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A music genre is a categorical and typological construct that identifies musical sounds as belonging to a particular category and type of music that can be distinguished from other types of music. Genre is a common concept that has great commercial and aesthetic importance, but it also continues to frustrate fans, artists, composers, and critics who don't want to be pigeonholed. There is always disagreement about the definition of a genre, and it is impossible to list all genre categories in existence. For further examination of these general issues, see Negus 1999 and Holt 2007 (reference list below).

There are several approaches to genre. In his book Form in Tonal Music, Douglass M. Green lists the madrigal, the motet, the canzona, the ricercar, and the dance as examples of genres (from the Renaissance period). According to Green, "Beethoven's Op. 61 and Mendelssohn's Op. 64 are identical in genre - both are violin concertos - but different in form. Mozart's Rondo for Piano, K. 511, and the Agnus Dei from his Mass, K. 317 are quite different in genre but happen to be similar in form." Some treat the terms genre and style as the same, and state that genre should be defined as pieces of music that share a certain style or "basic musical language". Others state that genre and style are two separate terms, and that secondary characteristics such as subject matter can also differentiate between genres.[1] A music genre (or sub-genre) could be defined by the techniques, the styles, the context and the themes (content, spirit). Also, geographical origin sometimes is used to define the music genre, though a single geographical category will normally include a wide variety of sub-genres.


A list of genres of music (including subgengres) can be found at List of music genres. However, there are a number of criteria with which one may classify musical genres, including:

  • The Art/Popular/Traditional distinction
  • Regional and national distinctions
  • Fusional origins

Art music[]

       Main article: Art music

Art music, also known as "serious music," primarily refers to classical music, including European classical music, or others listed at List of classical music styles (including non-European classical music), contemporary classical music (including Electronic art music, Experimental music and Minimalist music). Art music may also include certain forms of Jazz (even though jazz is primarily a popular form of music).

Popular music[]

       Main article: Popular music

The usual stereotype of "popular music" is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are accessible to the general public and are disseminated by one or more of the mass media. For a critical introduction, see the work of Richard Middleton (e.g. Studying Popular Music 1990) and Starr/Waterman American Popular Music (2003)

Traditional music[]

       Main article: Traditional music

Traditional music is the modern name for what used to be called "Folk music", before the term "Folk music" was expanded to include a lot of non-traditional material. The defining characteristics of traditional music are:

  • Oral transmission: The music is passed down, or learned, through singing and listening and sometimes dancing
  • Cultural basis: The music derives from and is part of the traditions of a particular region or culture.

Regional and national music[]

It is possible to categorize music geographically. For example, the term "Australian music" could include Australian rock music, Australian traditional music in the European style (eg. Waltzing Matilda), Aboriginal Australian music, Australian classical music, and Australian Jazz.

Fusional origins[]

In the West, nearly all music except Traditional music has a fusional origin.

A fusion genre is a music genre that combines two or more genres. For example, rock and roll originally developed as a fusion of blues, gospel and country music. The main characteristics of fusion genres are variations in tempo, rhythm and sometimes the use of long musical "journeys" that can be divided into smaller parts, each with their own dynamics, style and tempo.

Artists who work in fusion genres are often difficult to categorise within non-fusion styles. Most styles of fusion music are influenced by various musical genres. While there are many reasons for this, the main reason is that most genres evolved out of other genres. When the new genre finally identifies itself as separate, there is often a large gray area in which musicians are left. These artists generally consider themselves part of both genres. A musician who plays music that is dominantly blues, influenced by rock, is often labelled a blues-rock musician. The first genre is the one from which the new one evolved. The second genre is the newer and less-dominant genre in the artist's playing. An example of a blues-rock group would be Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Vaughan, a Texas blues guitarist, surrounded by a world in which rock was dominating music, used rock and blues together.



One of the problems with the grouping of music into genres is that it is a subjective process that has a lot to do with the individual's personal understanding and way of listening to music. This is especially true in sub-genres. One example is Led Zeppelin, which could be called heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock, folk, or blues, depending on one's interpretation (and not helped by the fact that they made excursions into other genres such as electric folk). Another difficulty with grouping artists into genres is that, for many, their style of music changes over time.

Some genre labels are quite vague. Many were originally contrived by marketing executives or music critics; post-rock, for example, is a term devised and defined by Simon Reynolds. Another example of this is video game music, which while defined by its media, can also represent its own style, as well as that of any other musical genre.


Categorising music, especially into finer genres or sub genres, can be difficult for newly emerging styles or for pieces of music that incorporate features of multiple genres. Attempts to pigeonhole particular musicians in a single genre are sometimes ill-founded as they may produce music in a variety of genres over time or even within a single piece. Some people feel that the categorisation of music into genres is based more on commercial and marketing motives than musical criteria. John Zorn, for example, a musician whose work has covered a wide range of genres, wrote in Arcana: Musicians on Music that genres are tools used to "commodify and commercialise an artist's complex personal vision".

Aversion to different genres[]

Many people have great aversion to genres differing widely from that which they prefer. This phenomenon has been used by shop owners to repel teenagers, to drive dictators out of embassies[Citation needed], and is a factor with "boom cars" vs. neighborhoods.


  1. Moore, Allan F. "Categorical Conventions in Music Discourse: Style and Genre" Music & Letters, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Aug., 2001), pp. 432-442

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