Different Types of Music

Kevin Ott
Woman with tablet wearing headphones

It could easily take a lifetime to thoroughly explore every musical style. While it would be too long for this article to provide a comprehensive list of every genre of music, it's possible to get a bird's eye view of the different types of music. Along the way this does something useful: it shows the fascinating connections between genres.

Traditional Folk

The first type of music, traditional folk music, is probably the oldest. It comes from humanity's most enduring tradition: social gatherings. The following are a few types of traditional folk music that are still performed and recorded today.

  • American folk music (Native American music, Appalachian ballads, jug band music, Cajun, spirituals)
  • English, Irish, and Scottish folk music (sea shanties, hornpipe songs, ballads, jigs)
  • Mariachi and Ballet Folklorico (Mexico)
  • Rindik and Gamelan music (Bali)
  • Han folk music (China)

These folk music traditions represent a small sample of what exists in cultures around the world. Traditional folk music has always been a bedrock upon which other types of music build, even the high art forms.

Classical

The different phases of classical music closely mirror the phases of art in the western world, often sharing the same names.

  • Baroque
  • Classical
  • Romantic
  • Modern
  • Postmodern
  • Contemporary
  • Theatrical/film (i. e. opera, Broadway, film music)
  • Arabic classical music (notable for its microtonal singing)
  • Indian classical music (with styles called Hindustani and Carnatic)

Sacred Vocal

Along with the tradition of communities gathering around music in a social setting, there is also the tradition of sacred vocal music.

  • Gregorian chant
  • Cantillation (the Jewish tradition of singing scripture)
  • Hymns
  • Maqam (vocal music found in Islamic tradition)

Gospel

The Gospel genre has always been effective in showing the expressive, passionate side of church music, and it has produced many variations:

  • Traditional spirituals
  • Southern Gospel
  • Contemporary Gospel
  • Gospel blues

Country

Country music, which sprung out of traditional western folk music from the 19th and 20th centuries, is a classic example of a major genre of music sprouting from the foundation of traditional folk.

  • Classic country (i. e. Gene Autry, Lazy B Wranglers, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams)
  • Nashville country
  • Outlaw country
  • Bakersfield country (also known as the Bakersfield Sound, closely connected to outlaw country)
  • Pop country

Blues

Ever since rural musicians in the American South got a hold of acoustic guitars that became more common and affordable in the 1800s, people have been singing the blues, including these genres:

  • Delta blues
  • Swamp blues
  • Chicago blues
  • Blues rock

Rock

When Leo Fender released his first electric guitar and Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley began blending the fiery joy of Gospel with rhythm and blues, rock music was born. Since then, it has spawned a legion of subgenres, including:

  • Classic rock
  • Folk rock
  • Progressive rock
  • Heavy metal
  • Punk
  • Grunge
  • Rap rock
  • Latin rock
  • Broadway (rock-styled shows)

Jazz

The jazz genre is so vast and diverse it could easily fill a book by itself. Here are a few of the foundational jazz genres:

  • Ragtime
  • Dixieland jazz
  • Marching band music (a precursor to Big Band)
  • Bebop
  • Vocal jazz
  • Swing
  • Big Band
  • Latin jazz

Rhythm & Blues

The term rhythm and blues refers to blues-inflected music often with upbeat or syncopated rhythms. This genre has come predominantly from African-American culture. The term originates from the 1950s when Billboard Magazine published the term as an alternative to the phrase "race music," which had been deemed offensive. Many genres have since sprung from the early rhythm and blues days.

  • Soul
  • Funk
  • Motown
  • Modern R&B

Hip-Hop

The genres of hip-hop and rap each have their roots in the rhythm and blues genre, and they've grown into massive systems of sub-genres.

  • New school
  • Gangsta rap
  • West coast
  • East coast
  • World
  • Glitch hop

Electronic Dance Music

Like hip-hop, electronic dance music (EDM) sprouted from rhythm and blues. The first EDM style (dubbed "techno") to emerge appeared in Detroit in the '70s and '80s, and it has since gone worldwide.

  • Techno
  • Ambient
  • Drum and bass
  • Jungle
  • Industrial

There are actually hundreds of subgenres in EDM, which makes it perhaps the biggest, most diverse music genre on the planet other than classical music that people listen to.

Pop

Pop has become such an invasive, broad genre that it has infiltrated all of the genres above and created its own mainstream commercial version.

  • Pop diva (emphasis on vocals)
  • R&B and soul-based pop (i. e. Michael Jackson)
  • Pop rock
  • Pop country
  • Singer-songwriters
  • Broadway (pop-styled shows)

A Sprawling Universe of Sound

It would take a lifetime to explore all that music has to offer. Although the lists above represent a small sampling of what's out there, it provides a sense of the scope. Once you start exploring different types of music, it's hard to stop.

Different Types of Music