, old-time, ragtime, blues, country, and bluegrass. The UK has birthed many popular music genres such as beat music, psychedelic music, progressive rock/pop, heavy metal, new wave, and industrial music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Art music</span> Serious music, as opposed to popular or folk music

Art music is music considered to be of high phonoaesthetic value. It typically implies advanced structural and theoretical considerations or a written musical tradition. In this context, the terms "serious" or "cultivated" are frequently used to present a contrast with ordinary, everyday music. Many cultures have art music traditions; in the Western world, the term typically refers to Western classical music.

Popular music of the United Kingdom in the 1980s built on the post-punk and new wave movements, incorporating different sources of inspiration from subgenres and what is now classed as world music in the shape of Jamaican and Indian music. It also explored the consequences of new technology and social change in the electronic music of synthpop. In the early years of the decade, while subgenres like heavy metal music continued to develop separately, there was a considerable crossover between rock and more commercial popular music, with a large number of more "serious" bands, like The Police and UB40, enjoying considerable single chart success.

Cumbia refers to a number of musical rhythms and folk dance traditions of Latin America, generally involving musical and cultural elements from American Indigenous peoples, Europeans and African slaves during colonial times. Cumbia is said to have come from funeral traditions in the Afro-Colombian community.

There are several subgenres of reggae music including various predecessors to the form.

Marrabenta is a popular style of Mozambican dance music combining traditional Mozambican dance rhythms with Portuguese folk music. It was developed in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, during the 1930s and 1940s.

Celtic fusion is an umbrella term for any modern music which incorporates influences considered "Celtic", or Celtic music which incorporates modern music. It is a syncretic musical tradition which borrows freely from the perceived "Celtic" musical traditions of all the Celtic nations, as well as from all styles of popular music, it is thus sometimes associated with the Pan-Celtic movement. Celtic fusion may or may not include authentic traditional music from any one tradition under the Celtic umbrella, but its common characteristic is the inspiration by Celtic identity.

The expression Italian popular music refers to the musical output which is not usually considered academic or Classical music but rather has its roots in the popular traditions, and it may be defined in two ways: it can either be defined in terms of the current geographical location of the Italian Republic with the exceptions of the Germanic South Tyrol and the eastern portion of Friuli Venezia Giulia; alternatively, it can be defined as the music produced by all those people who consider themselves as Italians and openly or implicitly refer to this belief. Both these two definitions are very loose: due to the complex political history of the Italian Peninsula and the different independent political states, cultural and linguistic traditions which sprang within them, it is rather difficult to define what may be considered to be truly Italian. Since before the formation of a unified educational system and the spread of information through the radio and the press during the 1920s, all the different cultural and linguistic groups within the country were independent of one another, and a unified Italian country was still only a political or ideological concept far from the daily life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dance music</span> Music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient history, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are old-fashioned dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

A number of overlapping punk rock subgenres have developed since the emergence of punk rock in the mid-1970s. Even though punk genres at times are difficult to segregate, they usually show differing characteristics in overall structures, instrumental and vocal styles, and tempo. However, sometimes a particular trait is common in several genres, and thus punk genres are normally grouped by a combination of traits.

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.


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Further reading