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10 Popular Music Genre Meanings with Examples

Music Genres

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What Does Music Genre Mean?

Music genres are categories that identify a specific piece of music. The music follows a particular pattern or shared sound, and it’s how songs get classified.

Music has been divided into multiple genres throughout history, following a range of targeted criteria. While millions of songs and music tracks range in sounds, patterns, and structure, just over 1,200 subgenres of music found are definable.

So, how did music genres evolve? Music trends and styles are shaped by history. Many songs are reflective of the band or musician’s own struggles.

Consider the epic world events that have occurred over the years and how music has been a direct statement or message. Political events, economic situations, and technological advances have all played integral roles in the evolution of the musical genre.

10 Popular Music Genre Meanings with Examples

While you may feel you’re familiar with rock music, electronic dance music, or other pieces of music, examples are the best way to demonstrate musical styles. Traditional music in the United States became more commonly referred to as “western music.” 

Here are some of the most popular music styles that fall into particular genres and examples of easy songs that relate to those different genres. Some also contain elements of different genres and make up their own music category.

1. Hip Hop

Most people categorize hip-hop as a rap style of music, but hip-hop is more than that. It’s often classified because it has a strong back “beat,” usually done in a loop.

Some artists like to make their own beats or use their own instruments, like the Beastie Boys. Rhythmic chanting and rhyming are other characteristics of this musical genre. 

Early hip-hop artists included Jurassic Five or A Tribe Called Quest, but it turned more rap in music style with famous hip-hop musicians like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eminem. An excellent example of a more modern-day hip-hop vibe is the song “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg, featuring Pharrell Williams.

2. Classical Music

Classical music is a type of music written in a European tradition reflective from 1750 to 1830. It has complex harmony and melody, usually with a full orchestra, and is often referred to as a “symphony.”

Many pianists or those who play piano learn classical-style songs. It contains a different style that separates it from folk and jazz music. A more modern sound you hear today that is similar to classical-style music is in film scores.

Famous musicians of the classical era of music include Ludwig van Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Juan Strauss II. An example of classical style music you still hear even today is “Spring” by Antonio Vivaldi, part of an epic concerto entitled “The Four Seasons.”

3. Traditional and Folk Music 

Traditional music is a broad term, but folk music is more specific. Folk songs are usually categorized by their recognizable sound of strummed or picked guitars.

It boasts a more traditional style of playing with string instruments. These genres of music can be challenging to pin down, but their traditional roots are similar.

More commonly referred to as coffeehouse music or indie rock today. It has elements of acoustic and is inspired by bluegrass at its roots. It’s a genre that falls between rock music and country music, to be more technical. 

Some famous folk music and traditional music artists include Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Pete Seeger, and Simon & Garfunkel. For example, a good song that reflects folk styles is the tune “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan.

4. Rock and Alternative Rock

Rock music is a category that often gets confused with pop music, but that’s only because “pop” technically means “popular.” Rock and alternative rock music has driving beats, using more instruments like drums, bass, and electric guitar. Rock also utilizes other instruments like keyboards and horns.

Rock has evolved in its sound throughout the years. Early rock bands that made simple chord progressions with a noticeable structure were the Beatles, Queen, and Led Zeppelin.

Other rock bands considered hard rock with more complexities in their musical styles include Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath. 

Rock has guitar riffs or solos, along with versatile singers, and is always begging to be more innovative in its delivery. An example of a timeless rock song is “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns and Roses, which features an opening guitar solo and some innovative singing by Axel Rose.

5. Country Music

The country music genre stands out by having a characteristic “twang” to its singing and instrumental delivery. The music is bouncy, catchy, and more prominent in the south. Many people associate country music with cowboy boots and two-step or line dancing. 

Popular musicians in the country music realm include Hank Williams, the late Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash. Modern country music stars include Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, and Blake Shelton. An excellent example of the twangy guitar sound and voice is Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line,” a song written for his first wife.

6. Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

The electronic dance music genre seems to be a new style, but the music style has been around since the disco music era in the 1970s. EDM music is more commonly known as “club music,” which is noticeable by heavy beat machines or double beats. Sub-genres of electronic dance music are techno, trap, and house styles. 

You can find electronic dance remixes of music hits, such as pop music. The tempo is always upbeat and dance-y. Some popular electronic music artists are early forms from the disco era and include Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, and The Bee Gees. More modern artists incorporate more repetitive lyrics and beat in the musical composition

Artists such as DJ Snake, David Guetta, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and Tiesto are today more recognized electronic dance music musicians. An excellent example of an electronic musical form that you hear in the EDM genre is “Levels” by Avicii.

7. Pop Music

Pop music has always been thought of by people as more “bubblegum” pop than what it stands for, popular music. By that definition, pop music can be of any musical genre, from punk rock to the classical period. It’s not a genre on its own, but it is thought of in that way. 

Pop music has evolved throughout the years; in the 60s it was more rock style. In the 70s and 80s, there were styles including wave, synthpop, and hair metal (power ballads). In the 90s, grunge and alternative music were all across the radio waves. The genre of popular music serves to the development of a new style every decade.

Michael Jackson is referred to by many as the “King of Pop,” which is why his song “Beat It” is the best example of the music genre. Depending on the era or what people enjoyed listening to, pop musicians range from The Beatles to Elvis Presley (who was influenced by gospel music). 

Many famous artists of the genre, like Elton John, Nirvana, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Mariah Carey, and today’s new age artists like Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, and Post Malone. The musical form of pop has a wide appeal across different genres.

8. Heavy Metal 

Heavy metal music is sometimes called “metal,” a form of rock music using heavier guitar and drum sounds. Usually, the vocalist is more aggressive, sometimes more like yelling and screaming into the microphone rather than singing.

Depending on the period, the definition of heavy metal can be a little foggy. In the 60s and 70s, most people associated artists like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Deep Purple as metal bands. A tremendous anti-war metal song by Black Sabbath is “War Pigs,” which focuses more on the aggressive guitar style.

Today, the genre name is associated with a more aggressive musical style to reach a wider audience, including bands like Metallica, Korn, Disturbed, and Avenged Sevenfold. An example of a more popular heavy metal music song is “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down, where you hear more of the aggressive tone and vocal timbre.

9. Jazz Music

Jazz music has many musical subgenres that sprouted from it, including swing music or big band, funk music, and R&B. But the purest form of jazz is categorized by complex piano chord progressions, sophisticated harmonies, and the kicker – improvised playing and singing.

Songs extend for long periods. Many people turn to an “easy listening” radio station and are treated to some jazz.

Many jazz bands include the piano, bass, drums, and some horns. Some jazz bands incorporate the violin or guitar at times. Some great artists from the jazz music era include Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Herbie Hancock.

One of the standout jazz influences for today is the fantastic ability to be innovative and creative with improvising (free jazz) on stage. You can hear it in a live version example of “My Funny Valentine” by Miles Davis in concert from 1964. 

10. Rhythm and Blues (R&B Music)

Rhythm and Blues is a form of music from African American communities in the 1940s. It contains elements of different genres like rap music or hip hop, funk, jazz, and doo-wop. It also contains elements of pop and rock music. 

The definition of R&B, like some other musical genres, has changed over time. The early days of R&B are sometimes referred to as Motown throughout the music industry.

It does boast its own sound that makes it recognizable by some famous African American musicians like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Ray Charles. Prolific artists like Little Richard and James Brown elevated the R&B sound by adding a rock element. 

FAQs About Music Genre Meaning

What is the Difference Between a Music Genre and a Music Style?

A music genre is a broader term or umbrella that includes numerous music styles. So, for instance, if Jazz music is the genre, you can find other styles in the genre of jazz, including swing, jazz fusion, and be-bop. The rock genre of music lends itself to styles such as hard rock, classic rock, and so on.

What Does “Indie” Mean in Music?

The term “indie” is short for independent. It usually refers to independently released music by an artist who doesn’t work under or with a record label. Indie doesn’t necessarily refer to a style of music.

However, most people associate more folk or traditional music with “indie” because it has simplistic roots, typically with only a featured solo instrument. This is mindful of an independent artist who may only use one or two instruments when recording and distributing without the use of a studio.

What Does the “Post” Affix Mean in Relation to Music Genres?

If you hear a term like “post-rock,” it refers to examples of genres where there was a change from its original roots. Stemming from rock in the Beatles era (the 60s), for example, differs from rock like Nirvana, played in the 90s. This rock music is very different than the rock that came before it. The “post” is meant to imply that it will be the last stage of the music at the present time. 

New Genres of Music

Genres that are popular today may not stay popular music in the future. The music industry is ever-changing and evolving, and with the rise of more electronic instruments, it’s no surprise that new music genres could emerge. Young people, music lovers, and independent musicians are always looking for ways to advance contemporary music, bringing different elements together to create a popular genre. 

So, while you may feel comfortable with this list of music genres, it could change drastically soon. Music has the power to take on different forms, and the artistic nature of music will continue to grow and change as we do, paving the way for a new favorite music genre.

3 Responses

  1. I was down with your descriptions of music genre’s for the most part. But for someone who came of age in the 80s, which is my least favorite decade of music, to call Nirvana and Led Zeppelin pop is absolutely off. They are the opposite of pop. I realize it comes from “popular” but no one considers Pop in that manner. Like you said, popular music is not a genre. However, Pop has developed into one. Bubble gum music is precisely how I describe it.

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