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Musical genre

Musical genres are categories which contain music which share a certain style or which have certain elements in common.

Some genres, such as Indian music, are geographically defined; others, like Baroque music, are largely defined by chronology. Still others, such as barbershop, are defined by quite precise technical requirements. Some genres, however, are quite vague, and may be contrived by critics; post-rock, for example, is a term devised and defined by Simon Reynolds[?].

To some extent, all attempts to categorise music will have a degree of artificiality to them, because musicians tend to produce music in any style they choose, without concerning themselves with which genre they are working in. Some people feel that the categorization of music into genres is worse than useless. John Zorn, for example, a musician whose work has covered a wide range of genres, wrote in Arcana: musicians on music that genres are tools used to "commodify and commercialize an artist's complex personal vision", implying that oftentimes, genres represent efforts at marketing rather than actual musical distinctions. Other artists feel that it is the artist's fault themselves for making a body of work that can be put into a shared class easily with others.

Dividing music by genre is still widely done, however, making it easier to trace threads through music history, and increasing the ease with which individuals find artists that they enjoy.

Table of contents

Related Lists

To track down information about a specific genre see the following lists:

Overview of Main Groupings

Although there are many individual genres, it is possible to group these together into a number of overlapping major groupings. The rest of this page attempts to do that for a number of widely agreed areas.

These definitions should be kept relatively short and simple, referring to further articles as needed.

Country music

Country music is usually used to refer to honky tonk today. Emerging in the 1930s in the United States, honky tonk country was strongly influenced by the blues, as well as jug bands (which can not be properly called honky tonk). In the 1950s, country achieved great mainstream success by adding elements of rock and roll; this was called rockabilly. In addition, Western swing[?] added influences from swing and bluegrass emerged as a largely underground phenomenon. Later in the decade, the Nashville sound, a highly polished form of country music, became very popular. In reaction to this, harder-edged, gritty musicians sprung up in Bakersfield, California, inventing the Bakersfield sound. Merle Haggard and similar artists brought the Bakersfield sound to mainstream audiences in the 1960s, while Nashville started churning out countrypolitan. During the 1970s, the most popular genre was outlaw country[?], a heavily rock-influenced style. The late 1980s saw the Urban Cowboys[?] bring about an influx of pop-oriented stars during the 1990s. Modern bluegrass music has remained mostly traditional, though progressive bluegrass[?] and close harmony[?] groups do exist, and the sound is the primary basis for jam bands like the Grateful Dead.

Soul music

Soul emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an outgrowth of gospel and rock and roll. It was immediately popular, and splintered in many disparate genres, including blue eyed soul[?] (performed by white musicians), brown eyed soul[?] (performed by Latino musicians), Motown (Detroit-based Motown Records), southern soul[?] and swamp pop[?]. Boy bands and girl groups were also popular, primarily as teen idols playing an extremely watered-down version of soul called bubblegum pop. In the latter part of the decade, several regional styles emerged -- Chicago[?], Memphis[?], Philadelphia[?] and St. Louis soul[?] were extremely popular. Musicians like James Brown also started adding greater rock influences, forming funk, while Smokey Robinson and others helped invent Quiet Storm[?] in the 1970s. Until the late 1990s, New Jack Swing[?] was extremely popular among mainstream audiences. In the middle of the decade, a new breed of 70s-oriented soul singers emerged, including Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo; this is called nu soul.

Punk music

The term "punk music" can only rarely be applied uncontroversially. Perhaps the only bands always considered "punk" are the first wave of punk bands, such as the Clash and the Ramones. Before this, however, a series of underground musicians helped define the music throughout the 1970s -- see Forerunners of punk music. After 70s ended, punk had evolved into several genres which can be grouped into three categories -- hardcore, New Wave and alternative rock.

Hardcore punk music kept the raw, visceral energy of the original punk bands. In the 1980s, reggae influences resulted in a fusion called ska punk, while another group of party bands became known as oi. During the 1990s, some more styles emerged, including straight edge, and queercore[?], based around subcultures -- straight edge and homosexuals, respectively. Psychobilly (see also cow punk[?]) also emerged, fusing punk with rockabilly and other kinds of country music. In addition, emo (or emocore) had appeared by the 90s, characterized by slower beats, dreamy vocals and angst-ridden lyrics.

New Wave was the most popular genre of punk music, dominating the charts during the early 1980s. Varieties included Neue Deutsche Welle[?], synth pop, dream pop and the New Romantics. Of these, the most popular was synth pop, though the most critically accepted groups were the underground dream pop bands. In the 1980s, dream pop evolved into many of the most popular genres of the 1990s. This occurred primarily in Britain, with styles like jangle pop[?] (and the Paisley Underground[?]) and noise pop[?] (and, later, twee pop, shoegazing). All of these styles (along with psychedelic music) contributed to the popular emergence of Britpop in the middle of the decade.

Keeping the anti-corporate stance of punk music, alternative rock is a broad grouping, referring to multiple styles. The earliest genres were noise pop[?], post-rock and Gothic rock. These bands were unable to break into the mainstream, though they influenced many of the 1980s' most popular groups. By the end of the decade, post rock had developed into math rock, while other genres like Riot Grrl[?], slowcore[?] (aka sadcore or shoegaze) and grunge music. During the early 1990s, grunge music broke into the mainstream in a big way. With "alternative" now mainstream, other bands began referring to themselves as indie rock.

Reggae & Dub

In Jamaica during the 1950s, American R&B was most popular, though mento[?] (a form of folk music) was more common in rural areas. A fusion of the two styles, along with soca and other genres, formed ska, an extremely popular form of music intended for dancing. In the 1960s, reggae and dub emerged from ska and American rock and roll.

Starting the late 1960s, a rock-influenced form of music began developing -- this was called rocksteady. With some folk influences (both Jamaican and American), and the growing urban popularity of Rastafarianism, rocksteady evolved into what is now known as roots reggae. In the 1970s, a style called Lovers rock became popular primarily in the United Kingdom by British performers of ballad-oriented reggae music.

Dub emerged in Jamaica when sound system DJs began taking away the vocals from songs so that people could dance to the beat alone. Soon, pioneers like King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry began adding new vocals over the old beats; the lyrics were rhythmic and rhyme-heavy. After the popularity of reggae died down in the early 1980s, derivatives of dub dominated the Jamaican charts. These included ragga and dancehall, both of which remained popular in Jamaica alone until the mainstream breakthrough of American gangsta rap (which evolved out of dub musicians like DJ Kool Herc moving to American cities). Ragga especially now has many devoted followers throughout the world.

Rock and roll

Rock and roll is a confusing term with multiple definitions. It can be used strictly, referring to very little music recorded after the early 1960s, or broadly, to refer to almost all popular music recorded since the early 1950s. It arose from multiple genres in the late 1940s, most importantly the jump blues. It was first popularized by performers like Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, who fused the sound with country music, resulting in rockabilly. In addition, gospel music and a related genre, R&B (rhythm and blues), emerged later in the decade. R&B soon became on of the most popular genres, with girl groups, garage rock and surf rock most popular in the US, while harder, more blues-oriented musicians became popular in the UK, which soon developed into British blues, merseybeat, mod and skiffle. Starting the mid-1960s, a group of British bands that played variations on American R&B-influenced blues became popular on both sides of the Atlantic -- the British Invasion, a catchall term for multiple genres. These groups, including the Beatles, fused the earlier sounds with Appalachian folk music[?], forming folk rock, as well as a variety of less-popular genres, including the soon-to-be dominant singer-songwriter tradition. Early heavy metal and punk rock bands formed in this period, though these genres did not emerge as such for several years. The most popular genre of the British Invasion was psychedelic music, which slowly morphed into bluegrass-influenced jam bands like The Grateful Dead and ornate, classically-influenced progressive rock bands. Merseybeat and mod groups like The Yardbirds and The Who soon evolved into hard rock, which, in the early 1970s specialized into a gritty sound called glam rock, as well as a mostly underground phenomenon called power pop. In the early to mid-1970s, singer-songwriters and pop musicians dominated the charts, though punk rock and krautrock[?] also developed, and some success was achieved by southern rock and roots rock[?] performers, which fused modern techniques with a more traditionalist sound.

Hip hop

Hip hop began in inner cities in the US in the 1970s. The earliest recordings, primarily from the early 1980s, are now referred to as old school rap. In the later part of the decade, regional styles developed. East Coast rap, based out of New York City, was by far the most popular as rap began to break into the mainstream. West Coast rap, based out of Los Angeles, was by far less popular until 1992, when Dr. Dre's The Chronic revolutioned the West Coast sound, using slow, stoned, lazy beats in what came to be called G Funk. Soon after, a host of other regional styles became popular, most notably Southern rap, based out of Atlanta and New Orleans, primarily. Atlanta based performers like OutKast soon developed their own distinct sound, which came to be known as Dirty South[?]. As hip hop became more popular in the mid-1990s, alternative rap gained in popularity among critics and long-time fans of the music.

De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) was perhaps the first "alternative rap" blockbuster, and helped develop a specific style called jazz rap, characterized by the use of live instrumentation and/or jazz samples. Other less popular forms of hip hop include various non-American varieties; Japan[?], Britain[?], Mexico, Sweden[?], France, Germany, Italy and Turkey have vibrant hip hop communities. In Puerto Rico, a style called reggaeton[?] is popular. Electro hip hop[?] was invented in the 1980s, but is distinctly different from most old school hip hop (as is go go, another old style). Some other genres have been created by fusing hip hop with techno (trip hop) and heavy metal (rapcore). In the late 1980s, Miami's hip hop scene was characterized by bass-heavy grooves designed for dancing -- Miami bass music. There are also rappers with Christian themes in the lyrics -- this is Christian hip hop.


Although many artists in the 50s and 60s created pure electronic music with pop structures, fully formed techno as we know it today really emerged in 1977 with Giorgio Moroder's From Here to Eternity album. Originally techno referred to disco made with fully electronic instruments. Now techno has become a word for one of the many subgenres of electronic music. These include trance music (with a distinct style of instrumentation and focused on more complex chord progressions and melodies), goa trance (spawning from industrial music and tribal dance, focusing on creating psychedelic sound effects within the songs), house (the name for the original idea of techno, a fully electronic disco music, acid house (a genre of house featuring the Roland 303 synthesizer or others with Resonance/Cutoff control), Deep House[?], (a very specific subset of house music, featuring heavy use of the cutoff filter on musical samples), Big Beat (a later genre of techno which features much higher production quality and complexity as opposed to the more minimalist aesthetic of other techno subgenres. This was popularized by bands such as Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers), Jungle (an offshoot of reggae and techno, utilizing quick tempos with sampled break beats, most notably the amen break[?] and the funky drummer[?]), Gabber, (a Dutch development on techno, which features extremely high tempos and lots of overdrive and distortion on the music, especially the base drum being distorted into a square wave tone), Happy Hardcore[?], (a more palatable version of Gabber, fusing elements of drum and bass as well), techno, (the name techno itself has been used to describe a modern subgenre, namely a very minimalist version of the original techno, usually without melody and with very little progression through the song). This type of techno, as well as many other genres and records, is often composed to fit easily into a live DJ set.

Most of these genres are constantly being broken down into further subgenres, with varying degrees of destinctiveness.

Outside Electronica

Electronic Music that does not fall into the techno or dance categories are often referred to as "left-field," "outside" or "electroacoustic." These styles include Ambient, Downtempo[?], Illbient and Trip-hop (among countless others), which are all related in that they usually rely more on their atmospheric qualities than techno, and make use of slower, more subtle tempos, sometimes excluding rhythm completely.

IDM (an achronym for Intelligent Dance Music) is an elusive and confusing genre classification that can only be truly defined by flagbearers and flagburners like Aphex Twin and Autechre.

All electronic music owes at least its historical existence to early pioneers of tape experiments known as Musique concrete, as well as experimental synthesists like John Cage and Stockhausen[?].

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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