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History of music

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History of music

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Music has a long and complex history. It may predate language (and certainly predates the written word) and is found in every known culture, past and present, varying wildly between times and places.

A culture's music is influenced by all other aspects of that culture, including social and economic organization, climate, and access to technology. The emotions and ideas that music expresses, the situations that music is played and listened to in, and the attitudes toward music players and composers all vary between regions and periods.

"Music history" is the distinct subfield of musicology and history which studies the history of music theory.


Prehistoric music

Main article: Prehistoric music

The development of music among humans occurred against the backdrop of natural sounds. It was, in all probability, influenced by birdsong and the sounds other animals use to communicate. Some evolutionary biologists have theorized that the ability to recognize sounds not created by humans as "musical" provides a selective advantage.

Prehistoric music, once more commonly called primitive music, is the name given to all music produced in preliterate cultures (prehistory), beginning somewhere in very late geological history.

Traditional Native American and Australian Aboriginal music could be called prehistoric, but the term is commonly used to refer to the music in Europe before the development of writing there. It is more common to call the "prehistoric" music of non-European continents – especially that which still survives – folk, indigenous, or traditional music.

Music in cradles of civilizations

Main article: Ancient music

The prehistoric era is considered to have ended with the development of writing, and with it, by definition, prehistoric music. "Ancient music" is the name given to the music that followed.

Ancient music was long thought to be all monophonic, but recent archaeological evidence indicates that this view is no longer true. The "oldest known song" in cuneiform, 4,000 years old from Ur, deciphered by Prof. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer (University of Calif. at Berkeley), was demonstrated to be composed in harmonies of thirds, like ancient English gymel, and also was written using the diatonic scale. Neither harmony nor the diatonic scale can still be considered developments belonging only to "Western" music.

One pipe in the aulos pairs (double flutes) likely served as a drone or "keynote," while the other played melodic passages.

In addition, double pipes, such as used by the ancient Greeks, and ancient bagpipes, as well as a review of ancient drawings on vases and walls, etc., and ancient writings (such as in Aristotle, Problems, Book XIX.12) which described musical techniques of the time, all indicate harmony existed. In ancient Greece, mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and the plucked string instrument, the lyre, especially the special kind called a kithara. Music was an important part of education in ancient Greece, and boys were taught music starting at age six. Greek musical literacy created a flowering of development; Greek music theory included the Greek musical modes, eventually became the basis for Western religious music and classical music.

The term Early music era may also refer to contemporary but traditional or folk music, including Asian music, Jewish music, Greek music, Roman music, the music of Mesopotamia, the music of Egypt, and Muslim music.

Classical traditions

For more information see Classical music.

Classical music is a broad, somewhat imprecise term, referring to music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of art, ecclesiastical and concert music. A music is classical if it includes some of the following features: a learned tradition, support from the church or government, or greater cultural capital. Classical music is also described as complex, lasting, transcendent, and abstract.

In many cultures a classical tradition coexisted with traditional or popular music, occasionally for thousands of years, and with different levels of mutual borrowing with the parallel tradition.

See also: Andalusian classical music


Main article: Asian music

Asian music covers the music cultures of Arabia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.


Performance of traditional Chinese music using reproduction Tang Dynasty instruments Performance of traditional Chinese music using reproduction Tang Dynasty instruments

Chinese classical music is the traditional art or court music of China. It has a long history stretching for more than three thousand years. It has its own unique systems of musical notation, as well as musical tuning and pitch, musical instruments and styles or musical genres.

Chinese music is pentatonic-diatonic, having a scale of twelve notes to an octave (5+7 = 12) as does European-influenced music.


Purandara Dasa, the father of Carnatic music Purandara Dasa, the father of Carnatic music

The classical music of India includes two major traditions of the southern Carnatic music and the northern Hindustani classical music. India's classical music tradition has a history spanning millennia and, developed over several eras, remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of religious inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment.

Indian classical music (marga) is monophonic, and based around a single melody line or raga rhythmically organized through talas. Carnatic music is largely devotional; the majority of the songs are addressed to the Hindu deities. There are a lot of songs emphasising love and other social issues. In contrast to Carnatic music, Hindustani music was not only influenced by ancient Hindu musical traditions, Vedic philosophy and native Indian sounds but also by the Persian performance practices of the Afghan Mughals.

The origins of Indian classical music (marga), the classical music of India, can be found from the oldest of scriptures, part of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four vedas describes music at length.


Ancient Iranians attached great importance to music and poetry, as they still do today. 7th century plate depicts Sassanid era musicians. The British Museum. Ancient Iranians attached great importance to music and poetry, as they still do today. 7th century plate depicts Sassanid era musicians. The British Museum.

Persian music is the music of Persia and Persian language countries: musiqi, the science and art of music, and muzik, the sound and performance of music (Sakata 1983). See: Music of Iran, Music of Afghanistan, Music of Tajikistan, Music of Uzbekistan.


Main article: European classical music.

'Classical European music' is a somewhat broad term, referring to music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of, European art, ecclesiastical and concert music, particularly between 1000 and 1900. The central norms of this tradition developed between 1550 and 1825 centering on what is known as the common practice period.


Greek written history extends far back into Ancient Greece, and was a major part of ancient Greek theater. In ancient Greece, mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and the plucked string instrument, the lyre, especially the special kind called a kithara.

Music was an important part of education in ancient Greece, and boys were taught music starting at age six. Greek musical literacy created a flowering of development; Greek music theory included the Greek musical modes, eventually became the basis for Western religious music and classical music. Later, influences from the Roman Empire, Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire changed Greek music.

In the 19th century, opera composers like Nikolaos Mantzaros (1795 - 1872), Spyridion Xyndas (1812 - 1896) and Spyros Samaras (1861 - 1917) helped revitalize Greek classical music.

Timeline of Classical European Composers' Music

Early music

History of European art music
Medieval (476 CE - 1400)
Renaissance (1400 - 1600)
Baroque (1600 - 1760)
Classical (1730 - 1820)
Romantic (1815 - 1910)
20th century (1900 - 1999)
Contemporary (2000 - present)
Main article: Early music.

Early music is a general term used to describe music in the European classical tradition from after the fall of the Roman Empire, in 476 CE, until the end of the Baroque era in the middle of the 18th century. Music within this enormous span of time was extremely diverse, encompassing multiple cultural traditions within a wide geographic area; many of the cultural groups out of which medieval Europe developed already had musical traditions, about which little is known. What unified these cultures in the middle ages was the Roman Catholic Church, and its music served as the focal point for musical development for the first thousand years of this period. Very little non-Christian music from this period survived, due to its suppression by the Church and the absence of music notation; however, folk music of modern Europe probably has roots at least as far back as the Middle Ages.

Medieval music

Neume used in the notation of Gregorian chant Neume used in the notation of Gregorian chant

Main article: Medieval music

While musical life was undoubtedly rich in the early Medieval era, as attested by artistic depictions of instruments, writings about music, and other records, the only repertory of music which has survived from before 800 to the present day is the plainsong liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest part of which is called Gregorian chant. Pope Gregory I, who gave his name to the musical repertory and may himself have been a composer, is usually claimed to be the originator of the musical portion of the liturgy in its present form, though the sources giving details on his contribution, date from more than a hundred years after his death. Many scholars believe that his reputation has been exaggerated by legend. Most of the chant repertory was composed anonymously in the centuries between the time of Gregory and Charlemagne.

During the 9th century several important developments took place. First, there was a major effort by the Church to unify the many chant traditions, and suppress many of them in favor of the Gregorian liturgy. Second, the earliest polyphonic music was sung, a form of parallel singing known as organum. Third, and of greatest significance for music history, notation was reinvented after a lapse of about five hundred years, though it would be several more centuries before a system of pitch and rhythm notation evolved having the precision and flexibility that modern musicians take for granted.

Several schools of polyphony flourished in the period after 1100: the St. Martial school of organum, the music of which was often characterized by a swiftly moving part over a single sustained line; the Notre Dame school of polyphony, which included the composers Léonin and Pérotin, and which produced the first music for more than two parts around 1200; the musical melting-pot of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a pilgrimage destination and site where musicians from many traditions came together in the late middle ages, the music of whom survives in the Codex Calixtinus; and the English school, the music of which survives in the Worcester Fragments and the Old Hall Manuscript. Alongside these schools of sacred music a vibrant tradition of secular song developed, as exemplified in the music of the troubadors, trouvères and Minnesänger. Much of the later secular music of the early Renaissance evolved from the forms, ideas, and the musical aesthetic of the troubadors, courtly poets and itinerant musicians, whose culture was largely exterminated during the Albigensian Crusade in the early 13th century.

Forms of sacred music which developed during the late 13th century included the motet, conductus, discant, and clausulae. One unusual development was the Geisslerlieder, the music of wandering bands of flagellants during two periods: the middle of the 13th century (until they were suppressed by the Church); and the period during and immediately following the Black Death, around 1350, when their activities were vividly recorded and well-documented with notated music. Their music mixed folk song styles with penitential or apocalyptic texts.

The 14th century in European music history is dominated by the style of the ars nova, which by convention is grouped with the medieval era in music, even though it had much in common with early Renaissance ideals and aesthetics. Much of the surviving music of the time is secular, and tends to use the formes fixes: the ballade, the virelai, the lai, the rondeau, which correspond to poetic forms of the same names. Most pieces in these forms are for one to three voices, likely with instrumental accompaniment: famous composers include Guillaume de Machaut and Francesco Landini.

Renaissance music
Main article: Renaissance music.

The beginning of the Renaissance in music is not as clearly marked as the beginning of the Renaissance in the other arts, and unlike the Renaissance in the other arts, it did not begin in Italy, but in northern Europe, specifically in the area currently comprising central and northern France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The style of the Burgundian composers, as the first generation of the Franco-Flemish school is known, was at first a reaction against the excessive complexity and mannered style of the late 14th century ars subtilior, and contained clear, singable melody and balanced polyphony in all voices. The most famous composers of the Burgundian school in the mid-15th century are Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, and Antoine Busnois.

By the middle of the 15th century, composers and singers from the Low Countries and adjacent areas began to overspread Europe, moving especially into Italy where they were employed by the papal chapel and the aristocratic patrons of the arts, such as the Medici, the Este family in Ferrara, and the Sforza family in Milan. They carried their style with them: smooth polyphony which could be adapted for sacred or secular use as appropriate. Principal forms of sacred musical composition at the time were the mass, the motet, and the laude; secular forms included the chanson, the frottola, and later the madrigal.

The invention of printing had an immense influence on the dissemination of musical styles, and along with the movement of the Franco-Flemish musicians throughout Europe, contributed to the establishment of the first truly international style in European music since the unification of Gregorian chant under Charlemagne seven hundred years before.

Composers of the middle generation of the Franco-Flemish school included Johannes Ockeghem, who wrote music in a contrapuntally complex style, with varied texture and an elaborate use of canonical devices; Jacob Obrecht, one of the most famous composers of masses in the last decades of the 15th century; and Josquin Desprez, probably the most famous composer in Europe before Palestrina, and who during the 16th century was renowned as one of the greatest artists in any form.

Music in the generation after Josquin explored increasing complexity of counterpoint; possibly the most extreme expression of this tendency is in the music of Nicolas Gombert, whose contrapuntal complexities influenced early instrumental music, such as the canzona and the ricercar, ultimately culminating in Baroque fugal forms.

Portrait of Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi in Venice, 1640, by Bernardo Strozzi Portrait of Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi in Venice, 1640, by Bernardo Strozzi

By the middle of the 16th century, the international style began to break down, and several highly diverse stylistic trends became evident: a trend towards simplicity in sacred music, as directed by the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent, and as exemplified in the austere perfection of the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; a trend towards complexity and chromaticism in the madrigal, which reached its extreme expression in the avant-garde style of the Ferrara School of Luzzaschi, and the late century madrigalist Carlo Gesualdo; and the grandiose, sonorous music of the Venetian school, which took advantage of the architecture of the Basilica San Marco di Venezia to create a music of antiphonal contrasts. The music of the Venetian school can be seen on the cusp of the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, and included the development of orchestration, ornamented instrumental parts, and continuo bass parts, all of which occurred within a span of several decades around 1600. Famous composers in Venice included the Gabrielis, Andrea and Giovanni, as well as Claudio Monteverdi, one of the most significant innovators at the end of the era.

Most parts of Europe had active, and well-differentiated, musical traditions by late in the century. In England, composers such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd wrote sacred music in a style similar to that written on the continent, while an active group of home-grown madrigalists adapted the Italian form for English tastes: famous composers included Thomas Morley, John Wilbye and Thomas Weelkes. Spain developed instrumental and vocal styles of its own, with Tomás Luis de Victoria writing refined music similar to that of Palestrina, and numerous other composers writing for a new instrument called the guitar. Germany cultivated polyphonic forms built on the Protestant chorales, which replaced the Roman Catholic Gregorian Chant as a basis for sacred music, and imported wholesale the style of the Venetian school (the appearance of which defined the start of the Baroque era there). In addition, German composers wrote enormous amounts of organ music, establishing the basis for the later spectacular flowering of the Baroque organ style which culminated in the work of J.S. Bach. France developed a unique style of musical diction known as musique mesurée, used in secular chansons, with composers such as Guillaume Costeley and Claude Le Jeune prominent in the movement.

One of the most revolutionary movements in the era took place in Florence in the 1570s and 1580s, with the work of the Florentine Camerata, who ironically had a reactionary intent: dissatisfied with what they saw as contemporary musical depravities, their goal was to restore the music of the ancient Greeks. Chief among them were Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the astronomer, and Giulio Caccini. The fruits of their labors was a declamatory melodic singing style known as monody, and a corresponding dramatic form consisting of staged, acted monody: a form known today as opera. The first operas, written around 1600, also define the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque eras.

Music prior to 1600 was modal rather than tonal. Several theoretical developments late in the 16th century, such as the writings on scales on modes by Gioseffo Zarlino and Franchinus Gaffurius, led directly to the development of common practice tonality. The major and minor scales began to predominate over the old church modes, a feature which was at first most obvious at cadential points in compositions, but gradually became pervasive. Music after 1600, beginning with the tonal music of the Baroque era, is often referred to as belonging to the common practice period.

Common practice period

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most notable composers of the Baroque period Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most notable composers of the Baroque period

Baroque music
Main article: Baroque music.

Instrumental music becomes dominant, and most major music forms are defined. Counterpoint is one of the major forces in both instrumental and vocal music of the period. Although a strong religious musical tradition continues, secular music comes to the fore with the development of the sonata, the concerto, and the concerto grosso. Much Baroque music is designed for improvisation, with a figured bass provided by the composer for the performer to flesh out and ornament. The keyboard, particularly the harpsichord, is a dominant instrument, and the beginnings of well temperament open up the possibilities of playing in all keys and of modulation. Much Baroque music features a basso continuo consisting of a keyboard, either harpsichord or organ (sometimes a lute instead), and a bass instrument, such as a viola da gamba or bassoon.

The three outstanding composers of the period are Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi, but a host of other composers, some with huge output, were active in the period. They include:

The harpsichord played a central role in a great deal of Baroque music. The harpsichord played a central role in a great deal of Baroque music.

Georg Philipp Telemann
Arcangelo Corelli
Alessandro Scarlatti
Henry Purcell
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Dieterich Buxtehude
Johann Pachelbel
Giuseppe Torelli
François Couperin
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Francesco Manfredini
Domenico Scarlatti
Johann Friedrich Fasch
Francesco Maria Veracini
Giuseppe Tartini
Giovanni Pergolesi
Tomaso Albinoni

  • Pachelbel's Canon
    • Pachelbel's Canon in D major is built on ground bass, a common method in the Baroque period.
  • "Hallelujah" from Messiah
    • The "Hallelujah" Chorus from Georg Frideric Handel's Messiah is an example of Baroque vocal music.

Classical music era

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions characterized music of the classical era. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions characterized music of the classical era.

Main article: Classical music era.

The music of the Classical period is characterized by homophonic texture, or an obvious melody with accompaniment. These new melodies tended to be almost voice-like and singable, allowing composers at the time to actually replace singer(s) as the focus of the music. Instrumental music therefore quickly replaced opera and other sung forms (such as oratorio) as the favorite of the musical audience and the epitomy of great composition. This is not to say that opera disappeared. Indeed, during the classical period, several composers began producing operas for the general public, in their native languages (previous operas were generally in Italian).

Along with the gradual displacement of the voice in favor of stronger, clearer melodies, counterpoint also typically became a decorative flourish, often used near the end of a work or for a single movement. In its stead, simple patterns, such as arpeggios and, in piano music, Alberti bass (an accompaniment with a repeated pattern typically in the left hand) were used to liven the movement of the piece without creating a confusing additional voice. The now popular instrumental music was dominated by several well-defined forms: the sonata, the symphony, and the concerto, though none of these forms were specifically defined or taught at the time as they are now in the field of music theory. All three derive from sonata form, which is used to refer both to the overlying form of an entire work and the structure of a single movement. Sonata form matured during the Classical era to become the primary form of instrumental compositions throughout the 19th century.

The early Classical period was ushered in by the Mannheim School, which included such composers as Johann Stamitz, Franz Xaver Richter, Carl Stamitz, and Christian Cannabich. It exerted a profound influence on Joseph Haydn and, through him, on all subsequent European music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the central figure of the Classical period, and his phenomenal and varied output in all genres defines our perception of the period.

Other prominent classical composers include:

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)
Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Frederich Kuhlau (1786-1832)

Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert are transitional composers, leading into the Romantic period, with their expansion of existing genres, forms, and even functions of music.

The title character from a 19th century performance of Wagner's opera Siegfried The title character from a 19th century performance of Wagner's opera Siegfried

Romantic music
Main article: Romantic music.

In the Romantic period, music becomes more expressive and emotional, expanding to encompass literature, art, and philosophy. Famous composers include Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bellini, and Berlioz. The late 19th century sees a dramatic expansion in the size of the orchestra, and in the role of concerts as part of urban society. Famous composers from the second half of the century include Johann Strauss II, Brahms, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner. Between 1890 and 1910, a third wave of composers including Dvořák, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Puccini, and Sibelius built on the work of middle Romantic composers to create even more complex – and often much longer – musical works. A prominent mark of late 19th century music is its nationalistic fervor, as exemplified by such figures as Dvořák, Sibelius, and Grieg. Other prominent late-century figures include Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and Franck.

  • Tristan und Isolde
    • The prelude to Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is an example of Romanticism.
20th century classical music
Main article: 20th century classical music.
Composer Igor Stravinsky as drawn by Picasso Composer Igor Stravinsky as drawn by Picasso

In the 20th century, many composers continued to work in forms that derived from the 19th century, including Rachmaninoff and Edward Elgar. However Modernism in music became increasingly prominent and important; among the first modernists were Bartók, Stravinsky, and Ives. Schoenberg and other twelve-tone composers such as Alban Berg and Anton von Webern carried this trend to its most extreme form by abandoning tonality altogether, along with its traditional conception of melody and harmony. The Impressionists, including Debussy and Ravel, sought new textures and turned their back on traditional forms, while retaining more traditional harmonic progressions. Others such as Francis Poulenc and the group of composers known as Les Six wrote music in opposition to the Impressionistic and Romantic ideas of the time. Composers such as Milhaud and Gershwin combined classical and jazz idioms. Others, such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Boulez, and Villa-Lobos expanded the classical palette to include more dissonant elements without going to the extremes of the twelve-tone and serial composers.

Late Romantic nationalism spilled over into British and American music of the early 20th century. Composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland collected folk songs and used folk themes in many of their major compositions.

In the 1950s, aleatoric music was popularized by composers like John Cage. Composers of this area sought to free music from its rigidity, placing the performance above the composition. Similarly, many composers sought to break from traditional performance rituals by incorporating theater and multimedia into their compositions, going beyond sound itself to achieve their artistic goals.

Composers were quick to adopt developing electronic technology. As early as the 1940s, composers such as Olivier Messiaen incorporated electronic instruments into live performance. Recording technology was used to produce art music, as well. The musique concrète of the late 1940s and '50s was produced by editing together natural and industrial sounds. Steve Reich created music by manipulating tape recordings of people speaking, and later went on to compose process music for traditional instruments based on such recordings. Other notable pioneers of electronic music include Edgard Varèse, Morton Subotnick, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pauline Oliveros, and Krzysztof Penderecki. As more electronic technology matured, so did the music. Late in the century, the personal computer began to be used to create art music. In one common technique, a microphone is used to record live music, and a program processes the music in real time and generates another layer of sound. Pieces have also been written algorithmically based on the analysis of large data sets.

Process music is linked to minimalism, a simplification of musical themes and development with motifs which are repeated over and over. Early minimalist compositions of the 1960s such as those by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass stemmed from aleatoric and electronic music. Later, minimalism was adapted to a more traditional symphonic setting by composers including Reich, Glass, and John Adams. Minimalism was practiced heavily throughout the latter half of the century and has carried over into the 21st century, as well.

  • La Valse
    • La Valse by Maurice Ravel is an example of early 20th century impressionism.

Contemporary classical music

In the broadest sense, contemporary music is any music being written in the present day. In the context of classical music the term applies to music written in the last half century or so, particularly works post-1960. The argument over whether the term applies to music in any style, or whether it applies only to composers writing avant-garde music, or "modernist" music is a subject of hot debate. There is some use of "Contemporary" as a synonym for "Modern", particularly in academic settings, whereas others are more restrictive and apply the term only to presently living composers and their works. Since it is a word that describes a time frame, rather than a particular style or unifying idea, there are no universally agreed on criteria for making these distinctions.

Many contemporary composers working the early 21st century were prominent figures in the 20th century. Some younger composers such as Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adès, and Michael Daugherty did not rise to prominence until late in the 20th century. For more examples see: List of 21st century classical composers.

Folk music

Folk singer Woody Guthrie Folk singer Woody Guthrie

Main article: Folk music.

Folk music, in the original sense of the term, is music by and of the people. Folk music arose, and best survives, in societies not yet affected by mass communication and the commercialization of culture. It normally was shared and performed by the entire community (not by a special class of expert or professional performers, possibly excluding the idea of amateurs), and was transmitted by word of mouth (oral tradition).

During the 20th century, the term folk music took on a second meaning: it describes a particular kind of popular music which is culturally descended from or otherwise influenced by traditional folk music, such as with Bob Dylan and other singer-songwriters. This music, in relation to popular music, is marked by a greater musical simplicity, acknowledgment of tradition, frequent socially conscious lyrics, and is similar to country, bluegrass, and other genres in style.

Popular music

Pop star Britney Spears Pop star Britney Spears

Main article: Popular music.

Popular music, sometimes abbreviated pop music, is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are broadly popular or intended for mass consumption and propagated over the radio and similar media--in other words, music that forms part of popular culture.

Popular music dates at least as far back as the mid-19th century. In the United States, much of it evolved from folk music and black culture. It includes Broadway tunes, ballads and singers such as Frank Sinatra.

Popular and classical musics

The relationship (particularly, the relative value) of classical music and popular music is a controversial question. To quote: "Neat divisions between 'folk' and 'popular', and 'popular' and 'art', are impossible to find...arbitrary criteria [is used] to define the complement of 'popular'. 'Art' music, for example, is generally regarded as by nature complex, difficult, demanding; 'popular' music then has to be defined as 'simple', 'accessible', 'facile'. But many pieces commonly thought of as 'art' (Handel's 'Hellelujah Chors', many Schubert songs, many Verdi arias) have qualities of simplicity; conversely, it is by no means obvious that the Sex Pistols' records were 'accessible', (trashy?) Frank Zappa's work 'simple', (Frank Zappa is considered by many a serious composer) or Billie Holiday's 'facile'." (light?) (Middleton, 1990)


Blues singer Bessie Smith Blues singer Bessie Smith

Main article: Blues.

Blues is a vocal and instrumental musical form which evolved from African American spirituals, shouts, work songs and chants and has its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa. Blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big bands, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and country music, as well as conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, W.C. Handy took blues across the tracks and made it respectable, even "high-toned."

One of the most influential country musicians Hank Williams, Sr. One of the most influential country musicians Hank Williams, Sr.

Country music

Main article: Country music.

Country music, once known as Country and Western music, is a popular musical form developed in the southern United States, with roots in traditional folk music, spirituals, and the blues.

Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nation-wide hit (May, 1924, with "The Wreck Of Old '97").

Some trace the origins of modern country music to two seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be the founders of country music, and their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist. It is considered possible to categorise many country singers as being either from the Jimmie Rodgers strand or the Carter Family strand of country music.

Country music is fairly controversial, with fans and detractors feeling strongly about the music's worth, values, and meaning. President George H. W. Bush declared October, 1990 "Country Music Month" commemorating US characteristics present in country such as, "our faith in God, our devotion to family, and our appreciation for the value of freedom and hard work." Implied in the evocation of these conservative values is a view often held by detractors of country as conservative, white trash (poor white), sexist, and racist music. Professional country guitarist Aaron Fox explains that, "for many cosmopolitan Americans, especially, country is 'bad' music precisely because it is widely understood to signify an explicit claim to whiteness, not as an unmarked, neutral condition of lacking (or trying to shed) race, but as a marked, foregrounded claim of cultural identity - a bad whiteness...unredeemed by ethnicity, folkloric authenticity, progressive politics, or the noblesse oblige of elite musical culture."


Jazz bandleader and composer Duke Ellington Jazz bandleader and composer Duke Ellington

Main article: Jazz.

Jazz is a musical art form characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America and partakes of both popular and classical musics.

It has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, in African American music traditions, including blues and ragtime, and European military band music. After originating in African-American communities around the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s. Since then, jazz has had a profoundly pervasive influence on other musical styles worldwide including classical and popular music.

Jazz has also evolved into many sometimes contrasting subgenres including smooth jazz and free jazz.

Elvis Presley, The King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley, The King of Rock and Roll

Rock and roll

Main article: Rock and roll.

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel and country and western.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Elvis Presley were notable performers in the 1950s. The Beatles were part of the "British invasion" in the 1960s. In 1951 the words "rock, roll" was used in a song called "60 Minute Man", which was banned due to its implications. By 1953 such ballads as "Earth Angel" and "Gee" were played by notable disc jockeys in Cleveland and New York as Allen Freed and Murray the K. By 1956, Dick Clark had one of several popular Television programs "American Bandstand" to show teenagers dancing to the new kind of music aimed especially at teens and adolescents. Though mocked by older generation as "jungle or the devil's Music", its (Rock and Roll) popularity grew through the next 10 years.

Punk Rock

Main Article: Punk Rock.

Punk rock was originally a style of hard rock played at fast speeds with simple lyrics and fewer than three chords, which originated in the mid 1970s. The main instruments used were Electric Guitar, Electric Bass & Drums. It evolved into Hardcore Punk (even faster songs with shouted lyrics), New Wave (more pop influenced & used electronic keyboards) and Post Punk (originally sounded more hardcore, evolved more into new wave) in the 1980s, and these evolved further into Punkabilly (a fusion of hardcore & rockabilly), Ska Punk (a fusion of hardcore & reggae), Techno (a fusion of new wave & disco consisting entirely of computer music), Grunge (a fusion of hardcore & alternative rock), Pop Punk (a development of hardcore with cleaner sounds), Emo (emotional hardcore), Gothic Rock (introverted lyrics) & many more genres.

Heavy metal

Heavy metal band Metallica in performance Heavy metal band Metallica in performance

Main article: Heavy metal music.

Heavy metal is a form of music characterized by aggressive, driving rhythms and highly amplified distorted guitars, generally with grandiose lyrics and virtuosic instrumentation. Central to this genre is the use of Riffs as a melodic and narrative element.

Heavy metal is a development of blues, blues rock and rock. Its origins lie in the hard rock bands who between 1967 and 1974 took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar and drums centered sound. Heavy metal had its peak popularity in the 1980s, during which many of the now existing subgenres first evolved. Though not as commercially successful as it was then, heavy metal still has a large worldwide following.

Disco, funk, hip hop, salsa, and soul

A breakdancer dancing to hip hop music A breakdancer dancing to hip hop music

Soul music is fundamentally rhythm and blues, which grew out of the African-American gospel and blues traditions during the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. Over time, much of the broad range of R&B extensions in African-American popular music, generally, also has come to be considered soul music. Traditional soul music usually features individual singers backed by a traditional band consisting of rhythm section and horns.

Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), and groups like The Meters. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an "on the one" beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Cameo or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; danceability; and strong jazzy influences (e.g., as in the music of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).

Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean rhythm that is popular in many Latin countries. The word is the same as the salsa meaning sauce. Who applied this name to the music and dance and why remains unclear, but all agree that the name fits, metaphorically referring the music and dance being "saucy" and "tasty". However, the term has been used by Cuban immigrants in New York analogously to swing (Jones and Kantonen, 1999).

Disco is an up-tempo style of dance music that originated in the early 1970s, mainly from funk, salsa, and soul music, popular originally with gay and black audiences in large U.S. cities, and derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning nightclub).

Hip hop music is a style of popular music. It is traditionally composed of two main elements: rapping (also known as MC'ing) and DJing, and arose when DJs began isolating and repeating the percussion break from funk or disco songs.

Electronic music

Main article: Electronic music

As noted above, in the years following World War II, electronic music was embraced by progressive composers, and was hailed as a way to exceed the limits of traditional instruments. Although electronic music began in the world of classical composition, by the 1960s Wendy Carlos had popularized electronic music through the use of the synthesizer developed by Robert Moog with two notable albums The Well Tempered Synthesiser and Switched-On Bach.

In the 1970s musicians such as Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Jean Michel Jarre, and the Japanese composers Isao Tomita, Kitaro also popularised electronic music and the film industry also began to make extensive use of electronic soundtracks. From the late 1970s onward, much popular music was developed on synthesizers by pioneering groups like Heaven 17, Severed Heads, The Human League, The Art of Noise, and New Order. The development of the techno sound in Detroit, Michigan and house music in Chicago, Illinois in the early to late 1980s, and the later acid house movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s all fuelled the development and acceptance of electronic music into the mainstream and introduced electronic dance music to nightclubs.

World music

Main article: World music

To begin with, all the various musics listed in the 1980s under the broad category of world music were folk forms from all around the world, grouped together in order to make a greater impact in the commercial music market. Since then, however, world music has both influenced and been influenced by hip hop, pop and jazz etc.

World music radio programs these days will often be playing African or reggae artists, crossover Bhangra, Cretan Music and Latin American jazz groups, etc.

New Age music

Main article: New age music

Electronic and world music, together with progressive rock and religious music are the elements from which new age music has developed. Works within this genre tend to be predominantly peaceful in overall style but with an emphasis on energy and gentle vibrancy. Pieces are composed to aid meditation, to energise yoga, tai chi and exercise sessions or to encourage connections to the planet Earth (in the sense of a spiritual concept of Mother Earth or, perhaps Gaia). There are also new age compositions which sit equally comfortably in the world music category.

New age music has developed from genre-crossing work like Neil Diamond's soundtrack music for the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from alternative jazz/rock/classical bands like Third Ear Band or Quintessence and experimental work in general. One advantage of this category is that it enables musicians the freedom to do work which might have been stifled elsewhere. Enthusiasts of new age music generally share a set of core common understandings including a belief in the spirit and in the ability to change the world for the better in peaceful ways.

See also


  • Brown, Steven, et al, eds. (2000). The Origins of Music. The MIT Press. ISBN 0262232065.
  • Fink, Bob (2004). On the Origin of Music. Greenwich, Canada. ISBN 0912424141.
  • Reese, Gustave (1954). Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393095304.
  • Bangayan, Phil, Bonet, Giselle and Ghosemajumder, Shuman (2002) Digital Music Distribution (History of the Recorded Music Industry), MIT Sloan School of Management.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. (1978). Medieval Music. New York, W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393090906.
  • Schwartz, Elliot and Godfrey, Daniel (1993). Music Since 1945. United States, Simon & Schuster Macmillan. ISBN 0028730402

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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