Music itself is a very unbridled topic. It would be very difficult or even
impossible to talk about it in its entirety. That is why over the years people
were trying to divide it, classify it and delve into details.
Now music can be classified into a number of genres, time periods, and
geographic locations. Sometimes borders of stylistic features are blurred. Genres
like blues, rhythm& blues, jazz, soul, funk, progressive rock,
pop, hip-hop, reggae and country music are contrasting, however they will show a lot of similarities.
History of the BLUES MUSIC is
full of curiosities and mysteries. Critics describe it as a soulful and
emotional music. Lyrics is about the lives of African-Americans – their
hardships, hopes and loves. It was created in the 19th century on
Southern plantations. Slavers or descendants of slaves originated the genre.
African spirituals and work songs or chants evolved to create a new genre. In
the early 1900s they were mixed with American country folk music gaining
At the beginning Afro-Americans were using very primitive instruments like washboards,
handmade guitars, hand claps. Over the years the genre was developing and
instruments like piano, saxophone, trumpets, xylophones, bass guitar or drums stared
to be used and the other became modernized. Improvisation was a very important
factor. Time signature is usually 4/4. Classic blues covers 12 bars form and is
based on the I, IV, and V chord progression of the key. Blues music had a very
strong influence on creating and developing many other genres of music, such as
rock and roll, jazz and popular music.
COUNTRY MUSIC was created in the early 1920s in the
Appalachian mountains region, in Southern United States. It took inspirations
from blues and folk music (especially Appalachian folk). Working class
Americans borrowed various European musical features and added them to popular
songs, cowboy songs, English ballads, Irish and Celtic fiddle songs.
Characteristic factors are a simple chord
progression, strong story line and a memorable
chorus. Country musicians used instruments such as accordion, fiddle, autoharp, guitar, banjo, harmonica,
bass and drums.
Love, loneliness, travel, patriotism, drinking at the bars, family, values and
others were characteristic themes in country music. The most common time
signature is 4/4.
many styles such as jazz base and a heavy beat, elements of blues and gospel.
R&B was created and commercialized in United States by African Americans in
1940s, when artists adapted dance rhythm in their music. The lyrics is usually
about ups and downs in life – freedom, ambitions,
sexuality, relationships, etc..
Instrumentation was developing in this genre and the most common became:
drums, bass, guitar, horns, keyboards, electric
guitar, vocals and background vocals. The most popular time signature is 4/4.
Very important artist of the genre was Ray Charles.
JAZZ was originated at the end of
19th and beginning of 20th centuries by African-Americans in New Orleans. Blues
music had a special role in creating the genre. It is characterized by swing
and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.
Typical instruments are: horns, keyboards, bass, drums, guitar and vocals. Although
it was mainly created by black experience in United States, many other cultures
have developed the genre in various ways (for example white musicians created
‘White Jazz’ subgenre, having their own traditions and influences).
Miles Davis and Louis Amstrong were very influential jazz musicians.
SOUL was created in the
United States of America between late 1950s and early 1960s. It is a
combination of elements from R&B, gospel music and jazz. There is
is a special emphasis on the vocal piece. The first soul songs were created
when gospel songs lyrics was rewritten. Characteristic factor is the wide
variety of instrumentation such as: vocals, piano, drums, horn section,
keyboard, Hammond organ, guitars, bass guitar, violin and sometimes even a full
In soul music we can perceive catchy rhythms, very simple harmonic progressions
, lead vocals and choir, often ‘call and response’ from gospel music, melismas,
improvisations, wide variety of timbre, vital or melancholic mood. Lyrics is emotional
and sentimental. It can have different time signatures and most common are 2/2,
4/4 and 3/4.
Very influential artists of the genre was Etta James.
FUNK was based on the other
genres of music like jazz, R&B and soul. It was created in mid-1960s in
United States by African-American musicians and made to be a danceable type of
music. Instruments such as the electric guitars, bass guitars, drums and
electric organs were used to emphasize the rhythm. Very often there was a horn
section with instruments such as trombones, trumpets or saxophones. James Brown
is a musician that took a very important role in creating the genre. In funk everything
relies on the beat, every single sound adds to the rhythm. Funk is about
timing. Time signature is usually 4/4.
The major genres that influenced funk were R&B and soul music. Artists
tried to create an easier to dance and more groovy type of music.
PROGRESSIVE ROCK is a subgenre
of rock music originated in United States and the United Kingdom throughout the
late 1960s. Listeners can perceive characteristics commonly associated with
jazz, classical music or folk. Virtuosic solos, long songs with instrumental
parts, use of electric sounds, very deep lyrics – very often philosophical,
albums which meant to be perceived as a whole became distinctive features of
the genre. Progressive rock also took hippy ideas. Time signature is unstable
The Beatles is a great example of the band that who influenced progressive rock
music. Their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the essence of the musical genre. On the
cover we can find inspirations from the avant-garde composers like John Cage or
POP MUSIC was created in United Kingdom and United States
in the mid-1950.
Pop songs were catchy and easy to dance and sing along to. Chorus is repetitive,
time signature is simple 4/4 and characteristic is a simple four chord
progressions. Songs usually last from 2,5 to 5,5 minutes.
Lyrics is about romantic themes and very often has sexual insinuations.
Genre uses large variety of instruments, however the most popular are: vocals, guitars,
piano, drums and strings.
Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beatles were one of the first musicians
who tamed pop music techniques.
Pop was influenced by characteristics from other genres. It might use tempo
from dance music, instrumentation from jazz and rock, vocal melismas and
harmonies taken from soul music, rap from hip-hop music etc.
HIP-HOP is a music genre developed
in the United States in the 1970s (assigned to Bronx, New York City where
“Rappers Delight” by Sugarhill was released) by inner city African-Americans.
People were experimenting with vocals creating characteristic
“talking-singing” ” called rap, pre-recorded tapes on beats
usually in 4/4 time signature. DJing, unique stage presence like breakdance was
a big factor in hip-hop culture. At the beginning of creating the genre, lyrics
was focused on topics such as: racial inequality, government
issues, economy, hardships in life. Today, especially in America, topics are more about making money, sex,
REGGAE was created in the late 1960s
in Jamaica among others by Bob Marley. Became popular in the United States,
Great Britain and Africa in the 1970s. Nowadays, reggae is perceived as an
emotional piece, expressing ideas of love, life and religion.
Reggae incorporates some musical elements of R&B, jazz and other music
genres such as ska music. Reggae is played in 4/4 time and has its
characteristic rhythm pattern. Staccato chords and offbeat rhythms are very
recognizable features of the genre. The most common instruments
are guitar, bass guitar, piano, organs, keyboard, drums, bongo drum, horns
In conclusion, music genres classification focuses on factors like: origins,
culture, period, instrumentation, musical influences, harmony, time signature,
lyrics and many others. Similarities are followed by a range of differences.
Details help to understand what makes the genre the genre, for example polyrhythms
in jazz and progressive rock is a common feature, however the lyrics is
Some factors are absolutely unique like rap in hip-hop music, however the
technique is also borrowed to other genres such as pop music. In order to
classify the genres, it is essential to take into consideration as many
characteristics as possible.