Hi there music junkie! Welcome to my list of music genres.
Is this music genres list totally exhaustive? Well, it will be to some, but maybe not to others.
Like, say you think that ‘Dutch New Wave Psyc-Rock’ should be considered a genre, even though there’s only three bands that ever made that stuff, you will say it’s not exhaustive.
But if you’re kind of semi-sane, well yes, this list of music genres is pretty exhaustive.
I’ve tried my best to remove the kind of dry-ness of a long list, by adding some thoughts of my own in places.
You may not agree with some of the things I say, but hey, this is music, we all have our own thoughts and opinions, and I would love it if you add yours into the comments at the end.
I hope you enjoy this list of music genres as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
List of Music Genres
I haven’t put this list of music genres together in order of personal preferences and favourites.
It’s simply in good old-fashioned alphabetical order.
Ambient is a pretty loosely defined genre. It can be created using elements from a number of different genres and styles, including classical, jazz, sounds from nature, and many others.
There is rarely any kind of persistent beat, or definite direction, to ambient music. Instead it tends to ebb and flow with the intention of creating a calming atmosphere and mood.
Ambient music is sometimes produced using acoustic instruments, but it is more often created using synthesizers and digital audio workstations (DAWs).
Here are a few examples of of ambient music:
Brian Eno – ‘Who Are We’
Moby – ‘Porcelain’
Sigur Ros – ‘Olson Olson’
The word ‘baroque’ comes from the Portuguese term ‘barroco’, which translates into English as “oddly shaped pearl”.
This name was given to it because the music critics of the time, believed it to be exaggerated and overly ornamented, which was a little bit rude if you ask me, bet hey, we are talking about art critics.
Baroque music tends to sit within the wider genre of classical music, and more specifically refers to Western European art music from the period between approximately 1600 to 1750.
You may not be too sure as to whether you like baroque music or not. But take a minute to have a listen to the YouTube recording below, and tell me if it doesn’t elevate your soul.
Here are a couple of examples of baroque music:
Antonio Vivaldi – ‘The Four Seasons’
J.S. Bach – ‘Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring’
Dating back to the early twentieth century, bachata is Latin-American, originating in the Dominican Republic.
It derived from Spanish guitar music and the slower-tempo bolero sound which made it’s way over from Cuba.
Bachata music is slow, with romantic and often bittersweet lyrics.
Bachata is also a Latin dance style, and as you would expect it is danced to the sound of bachata music.
High-energy beats and rhythm with harmonious vocals, lively and joyous. You know the stuff.
Since it’s earliest days it has been fused with a number of modern musical styles and has successfully found it’s way around the globe.
Originating from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, Bhangra was a popular celebratory folk dance that welcomed the coming of Spring, or Vaisakhi.
Here’s a little bit of Bhangra that should put a smile on your face:
Blues is an African-American music developed in the American south during the mid-1800’s.
It is the foundation of much American popular music, especially jazz.
The blues has many definitions because it’s a type of music that can have different musical structures.
Some blues musicians play the 12-bar blues, while others like to play the 16-bar blues.
Whichever it is, the blues sound tends to be that of a harmonic language, following a repetitive musical structure.
Blues musicians and blues fans see it as an attitude towards playing music…a feeling, more than defined musical structure.
So I guess a talented blues musician could take almost any piece of music, regardless of its original genre, and make is sound ‘bluesy’.
And now here’s something to make you feel bluesy:
Robert Johnson – ‘Crossroads’
Brazilian music is a very broad term because we’re talking about something that embraces several regional musical styles.
And each of these regional styles has influences from either Europe, America, Africa etc.
The broad genre of Brazilian music is really an umbrella for all of the following musical genres, and more:
- Bossa Nova
- Música Popular Brasileira (MPB)
Contemporary Christian music is always written with lyrics inspired by the Holy Bible and the life of Jesus Christ.
It tends to gently explore themes such as platonic love, kindness, patience, forgiveness etc.
CCM started in the 1960’s with the idea of introducing more modern instruments into religious services.
Usually composed with a very repetitive, upbeat rhythm, and few lyrics often repeated.
Taking the absolute broadest approach, all music can basically be grouped into three major categories: classical, popular and folk music.
I haven’t just made that up, it is fact…fact-o-mundo!
The first green shoots of classical music began way back in the 9th century.
At that time it was a further development Western Christian sacred music traditions.
Known for its instrumental complexities, it became more established between the 16th and 18th centuries.
With very few exceptions, classical music tends to require significant training or musical literacy in order to be able to perform it.
Nowadays it is usually played in concert halls and opera houses.
But with that said, it still permeates our lives through TV and radio commercials, film scores, TV soundtracks and a number of other mediums.
It’s an odd thing that many people will sometimes say that thy don’t like classical music. It’s such a broad genre that it’s almost impossible to apply a blanket opinion.
Here are a few well known examples of classical music:
Ludwig van Beethoven – ‘Symphony No. 5 in C Minor’
Aaron Copland – ‘Appalachian Spring’
J.S. Bach – ‘Suite No. 1 in G Major’
Country music used to be called Hillbilly music, the music of the working class in the southern states of America, making their living off the fat of the land.
By adults, for adults, and about adults. Country music tends to weave a tale of broken hearts, destroyed lives, redemption (but only sometimes). In short…melodrama.
The similarities between country music and blues music is astounding. They both revolve around being hard-working, being poor, but most of all…having a hurting soul,
What music influenced the original country sound?
Most think it was a mix of Mexican, African-American, possibly even Irish and Scottish to some extent.
Here are a few country numbers you might be familiar with:
Tim McGraw – ‘Humble and Kind’
Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’
Carrie Underwood – ‘Before He Cheats’
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers – ‘Islands in the Stream’
I hope you enjoyed that four minutes of Dolly and Kenny as much as I did.
Disco was the original ‘dance music’. It changed the nightclub scene forever. Changed the way DJ’s, well, DJ’d.
It shot to prominence in the ’70s but was to be one of the shortest-lived musical crazes of all time.
But it’s influence still runs deep, real deep.
The structure of disco music will be very familiar with lovers of house music, and it was this that made the disco sound so effortlessly danceable.
It’s produced with a four-to-the-floor structure, which is a beat in four-four time (four beats in a bar, four bars in a phrase) and with the bass drum hit on every beat in common time.
Synthesizers, rhythm guitars, string sections, electric pianos, and syncopated bass lines would be layered over the top of this pretty uniform underlying structure.
Disco suffered from having a lot of haters. New York even saw a Disco Demolition night held at one of it’s parks, where people brought along disco records to destroy.
Electronic Dance Music (EDM), the grown up, direct descendent of disco.
EDM is produced using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Plus also maybe additional synthesizers and/or drum machines.
And it’s a huge genre that has almost no end of sub-genres within it’s sphere.
Here are a just a few of them:
When you consider that each of the above also have sub-genres of their own, you start to get the picture of just how huge the broad EDM genre is.
I can’t really give you a musical structure of EDM, because each of it’s sub-genres tend to have their own unique sound structure.
Have a listen to a couple of these examples of just how different the structure of EDM can be.
Here’s a bit of house:
Larry Heard Presents Mr. White – ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’
Here’s some trance:
Art Of Trance – ‘Madagascar’ (Ferry Corsten Remix)
And this is dubstep:
Benga & Coki – ‘Night’
Emo, is a kind of melded sub-genre of rock and punk…but with all the life and fun squeezed out of it.
First spawned in the ’80s it grew to be pretty popular (but let’s pretend it wasn’t popular because the Emo’s wouldn’t like that) through the ’90s and into the ’00s.
Emo is short for ’emotional’.
Emo music lyrics tend to be about the rejection of mainstream culture, social isolation, depression, and loneliness.
Flamenco is a Spanish style of music and dance.
The term ‘Flamenco’ actually refers to a broader art form developed in Andalusia in southern Spain, which comprises three disciplines: baile (dance), toque (guitar playing) and cante (song).
Flamenco lyrics tend to draw on feelings of heartache, joy, tragedy, jubilation, amongst others.
The music of flamenco is usually quite brief and simply composed.
How you think of folk music will probably be quite dependent on where you live and where you come from.
First, there is what I believe to be the more accurate belief; that folk music is actually similar to what’s known as ‘traditional’ music.
And that is to say that folk music has an unbreakable tie to it’s own place and community. It’s sound and structure can be very different from place to place, but it’s the folk music of that place or community.
The second belief is that folk music is a certain style of music, with a pretty recognisable structure and sound, that arose in the United States during the 1960s.
But I suppose whatever the structure and characteristics of the sound, or where it comes from, folk music is definitely all about storytelling.
Stories about friendships, relationships, love, nature etc.
Stories that define us as a people, and as a community, whether that be on a local or global scale.
Born in the United States during the ’60s, Funk enjoyed it’s heyday throughout the ’70s.
With a rich range of influences, including r&b, soul, gospel, blues, it’s a sound that itself still runs through a great deal of modern chart music.
A leading characteristic of funk is that the bass-line is brought to the fore, with the melody sitting slightly behind it.
This puts the emphasis of a track firmly on it’s rhythm, which is why funk is known for being so easily danceable.
Do you love funk?
Gospel music as a genre of it’s own, has it’s origins in the christian churches of the African-American community.
Gospel itself was influenced from a number of music styles such as christian hymns, jazz, blues, amongst others.
And it has in-turn influenced much 20th and 21st century music. Soul music, motown, r&b have all been influenced by the sound of gospel.
A quite astounding number of hugely successful recording artists come from a background of gospel.
Indian classical music originated in South Asia, born from the ancient Indians becoming captivated by the spiritual power of music.
The music has a contemplative and spiritual nature and draws inspiration from the phenomena of the natural world, such as the days dawn, nightfall, the four seasons etc.
Tending to be a solitary pursuit, many people enjoy Indian classical music for its meditative and uplifting qualities.
The primary instruments of Indian classical music are the Sitar, Tabla, Veena, Mridangam, and the voice.
There’s no absolute definition of indie.
The terms ‘indie rock’ and indie band’ came simply from describing the music coming out of independent music labels during the 1970s.
So at the outset, indie was open to all sorts of musical interpretations.
But by the late ’90s it had come to define itself more precisely, as by this time it was the name given to a style of guitar rock with a more basic, stripped-back feel.
Muse are probably as good an example of an indie band as any, so here they are:
Jazz is very hard to define, partly because there are no end of sub-genres, and parly because jazz breaks every rule of music.
Common characteristics of jazz tend to be complex harmonies, improvisation, precise communication between band members when performing (because of the extensive improvisation that takes place) and musical iteration.
I like everything to be neat and tidy all the time, so my mind that loves order struggles to really enjoy jazz.
I appreciate jazz, and I admire jazz musicians, but I need to chill more, in order to properly get it.
Merengue is equally a music genre and a style of dance, originating in the Dominican Republic.
Merengue music tends to be performed using a number of instruments, including tambora, güira, trumpet, saxophone, accordion, keyboards,bass guitar/
Merengue music often includes a singer and the lyrics tend to be light-hearted and fun.
Metal music. The ADHD spawn of rock, and in-turn, the mother of it’s own delinquent child ‘heavy metal’.
The sound of metal is that of aggressive vocals, distorted guitars, low-range bass, and powerful, often frenetic drumming.
Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States, with Black Sabbath being widely considered the the founders of the sound.
Metal’s own spawn, heavy metal, went on to birth it’s own deviant children, or musical sub-genres, if you prefer, namely:
- Thrash metal
- Power metal
- Black metal
- Glam metal
- Death metal
I could very easily go on, and on, about motown…because I love it!
If that’s what you want then just go directly to my ‘What is Motown‘ post.
But let’s try and explain it here in a couple of sentences.
Motown has deep roots in the music of soul, gospel and r&b.
It is defined by a solid backbeat, upbeat tempo, melodic instruments and equally melodic and powerful vocal performances.
Here’s one of my all-time favourite motown tracks:
Soothing, mood-lifting, relaxing, these are all very common terms use to describe new-age music.
New age music is gentle melodies played on instruments like the harp, piano, flute, guitar, organ etc.
It’s is quite common for new age music to incorporate sounds from nature, and where there are vocals, they ten not to be actual lyrics, but more floaty harmonies and sounds.
Like this sort of thing:
I love new wave, but it’s far from easy to clearly define as a genre.
New wave appeared in the late ’70s, with a similar attitude to punk, but less angry, less political, and definitely more fun and tongue-in-cheek.
That said, new wave bands carried with them the same individuality and irreverence, and the sound, while very different, was itself often edgy.
Preferred instruments of new wave bands, were guitars, synthesizers, drums, sometimes a trumpet or something similar.
XTC, Gary Numan, Blondie, Talking Heads, Teardrop Explodes. These are all new wave artists that defined the scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Here’s XTC performing Sergeant Rock on Top of the Pops in 1981:
You’ll have noticed from the video, that this was filmed at a time when it was deemed necessary for singers to mime along to their own lyrics, for almost all TV studio performances.
This was a totally bizarre phenomena that went on for a few years. A real shame because singers such as XTC’s Andy Partridge were more than capable of delivering strong live vocal performances.
It’s Northern England.
It’s the late 1960s.
The youth are finding the American and British chart music that’s currently dominating the radio waves, as well as the late night scene, pretty uninspiring.
They started searching for a more exciting sound…
…and they found it!
Northern Soul was a cultural movement, more than simply a music genre, so the music varied widely.
But the music always tended to have a syncopated beat, and was more often than not a melded combination of American soul and motown.
Up-beat, fast-paced, driving rhythmic beats, powerful soulful vocals.
Here’s a nailed on northern soul classic for you:
Opera is linked to a form of theatre where the story is told through the musical performances.
The actors/singers sing the lines of the story. And of course, because opera relies on extremely powerful vocal delivery, the actors are very talented operatic singers.
Opera music composers include Wagner, Verdi, and Mozart.
What is the definition of pop music?
Trying to answer that questions causes endless disagreement amongst music lovers.
The genre is huge. What even is the genre? Is it the same as ‘popular’ music.
You can find out what I think in this whole article I wrote about ‘What is Pop Music…Exactly!’
In my opinion, music needed punk, when it came along kicking and screaming in 1976.
Not that there was anything wrong with the music that the ’70s was serving up.
But punk kind of threw everything up in the air, and when it all landed, there was creative space for people to take different musical directions.
Basically a sub-genre of rock, punk is quicker and less complex, more directly and intentionally anti-establishment.
When I sat less complex, that’s probably a bit of an understatement, as punk is pretty minimalist, rarely venturing further than three-chords, a furious beat and vocals
Ska, blue-beat, rocksteady, these three Jamaican music styles, each of course having their own far-reaching musical influences, provided the fertile soil from which the green shoots of the reggae sound would first appear.
Somewhere around 1969 the development of reggae as a sound of it’s own began.
More vocals and lyrics, prominent organs, rhythmic instruments, skank guitars, nothing too dissimilar to ska and rocksteady on the face of it, but the sound was definitely changing.
By the mid ’70s the sound had developed into what we would now instantly recognise as reggae.
Songs with lyrics addressing political issues and calling for social change. The music now using minor keys and a slower tempo, as well as rock style guitars.
Of course we can’t not listen to a little bit of the late, great Bob Marley…and in 432hz too!
R&B (Rhythm & Blues)
R&B music dates back to the 1940s, where it has it’s roots in the African-American communities.
While it is closely related to soul, gospel, jazz, it is even more so to blues.
Key characteristics are that it is very vocal genre, often powerful solo singers, or sometimes vocal groups.
R&B does tend to get used as a blanket term to describe any number of other popular music genres, particularly soul and funk.
Here’s a quick shot of contemporary r&b, Rihanna style:
Rock music is a broad style and genre, with it’s first origins in the USA and the United Kingdom towards the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Very generally, rock music has a 4/4 time signature, and a song with a verse/chorus structure.
It tends to be hard-edged, and performed with a strong emphasis on electric lead-guitars, bass and drums.
And of course, rock music is well known for having powerful vocal performances.
Rock music has certainly stood the test of time, but it’s history has been unpredictable and at times volatile.
Maybe it’s because to this that the genre has been able to constantly evolve, redefine and reinvent itself.
Originating in Jamaica in roughly 1966, Rocksteady was a natural successor to ska and a forerunner to reggae.
Rocksteady has similar recognisable elements to those of ska; walking bass-line, off-beat guitar chops and rhythms etc.
That said, rocksteady doesn’t tend to be played at quite the same quick pace as ska.
What do you think of this slice of rocksteady:
Do you LOVE it?
Salsa is a melded blend of musical styles and rhythms.
The genre’s roots are from the Afro-Spanish music of Cuba.
It has influences from mambo, cha-cha-chá and Cuban rumba.
And to a lesser extent, also from merengue, calypso.
How did ska come to be?
Well, it’s both complicated, and not at all complicated.
If you try to explain it, being born out of elements of Caribbean mento and calypso, with influences from American jazz and rhythm and blues…
…it starts to seem pretty complicated. Like a committee of old men sat down and deliberated over its invention.
But it doesn’t seem anywhere near as complicated when you say that it just kind of happened, in Jamaica, in the late 1950s.
That sounds much less complicated, and exciting.
And that’s why ska got so popular so quickly, because it just happened, and it was exciting.
Ska is quick, it’s upbeat. With it’s walking bass-line, drum-beats on the second and fourth beats, four/four time structure, guitar chops on the off-beat…it’s made for dancing…even for people who can’t usually dance!
Typical arrangement of a ska band would be vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, keyboard, trombone, trumpet, drums…sax sometimes.
Willis Jackson – ‘Later for the Gator’
Millie Small – ‘My Boy Lollipop’
Derrick Morgan – ‘Forward March’
Prince Buster – ‘Madness’
Listen to this and tell me, tell me, tell me, that it doesn’t make you feel like dancing.
The Specials – ‘Pressure Drop’
No? I don’t believe you!
Soul music came directly from both traditional blues and gospel music.
Soul was born in the ’50s and ’60s and became internationally popular within a decade.
Soul is defined by blues harmonies, gospel traditions, skilled musicians and powerful vocals.
Soul music is a critical genre in musical history. If it were not for Soul, we would not have so many other musical genres that we love.
You can read my whole article all about ‘What is Soul Music‘, if you like.
Or just enjoy listening to this perfectly crafted gem:
Swing is a sub-genre of jazz that came from African-American origin.
It dominated the American popular music scene between roughly 1930 and 1945 to the extent that these years are often referred to as the ‘Swing Era’.
Swing tends to be played by big bands has a unique rhythm and feel.
Accentuating the beats two and four, and replacing the steady eighth note with a swinging eighth note.
A walking bass line with layered accents and syncopation complete what people recognise as the sound of swing.
Swing was so popular, and lent itself so easily to getting up and dancing, that whole new dances evolved from it, such as the jitterbug and the lindy-hop.
Glenn Miller Band – ‘Strings of Pearls’
Cab Calloway – ‘Minnie the Moocher’
Duke Ellington – ‘Perdido’
Many global regions and communities have their own traditional music.
As far as the sound is concerned, it can literally be anything, because the term ‘traditional music’ does not define any specific musical structure, or sound.
Traditional music is any music that has it’s own deep roots a geographical region and/or community.
There you go, all done-and-dusted, my hand curated list of music genres.
You my love some of these music genres, and you may really dislike some.
But never try to tell anybody else what they should like or dislike.
Music is art, and the appreciation of art is completely subjective. Different strokes for different folks.