Music genre
A music genre is a categorical and typological construct that identifies musical
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

 sounds as belonging to a particular category and type of music that can be distinguished from other types of music. It is to be distinguished from musical form
Musical form
The term musical form refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections...

and musical style, although in practice these terms are often used in an undifferentiated way.

Music can be divided into many genres in many different ways. Due to the different purposes behind them and the different points of view from which they are made, these classifications are often arbitrary and controversial and closely related genres often overlap. Many do not believe that generic classification of music is possible in any logically consistent way, and also argue that doing so sets limitations and boundaries that hinder the development of music. While no one doubts that it is possible to note similarities between musical pieces, there are often exceptions and caveats associated.

There are several academic approaches to genre. In his book Form in Tonal Music, Douglass M. Green lists the madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

, the motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

, the canzona
In the 16th century an instrumental chanson; later, a piece for ensemble in several sections or tempos...

, the ricercar
A ricercar is a type of late Renaissance and mostly early Baroque instrumental composition. The term means to search out, and many ricercars serve a preludial function to "search out" the key or mode of a following piece...

, and the dance as examples of genres (from the Renaissance period). According to Green, "Beethoven's Op. 61 and Mendelssohn's Op. 64 are identical in genre - both are violin concertos - but different in form
Musical form
The term musical form refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections...

. 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." Some treat the terms genre and style as the same, and state that genre should be defined as pieces of music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

 that share a certain style or "basic musical language". Others state that genre and style are two separate terms, and that secondary characteristics such as subject matter can also differentiate between genres. A music genre (or sub-genre) could be defined by the techniques
Musical technique
Musical technique is the ability of instrumental and vocal musicians to exert optimal control of the their instrument or vocal cords in order to produce the precise musical effects they desire. Improving one's technique generally entails practicing exercises that improve one's muscular sensitivity...

, the styles, the context and the themes (content, spirit). Also, geographical origin sometimes is used to define the music genre, though a single geographical category will normally include a wide variety of sub-genres.

Kembrew McLeod, in an essay entitled "Genres, Subgenres, Sub-Subgenres and More", suggested that in electronic music, "the naming of new subgenres can be linked to a variety of influences, such as the rapidly evolving nature of the music, accelerated consumer culture, and the synergy created by record company marketing strategies and music magazine hype. The appropriation of the musics of minorities by straight, middle and upper-middle-class Whites in the United States and Great Britain plays a part, and the rapid and ongoing naming process within electronic/dance music subcultures acts as a gate-keeping mechanism, as well."

A list of genres of music (including sub genres) can be found at List of music genres. There are a number of criteria with which one may classify musical genres, including:
  • The Art/Popular/Traditional distinction
  • Time period
  • Regional and national distinctions
  • Technique and instrumentation
  • Fusional origins
  • Sociological function

The Art/Popular/Traditional distinction

Musicology has sometimes classified music according to a trichotomic distinction, e.g., referred to by musicologist Philip Tagg as one of an "axiomatic triangle consisting of 'folk', 'art' and 'popular' musics." He explains that each of these three is distinguishable from the others according to certain criteria.

Art music

Art music (or "serious music") primarily refers to classical traditions including contemporary
Contemporary classical music
Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s with the retreat of modernism. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 modern musical forms.-Categorization:...

 as well as historical classical music forms, or others listed at List of art music traditions (including non-Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an classical music), which focus on formal styles, invite technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and demand focused attention from the listener. In strict western practice, art music is considered primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in some form of music notation
Musical notation
Music notation or musical notation is any system that represents aurally perceived music, through the use of written symbols.-History:...

, as opposed to being transmitted orally, by rote, or in recordings (like popular
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...

 and traditional music
Traditional music
Traditional music is the term increasingly used for folk music that is not contemporary folk music. More on this is at the terminology section of the World music article...

). Historically, most western art music has been written down using the standard forms of music notation that evolved in Europe beginning prior to the Renaissance period 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 a particular performance of it (as for example with classical music). Art music may also include certain forms of jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 (even though jazz is primarily a form of popular music). Art music is music that is used as in a form of a work of art, and uses many textbook elements of music. Art music is generally instrumental, and when vocals are present they have very explicit poetic, political, or religious overtones.

Popular music

The usual representation of "popular music" is music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

 belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are accessible to the general public
Mainstream is, generally, the common current thought of the majority. However, the mainstream is far from cohesive; rather the concept is often considered a cultural construct....

 and are disseminated by one or more of the mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

. Musicologist and specialist in popular music Philip Tagg defined the notion in the light of sociocultural and economical aspects:

"Popular music, unlike art music
Art music
Art music is an umbrella term used to refer to musical traditions implying advanced structural and theoretical considerations and a written musical tradition...

, 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, according to which it should ideally sell as much as possible of as little as possible to as many as possible"

For a critical introduction, see the work of Richard Middleton (e.g. Studying Popular Music 1998) and Starr/Waterman American Popular Music (2004). Popular music is also used in more of a sense with the market economy, in a way music can be used to make a profit. Popular music is usually found on most commercial radio stations, in most commercial music retailers and department stores, and for use in movie and television soundtracks. Popular music is also recorded on the Billboard charts and uses music producers as opposed to singer songwriters and composers.

The very distinction between classical and popular music has sometimes been blurred in the border regions, for instance minimalist music
Minimalist music
Minimal music is a style of music associated with the work of American composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. It originated in the New York Downtown scene of the 1960s and was initially viewed as a form of experimental music called the New York Hypnotic School....

 and light classics. In this respect music is like fiction, which likewise draws a distinction between classics and popular fiction that is not always easy to maintain.

Traditional music

Traditional music is the modern name for what used to be called "folk music
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

", before the term "folk music" was expanded to include a lot of non-traditional material. The defining characteristics of traditional music are:
  • Oral transmission
    Oral tradition
    Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants...

    : The music is passed down, or learned, through singing and listening and sometimes dancing
  • Cultural basis
    Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

    : The music derives from and is part of the traditions of a particular region or culture.

Critics of the axiomatic triangle

Musicologist and specialist of popular music such as Richard Middleton have been critical with such a classification.

Time period

Music is sometimes categorized by the time period from which it originates or was most popular, e. g. '50's rock', '17th century music' or 'music from the romantic period'..

Regional and national music

It is possible to categorize music geographically. For example, the term "Australian music" could include Australian rock music, Australian traditional music in the European style (e.g. Waltzing Matilda), Aboriginal Australian music, Australian classical music, and Australian Jazz.

Technique and instrumentation

Music can also be categorized by some technical aspect including the instruments used. For example Rock music
Rock music
Rock music is a genre of popular music that developed during and after the 1960s, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, itself heavily influenced by rhythm and blues and country music...

 revolves around the electric guitar
Electric guitar
An electric guitar is a guitar that uses the principle of direct electromagnetic induction to convert vibrations of its metal strings into electric audio signals. The signal generated by an electric guitar is too weak to drive a loudspeaker, so it is amplified before sending it to a loudspeaker...

, and Club music
Electronic dance music
Electronic dance music is electronic music produced primarily for the purposes of use within a nightclub setting, or in an environment that is centered upon dance-based entertainment...

 is typically accompanied by synthesizers and/or drum machines.

Fusional origins

A genre can be labelled so its fusional origins from other preexisting genres becomes clear, e.g. blues rock, latin jazz
Latin jazz
Latin jazz is the general term given to jazz with Latin American rhythms.The three main categories of Latin Jazz are Brazilian, Cuban and Puerto Rican:# Brazilian Latin Jazz includes bossa nova...

. In other cases the name of the genre only reflects the fact that it mixes different styles, e.g. crossover
Crossover (music)
Crossover is a term applied to musical works or performers appearing on two or more of the record charts which track differing musical tastes, or genres...

, jazz fusion
Jazz fusion
Jazz fusion is a musical fusion genre that developed from mixing funk and R&B rhythms and the amplification and electronic effects of rock, complex time signatures derived from non-Western music and extended, typically instrumental compositions with a jazz approach to lengthy group improvisations,...


Sociological function

Music genres can also be categorized by their sociological function. Trivial examples are wedding music
Wedding music
Wedding music applies music played at wedding celebrations, including the ceremony and any festivities before or after the event. The music can be performed live by musicians and/or vocalists or use pre-recorded songs, depending on the format of the event, traditions associated with the...

 and Christmas music
Christmas music
Christmas music comprises a variety of genres of music normally performed or heard around the Christmas season, which tends to begin in the months leading up the actual holiday and end in the weeks shortly thereafter.-Early:...


Emergence of new genres and subgenres

The emergence of new genres can occur by actual development of new forms and styles of music, but also just by a new categorization.

Although it is theoretically possible to create a musical style with new relations to existing genres, new styles more commonly appear under influence of preexisting genres. The genealogy of musical genres
Genealogy of musical genres
The genealogy of musical genres is the pattern of musical genres that have contributed to the development of new genres.Genealogical charts or family trees of musical genres show how new genres have emerged from existing genres and how multiple genres have contributed to a new genre...

 is the pattern of musical genres that have contributed to the development of new genres, which often can be expressed in the form of a written chart. If two or more existing genres influence the emergence of a new genre a fusion
Fusion (music)
A fusion genre is music that combines two or more styles. For example, rock and roll originally developed as a fusion of blues, gospel and country music. The main characteristics of fusion genres are variations in tempo, rhythm, i a sometimes the use of long musical "journeys" that can be divided...

 between these genres can be said to have taken place.

New genres by fusion

In the West, nearly all music except Traditional music
Traditional music
Traditional music is the term increasingly used for folk music that is not contemporary folk music. More on this is at the terminology section of the World music article...

 has a fusional origin.

A fusion genre is a music genre that combines two or more genres. For example, rock and roll
Rock and roll
Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music...

 originally developed as a fusion of blues
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...

, gospel
Gospel music
Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music....

 and country music
Country music
Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

. The main characteristics of fusion genres are variations in tempo, rhythm and sometimes the use of long musical "journeys" that can be divided into smaller parts, each with their own dynamics, style and tempo.

Artists who work in fusion genres are often difficult to categorise within non-fusion styles. Most styles of fusion music are influenced by various musical genres. While there are many reasons for this, the main reason is that most genres evolved out of other genres. When the new genre finally identifies itself as separate, there is often a large gray area in which musicians are left. These artists generally consider themselves part of both genres. A musician who plays music that is dominantly blues, influenced by rock, is often labelled a blues-rock musician. The first genre is the one from which the new one evolved. The second genre is the newer and less-dominant genre in the artist's playing. An example of a blues-rock group would be Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stephen Ray "Stevie Ray" Vaughan was an American electric blues guitarist and singer. He was the younger brother of Jimmie Vaughan and frontman for Double Trouble, a band that included bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. Born in Dallas, Vaughan moved to Austin at the age of 17 and...

 and Double Trouble
Double Trouble (band)
Double Trouble was the backing rhythm section for Texas blues rock guitarist and lead vocalist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Originally consisting of drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, Reese Wynans would later join the outfit on keyboards.-History:...

. Vaughan, a Texas blues guitarist, surrounded by a world in which rock was dominating music, used rock and blues together.

The originality of new genres and subgenres

What is an actual fusion between genres and what is a mere influence from another genre can often be disputed. Also the level of originality needed to create a completely new genre can be questioned. But most people would agree on the distinctness of e.g. rock music from its predecessors. In some genres, the emergence of subgenres is vast and the originality and distinctness of these subgenres has been questioned.

When a certain level of originality has been reached, more particularly when new styles emerge, moving away from more mainstream
Mainstream is, generally, the common current thought of the majority. However, the mainstream is far from cohesive; rather the concept is often considered a cultural construct....

 forms, the label 'alternative' has been used, e.g., alternative rock
Alternative rock
Alternative rock is a genre of rock music and a term used to describe a diverse musical movement that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s...

, alternative country
Alternative country
Alternative country is a loosely defined sub-genre of country music, which includes acts that differ significantly in style from mainstream or pop country music...

New genres by new categorization

There is a fair amount of examples were the music genre has been labeled long after its first actual appearance, e.g. the term 'jazz' was not established as a genre name before the years just prior to 1920 yet the musical phenomenon had been in existence at least since roughly the turn of the century. There can be several reasons for this. One is that the categorization has been done in the process of a music historical survey. Another reason could be a more nostalgic flashback.

See also

  • List of music styles
  • List of popular music genres
  • List of radio formats

Further reading

  • "Genre." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Grove Music Online.
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