There are now over 1,700 sub-genres of music after the proliferation in the 20th century. New sub-genres are usually based on existing ones and created by mixing or modifying them. There are way too many genres to list them all here, but let’s look at the nine most popular music genres, their history, and their classification.
What is a Music Genre?
A genre is a way to categorize music according to a particular set of conventions or traditions. It is not the same as musical style or form. Music genres have three variables which define it:
- Valence: The emotional feeling of the song.
- Arousal: The energy level of the song.
- Depth: The songs emotional depth level.
Keep in mind that music genres often overlap. Since music is a creative field, genre classifications are subjective depending on the listener as well. Not everyone will have the same reaction to a given song.
And without further ado, here’s the list of the top nine genres in popular music:
The blues originated in the deep south with African Americans. Deep and soulful sounds and enchanting lyrics capture the attention of the audience. Year of the genre’s conception can be placed at around late 1800s. It is based on the work songs, spirituals, folk music, field hollers and chants.
Dance and Electronic Dance Music (EDM)
In the beginning, electronic music started as a bunch of niche sounds. Later, becoming mainstream in the form that is popular today. The earliest forms originated in countries like Italy, France, Egypt, Germany and Japan before coming to America. Year it appeared is early 1900s, becoming prevalent in popular music in the 1990s. It aims at reproducing instrument sounds through electronic means.
Jazz originated in New Orleans within African American communities. It is known as one of America’s original forms of art. Rich sound is beloved all over the world, with festivals big and small celebrating this particular genre in various ways. Jazz was formed as a genre in late 1800s and early 1900s. The genre takes inspiration from blues, spirituals and ragtime.
Rock and Roll, or rockabilly, originated in the United States before developing into many different styles of rock starting in the 1960s. Elvis Presley is hailed as the King of Rock-n-Roll and will forever be remember for his contributions. In early 1950s the roots of rock took form and it is heavily influenced by the blues, rhythm and blues, country, electric blues and folk.
Heavy metal music developed mainly in the United Kingdom. The performance style associated with metal is aggressiveness. Pioneering bands include Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Heavy metal fans are called headbangers. Genre gained its name in late 1960s, being based, like many other genres, on blues; or, more specifically, blues rock, acid rock and psychedelic rock.
Rap and Hip Hop
Although often classified together, hip hop and rap are not the same. Rap is a sub-genre of hip hop. Hip hop originated in the Bronx among African American youth. Jamaican deejays heavily influenced hip hop styles. DJ Kool Herc is the father of hip hop and the conception can be traced to the 1970s. It is based on reggae, funk, soul and disco.
Country music, or country and western, originated in the southern United States. Before the 1940s it was “hillbilly” music. It originated in 1920s, taking influence from folk, Western, Appalachian folk, and blues. The folk music which it’s based upon came from working-class Americans who blended Irish and Celtic fiddle songs, English ballads, cowboy songs, and European immigrant musical traditions.
Folk music got passed down orally. Most times the originator isn’t known, and the songs remained a tradition over many generations. Folk revivals in the mid-1900s created a new form of popular folk music including folk rock, but the origin is anchored in 1800s. Genre is taking inspiration from memorized oral traditions and cultures.
Pop music got its start in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is often called music for teenagers in the form instant singles. It began mid-1950s and is based on rock and folk music.
Explore More Music Genres
Interested in listening to over 1750 different genres of music?
Every Noise at Once lets you sample them all, plus has links to Spotify if you’d like to find more songs in a particular genre.