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What is a Music Genre?

A music genre is a stylistic category that groups songs sharing similar characteristics, whether it be rhythm, melody, harmony, or historical context. It's like a musical neighborhood, where each home resonates with its own distinct sound yet contributes to the area's collective identity. How does your favorite genre shape your personal soundtrack? Explore with us the diverse world of musical genres.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A genre is a category of an art form, and the word is used of subsets of literature, films, television shows, and music that fit certain criteria. Often, a work will fit into one genre, but it is possible for a work to have multiple genres. The term music genre is used to refer to a variety of facets of music, including the period during which a musical composition was written, its style, its instrumentation and treatment of those instruments, its form and function, its means of transmission, its means of dissemination, and the location of its geographical origins sometimes crossed with the cultural or ethnic background of the composer. There is no agreement or a single comprehensive system to talk about music genres at the present time.

People may refer to some or all of a small group of categories when using period as the criteria for a music genre. These include Early Music, Medieval Music, Renaissance Music, Baroque Music, Classical Music, Romantic Music, and 20th Century Music. The definitions of these music periods are open to interpretation. For example, the Classical period could be defined as lasting from 1730 to 1820 or from 1750 to 1830. Others might say that it started in the late 18th century. All of these interpretations are current today.

Instruments like the saxophone are used in many musical genres, including jazz, rock, and classical.
Instruments like the saxophone are used in many musical genres, including jazz, rock, and classical.

Works like concertos, which have a featured solo instrument highlighted against an orchestral background, and duets, which have only two instruments, fall into the category of instrumentation and treatment of instruments as music genre, as do the designations “orchestral music” or “percussion ensemble music.” Opera is another genre of this type, featuring voices and orchestra, as is a cappella music, which depends on unaccompanied voices.

Musical genres like folk or country are categorized based on the demographics that create them.
Musical genres like folk or country are categorized based on the demographics that create them.

“Popular music” is a genre based on period and means of transmission, as are “traditional music” and “folk music.” “Native American music” and “South African music” are both terms that speak to geography and culture. Marches, lullabies, minuets, and other music named for dances have to do with a combination of form and function.

Possibly the clearest cut set of definitions of music genres is found in award situations, such as in the Grammy Awards. In this context, the genres are based on a variety of criteria — for example, “Alternative” is based on what the music is not; “Children’s” is based on the audience; “Musical Show” is based on form; etc. — which are applied consistently and over time so that a tradition of definition is built up.

Genres of classical music are usually divided into chronological eras.
Genres of classical music are usually divided into chronological eras.

Some of the music genres that are popular today include jazz, hip-hop, rap, rock, rhythm and blues, and pop. Many people have eclectic tastes in music, and people still perform, view, purchase, and enjoy a wide range of music, including show tunes, folk music, classical music, opera, and ballet music.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines a music genre?

Rock music often features electric instruments.
Rock music often features electric instruments.

A music genre is a category that identifies pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. According to Music Expert, genres are often defined by the musical techniques, the style, the context, the content, and the spirit of the themes. For example, blues is known for its use of specific chord progressions and moods.

How many music genres are there?

Hip-hop is a popular music genre.
Hip-hop is a popular music genre.

The exact number of music genres is difficult to determine due to the constant evolution and blending of music; however, everynoise.com, an algorithmically-generated map of the music genre space, lists over 2,000 distinct genres as of 2021. This includes everything from well-known categories like rock and jazz to niche genres such as vaporwave and speedcore.

What is the most popular music genre worldwide?

Opera is a music genre that features voices and an orchestra.
Opera is a music genre that features voices and an orchestra.

Pop music is generally considered the most popular genre worldwide due to its broad appeal and commercial success. According to a report by IFPI's Music Listening 2019, pop music was the most listened-to genre globally, with 64% of respondents citing it as their favorite. However, other genres like hip-hop, dance, and electronic music also have significant global followings.

How do music genres evolve over time?

The complex harmonies in barbershop music require the performances of skilled singers.
The complex harmonies in barbershop music require the performances of skilled singers.

Music genres evolve over time due to cultural shifts, technological advancements, and the creative innovations of artists. As musicians are influenced by different sounds and styles, they often blend elements from various genres, leading to the emergence of new subgenres. For instance, rock and roll evolved from blues and country music, later giving rise to subgenres like punk rock and metal.

Can a song belong to more than one genre?

Yes, a song can belong to more than one genre, a concept known as genre crossing or fusion. Artists often incorporate elements from multiple genres to create a unique sound. For example, a song might blend jazz with hip-hop, creating a fusion that can be categorized under both genres. This blending reflects the dynamic and fluid nature of music genres.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to MusicalExpert about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to MusicalExpert about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon333597

I absolutely love pop country, but I found one just today that made me stop. It's name? Hip-Hopera. that right. a combination of hip-hop and opera.

jonrss

My favorite genre has always been country, but there are so many sub genres within that that it seems non descriptive to just say country. I particularly like classic country and outlaw country. A lot of the pop country that show up on the radio these days sounds terrible to me.

Belted

I usually don't like all the catchy sounding genre names that they apply to seemingly cutting edge styles of music but I heard one recently that I thought was really clever.

There has been a lot of stuff lately that is kind of slow and droning but also has a strong beat. Someone called this style of music drown tempo and that describes it perfectly. It is more than just down tempo, it has an atmosphere that colors everything.

OeKc05

@feasting – I have bought a pop album by a country artist before, and my friend bought the country version. We compared them, and the only difference was the type of instruments used.

The country album had slide guitar that had a twang to it and some banjo music. The pop album had electric guitar and synthesizer, as well as more poppy drum beats.

It's neat how totally different genres of music can be used to back the same songs. The rhyme scheme, the timing, and the melody were all the same, yet they fit with two forms of music that were exact opposites.

feasting

Sometimes music genres cross over and blend together. I can remember when pop was pure pop, but then it became infiltrated with hip-hop and rap. So, the most popular music transformed from happy little bubblegum songs to sex-infused songs with driving beats and lyrics unsuitable for children.

Then there are the country artists who cross over into pop music, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. Some of them have been known to record the same album with two different backing tracks to each song, so that one version of the album is played on pop music stations and the other is played on country stations. Listeners have the option of either buying the country album or the pop album.

orangey03

@seag47 – It is troubling, but that is the way the music business functions. I think the best way to choose your genre is to ask yourself which genre does the majority of your music sound like the most?

You might have classical violins in a folk song, but that doesn't necessarily make it fit into the classical genre. Many rock bands use violins and even orchestras in their music, but they are still rock at the core.

You have to determine what the core of your music is. Are your songs pop at heart, or do they have a medieval undercurrent tying them all together?

seag47

As a musician who has been influenced by so many genres, I find it troubling when people want me to choose which genre my music belongs to. I have talked to a couple of producers, and both of them said they didn't know exactly where I fit in, and they said I needed to pick a genre and gear my music toward that.

My music incorporates elements of pop, rock, folk, classical, and medieval styles. Unless they want to come up with some new term for that, I really don't know how to select just one. I feel that this would limit me, because if people who are interested in one genre see me listed under another, how will they ever discover me?

anon119707

I like so many genres: Ballet, blues, classical, dub, jazz, metal, Motown, opera, pop, punk, R&B, reggae, rock, soca, world. Why? Because they stir me.

CopperPipe

OK fellow wisegeekers: What is your favorite genre in music, and why?

gregg1956

When they try to determine things like the highest grossing music genre, or the most popular music genre in the USA, how do they do that?

I mean, do they just try to get people to fill out music genre surveys, or is there some kind of music genre information generator or what?

Charlie89

Cool article -- you never really think about how many genres of music there are until you really consider music by genre.

My personal favorite is classic rock, but I know my daughter is a fan of the "Lady Gaga" music genre.

Guess that's just the generational gap...

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    • Instruments like the saxophone are used in many musical genres, including jazz, rock, and classical.
      By: Daniele Pietrobelli
      Instruments like the saxophone are used in many musical genres, including jazz, rock, and classical.
    • Musical genres like folk or country are categorized based on the demographics that create them.
      By: Scott Griessel
      Musical genres like folk or country are categorized based on the demographics that create them.
    • Genres of classical music are usually divided into chronological eras.
      By: stokkete
      Genres of classical music are usually divided into chronological eras.
    • Rock music often features electric instruments.
      By: mekcar
      Rock music often features electric instruments.
    • Hip-hop is a popular music genre.
      By: Nikita Buida
      Hip-hop is a popular music genre.
    • Opera is a music genre that features voices and an orchestra.
      By: Kalim
      Opera is a music genre that features voices and an orchestra.
    • The complex harmonies in barbershop music require the performances of skilled singers.
      By: Sinisa Botas
      The complex harmonies in barbershop music require the performances of skilled singers.