What are the Different Music Genres?

Dan Cavallari

While it would be unwieldy and almost impossible to discuss every genre of music out there today, several major categories exist in which other subgenres may fall. Perhaps the largest of these music genres is rock and roll, an umbrella genre under which several other types of music can be categorized. Other major music genres include classical, folk, jazz, R&B, blues, metal, and world music.

Many musicians use amplification to boost or change the sound of their instrument.
Many musicians use amplification to boost or change the sound of their instrument.

Rock and roll is characterized by up-tempo beats and guitar-heavy sounds. Within the genre of rock and roll, one will find the music genres of folk rock, alternative, and heavy metal. All of these music genres rely heavily on guitars at various sound levels and distortions; for example, folk rock typically involves the use of acoustic guitars and clean-tone electric guitars at a soft or moderate volume; heavy metal goes in the extreme opposite direction and uses mainly heavily distorted electric guitars. Vocals are often sung loudly or even screamed. Alternative music tends to combine elements of these two genres. Rock and roll was born from the blues genre, as was R&B--short for rhythm and blues.

Classical music is usually performed by orchestras.
Classical music is usually performed by orchestras.

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The glues genre comes from African-American musicians and is characterized by distinct song structures and themes. Blues can be up-tempo or mellow and often focus on some sort of struggle or sorrow; they are often based on spiritual hymns, work songs, chants, or narrative stories. The blues are most often constructed around certain chord progressions called the 12-bar blues. Because of the themes associated with the blues, people will often say they have the blues when they are sad or depressed.

Rock music almost always incorporates guitars.
Rock music almost always incorporates guitars.

Classical music is one of the major music genres and has been around for centuries. Classical music consists of meticulously composed scores often revolving around pianos and full orchestras. The melodies are often complex and musical scores are oftentimes, but not always, themed. In centuries past, classical music was most popular among the music genres and was prominent in early American, British, and European societies--though again, not exclusively. Today, classical music is commonly heard in movie scores and in local and national symphony halls.

World music is an extremely large genre that encompasses a wide variety of music from around the world. It may include tribal chants, sea shanties, music from various nations and cultures, and anything else that is individual to a certain culture or region. Because this is the largest of the music genres, one might argue it encompasses all music in general; however, in order to be considered world music, a subgenre must demonstrate some sort of regionality or cultural tie.

Classical music involves composed scores played by pianos and orchestras.
Classical music involves composed scores played by pianos and orchestras.

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Discussion Comments


What I find really interesting is, no matter how cheesy and synthesized many 80s songs are, 80s music genres still have an impact on music today, and not just in the ironic 80s style music.

Look at punk, and it's influence on music, or even the way that so many songs today have music videos -- how's that for influence.

Now granted, the "keytaur" may not have had that great of an impact...


Now I'm all for experimentation and new musical genres, but seriously, hearing people say that there is a new "Lady Gaga" music genre makes me kind of ill.

Talented artist, visually interesting, but not a new genre in music.


What a great article for such a broad topic. So now that you've researched all the genres of music, then what would you say the highest grossing music genre is? What is the most popular music genre in the USA?

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