Music is an endlessly versatile form of human creativity. The interaction of local instruments and traditions have mixed with centuries of travel to create an amazing array of sounds.
While many prominent musicians famously shun any discussion of genres, the fact is that there are broad categories of music with shared origins, instrumentation, arrangements, and other characteristics that bind them together.
Their performers don’t necessarily pigeonhole themselves into these areas permanently, but there is a sonic history behind every one. Here is a look at some of the more influential categories of music, how they originated, and how you might get involved in playing them yourself–even if you’ve never previously played an instrument.
A quick review of the instrumentation in this distinctive genre tells a great deal about where it came from. An understanding of American immigration fills in the rest.
Bluegrass developed among Irish and Scottish immigrants who moved southward throughout the Appalachians from their New England port arrivals. The musical traditions of their native countries lent themselves to the developing style; the parallels between the music of the Chieftains and that of Alison Krauss are obvious.
The distinctive blue tint to the grass in Kentucky gave the music its name, and bands like Flatt and Scruggs joined innovator Bill Monroe is spreading the music around the country.
Notably absent from true bluegrass is percussion. The muted strings of the mandolin help set the tempo, but it’s largely a matter of experienced performers maintaining a tight pace in their playing. Learning how to play mandolin makes you both a percussionist and a melodic performer, a truly unique combination.
The mandolin and many other bluegrass elements are found throughout popular music. John Mellencamp, Bruce Hornsby, and REM have all included those instruments and tones in recent decades, and the dobro shows up in dozens of country recordings.
Sometimes, beauty can be made from oppression. During the harsh times of segregation, African-American musicians could not train or perform alongside whites. Set aside in their own culture within a culture, the rich heritage of New Orleans helped build this form of expression.
Drawing from blues and ragtime, along with traditional African music and the military band performances of many black veterans, jazz became hugely popular during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The sound filled dance halls and spilled out onto the streets, becoming a force so influential that even white Americans finally took notice–and took it in.
Today, many prominent musicians cite jazz as a key influence in the development of their own sound. It can be heard in the performance of musicians as diverse as Norah Jones and Harry Connick Jr., and it’s still widely heard throughout the city where it was born. An aspiring musician today can choose from a wide array of instruments to get involved in jazz–woodwinds, piano, guitar, and brass sections are all involved.
Of course, the earliest form of widely documented music is classical. The most enduring and arguably most influential, classical emerged from European composers during the Classical Period. Its structure laid the foundations for how most modern music is structured, and its composers created melodies that are reflected in countless current compositions.
The form has endured for centuries. Not only is there still a thriving world of modern classical music, but there is also ubiquitous use of classical-style string sections in popular music. Artists from Led Zeppelin to Glen Campbell have made recordings featuring classical-style backing.
The nature of classical music requires large groups of musicians to perform the better-known works, so taking up the violin, for example, might require you to find a local orchestra to learn with. But any classical instrument can be performed beautifully in trios, quartets, or even without further accompaniment, so don’t let a lack of fellow performers steer you away from learning.
These three areas of music represent a great deal of the influence on modern sounds, but they certainly don’t cover everything. The incredible variety of music worldwide makes it possible to create infinite combinations of sounds, filling our world with beautiful melodies and aural delights.
Béla Fleck & Chick Corea – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Earl Scruggs – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Miles Davis – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Frederic Chopin – Wikimedia Public Domain
Contributing Author Bio
Jenna is a freelance blogger who is mainly focused on business innovation and breaking stories in business. Jenna has been blogging since college where she studied marketing and has merged her love of keying stories into copy writing work as well as plenty of reading and writing for fun! Find and follow on her new Twitter here!