It’s important to understand music genres as it enables you to tell various kinds of music apart. Categorising songs in this way is a useful means for the industry to distinguish musically styles on streaming sites, digital platforms and in album sales.
Are you confused by all the different types of music and wondering where you fit in as a singer or musician? In this article, we’ll take a look at the main genres of music and how they’ve influenced modern culture across the world.
Music genres list explained
All music is put into a category based on various musical elements. This can be related to the vocal style, instruments involved, pace, beats, timing, lyrics, structure and more. The term ‘genre’ isn’t specific to music either. Books, films, art and theatre are all grouped in this way too.
Types of music
Different cultures and countries have entirely different genres. But many are universal, in the western world at least. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest genres in this country.
One of the oldest musical genres, classical is defined by the vocal orchestral styles that emerged between 1750 and 1820. It’s a very wide genre and includes some of the most famous composers like Beethoven and Rachmaninov.
Closely related to the classical music tradition in the west (and often overlapping), opera features vocal performances that tell a story to music.
This is another very old genre but maintains its popularity with many dedicated folk nights and festivals. Traditional folk music is passed down over time and often has no author, while modern artists create original folk songs. Although globally, folk can sound quite different, storytelling is at the forefront. Regions often have their own sub-genres of folk.
The mainstay of clubs and bars, this is electronic music with roots in disco as well as pop. It took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the advent of raves. Check out some good dance songs here.
#5 Drum and Bass (Jungle)
After dance came high BPM drum and heavy bass became a fully-fledged genre of its own. Now genres like drill follow its lead.
Garage, drum and bass combine to form dubstep, which came to prominence in the early 2000s, borrowing the heavy bass lines and distorted tones used in drum and bass. Dubstep combined garage timing and urban influences to create an extremely energetic genre of music that crosses over with electronic dance music.
#7 Easy Listening
A vague genre term that simply refers to a laid back style of music – it can include songs from within various other genres. Coming to prominence in the 1970s the genre has perhaps gone through a bit of re-brand in the form of chill-out music.
Stemming from rock, pop, heavy metal and punk, this is particularly emotive music characterised by expressive melodic musicianship and often confessional lyrics. Emo is also linked to a particular fashion and personality style.
With African American influences funk is a groovy genre that takes cues from Soul, Jazz and R&B. It arrived in the 1960s and has gone on to influence almost every genre of dance music as well as modern rock.
Originally played by a single performer singing with a guitar or banjo, in the 1960s more instruments were introduced and it and made its way across the Atlantic to the UK and beyond. Blues features a 12 bar chord structure with 4 bars on the root note of the scale followed by two on the 4th. This is then followed by two on the root, one bar on the 5th, one bar on the 4th and another two on the root.
Alongside electronic dance music, drum and bass, soul and R&B came garage, a product of the 1990s. It’s made up of heavy baselines, irregular kick drum patterns and syncopations.
Less prolific these days, grunge music is based on rock and punk and was popularised in the 1990s by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It featured an anguished vocal style and perhaps a more negative outlook on life.
This recently evolved British is a take on hip-hop, dubstep, garage, drum and bass, rap and R&B. One of it’s most famous devotees is Stormzy. Gaining an audience through pirate radio stations in London, it has evolved to incorporate more sounds and rhythms, gaining massive popularity in the process.
#14 Hip Hop
This American genre kickstarted a lot of new creativity in terms of musical styles. It’s still a mainstay of American music and began in the USA before seeing a surge of popularity and sub-genre offshoots here.
Meaning ‘independent’ this genre is also used in the film industry. It describes artists and bands who were not part of the mainstream music industry machine. The style of indie music is typically a rock band set-up with elements of punk and dance.
Jazz began in New Orleans in the early 1900s. It’s an improvisational genre and often crosses over with easy listening. It features a mix of rhythms and tempos as well as solos. Brass and keys are important instruments in jazz music. Some singers like Amy Winehouse have been influenced by this movement.
So-called because it relates to Latin America, Latin music was popularised in the United States in the 20th century by Hispanic and Latino immigrants. It’s percussion-heavy and driven by energy, passion, pulsating rhythms and movement. As well as traditional Latin, pop Latin is a big sub-genre.
Metal, or Heavy Metal, is a sub-genre of rock. It features electric guitars, bass and drums, distorted guitar sounds and heavy, aggressive vocals.
This is a unique genre, as it came from a record label: Motown Records, a subsidiary of Universal. It’s a groovy pop-soul hybrid that’s enduringly popular.
Like country music, gospel originated in the deep south of the USA. However, gospel choirs are now everywhere. And with artists like Whitney Houston making the crossover from gospel to pop, it’s a firm part of the music industry. It’s also linked to the sub-genre of Christian music, a more contemporary take on the gospel sound.
Also known as country and western, this genre began in the south of the USA. Nashville is still the capital and hub of country music. While it had huge popularity in the 1950s with singers like Johnny Cash, artists like Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill have made it trendy again.
Combining the influence of working-class immigrants it stems from a combo of Irish and Celtic folk, traditional English ballads and cowboy songs. As a genre, it can also be broken down into country pop, country gospel, country rock and neo-country.
Pop music is short for ‘popular music’. It’s an ever-evolving genre that encompasses any music designed for the masses. It’s usually either light and frothy or love ballads. Here’s a list of great pop songs to auditions with.
Birthed in the 1980s, Punk is a rebellious, radical (and often political) British music genre. It’s characterised by heavy, fast guitars, simplistic songs and basic recording techniques. Like Emo, Punk has become an adjective as well as a noun and formed a fashion movement.
Rap is spoken, rather than sung, to a backing track of beats. It was developed alongside hip hop has grown to incorporate increasingly complex rhyme schemes and has been appreciated in the same regard as poetry. Rappers often collaborate with artists from other genres to create an interesting mashup.
Bob Marley began reggae in Jamaica in the 1960s, fusing offbeat, staccato Jamaican folk music with jazz and R&B. Reggae is closely linked to Rastafarianism and Afrocentric religion.
One of the biggest and widest genres, rock features a 4/4 rhythm in verse-chorus songs. These can be up-tempo numbers or heavier ballads. Electric guitars and drums play a big part.
Another genre that has African American roots, soul music hot a peak in the 1970s and is derived from original rhythm and blues, gospel and jazz.
#28 Techno, house and trance
Techno music is a direct descendant of the dance music genre. It differentiates itself by having a much higher tempo and kick 4/4 kick drum lead beat. Another offshoot of electronic dance music and techno, trance features heavily synthesised lead lines that have to induce a trance-like and euphoric state in dancers. House music is very similar and often grouped together with these.
This list is by no means exhaustive, there are very many genres and sub-genres and it’s an ever-changing landscape. Other countries will have their own styles of music too. But hopefully, this gives you a clear idea of what a music genre is, and why it’s relevant to you.
- What are the main genres of music?
This is a subjective matter, and different musicians will have varying options on this. But the main genres are currently pop, rock, indie, classical, opera, musical theatre, grime, RnB, dance, electro, rap and folk.
- What is the number one genre of music?
That’s a matter of opinion, but pop is arguably the biggest one in the UK. What’s fascinating about the evolution of music is that geography, family, friends and culture play a huge role in the popularity of music. Your friendship group, for example, probably has a top genre.
- How many different genres of music are there?
It’s almost impossible to say as it’s constantly changing. Music in the modern age is incredibly diverse and every genre borrows something from another, then evolves. One of the newest genres is drill, a UK offshoot of grime and rap.
What’s your favourite genre of music and which songs do you like to sing? Let us know in the comments below.