UNDERSTANDING MUSIC GENRES – THE BASICS is an opinion piece. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why understand music genres?

Music continues to be a major player in modern life and impacts all spheres of social and cultural influence – from politics to business to entertainment and so on. Even though the value received by music artists has been marginalised by record labels, publishers and more recently, tech companies – the value added by music artists remains vitally important.

Thus, it is important to have an understanding of how music works, even if it is on a superficial level. This is not just limited to someone who works in the arts and music industry. In fact, anybody who is in an industry with even a peripheral association with music needs this crucial understanding.

Understanding Music Genres is an ongoing PoP Theory series wherein we will explore music genres throughout history, from the basics to the diversity of contemporary times.

The FOUR basic music genres

Our starting point is to establish the most fundamental music genres, which in my opinion, covers all music genres that currently exist.

These are Classical Music, Traditional Music, Popular Music and Avant Garde Music.

Classical Music

Originated in Europe during Medieval times and developed in Baroque & Classical periods (circa 1600 – 1850). The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to distinctly canonise the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Beethoven as a golden age. Typically, Classical Music is performed on traditional Western instruments – ranging from solo piano to a 100-piece orchestra.

Traditional Music

The term traditional (or ethnic) music is often used as a broad classification of music genres that contrasts with classical music and popular music genres as referring to genres founded neither upon any theoretical canon nor upon any mass commercial medium. Traditional music is usually transmitted orally, with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. In addition, the music is often related to national culture and may be primarily relevant to a specific locality.

Popular Music

As defined by Philip Tagg, “Popular music 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.”

This definition is certainly wider than what most casual music fans might consider pop music but this will give us sufficient latitude to explore these concepts in subsequent discussions.

Avant Garde Music

Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of innovation in its field, with the term “avant-garde” implying a critique of existing aesthetic conventions, rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original or purely conceptual elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences. One key characteristic of Avant-garde music would be a penchant for experimentation.

Of course, there are overlaps amongst these four fundamental music genres over time, which serve to create new hybrid music genres. This is essential in order for music to continue to grow and develop. The ability to analyse the roots of these subsequent hybrids and sub-genres is critical for anyone seriously interested in understanding music genres.

As always, I would appreciate any feedback you might have about UNDERSTANDING MUSIC – THE BASICS over at the Power of Pop Facebook page.

still there’s more