A music genre is a conventional category that identifies pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from musical form and musical style, although in practice these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Music can be divided into different genres in several ways. The artistic nature of music means that these classifications are often arbitrary and controversial, and some genres may overlap. There are several academic approaches to genres. In his book Form in Tonal Music, Douglass M. Green lists madrigal, motet, canzona, ricercar, and 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. However, 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, like Peter van der Merwe, treat the terms genre and style as the same, saying that genre should be defined as pieces of music that share a certain style or "basic musical language". Others, such as Allan F. Moore, state that genre and style are two separate terms, and that secondary characteristics such as subject matter can also differentiate between genres. A music genre or sub-genre may be defined by the musical techniques, the styles, the context, and content and spirit of the themes. Geographical origin is sometimes used to identify a music genre, though a single geographical category will often include a wide variety of sub-genres.
Among the criteria often used to classify musical genres are: the trichotomy of art, popular and traditional; time period; regional and national origins; technique and instrumentation; fusional origins; and social function.
- 1 The art/popular/traditional distinction
- 2 Other criteria for categorization
- 3 Emergence of new genres and subgenres
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
The art/popular/traditional distinction
Musicologists have sometimes classified music according to a trichotomic distinction such as Philip Tagg's "axiomatic triangle consisting of 'folk', 'art' and 'popular' musics". He explains that each of these three is distinguishable from the others according to certain criteria.
The term art music refers primarily to classical traditions, including both contemporary and historical classical music forms. Art music exists in many parts of the world. It emphasizes formal styles that invite technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and demand focused attention from the listener. In Western practice, art music is considered primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in some form of music notation rather than being transmitted orally, by rote, or in recordings, as popular and traditional music usually are. Historically, most western art music has been written down using the standard forms of music notation that evolved in Europe, beginning well before the Renaissance and reaching its maturity in the Romantic period. The identity of a "work" or "piece" of art music is usually defined by the notated version rather than by a particular performance. This is so particularly in the case of western classical music. Art music may include certain forms of jazz, though some feel that jazz is primarily a form of popular music.
The term popular music refers to any musical style accessible to the general public and disseminated by the mass media. Musicologist and popular music specialist Philip Tagg defined the notion in the light of sociocultural and economical aspects:
Popular music, unlike art music, is (1) conceived for mass distribution to large and often socioculturally heterogeneous groups of listeners, (2) stored and distributed in non-written form, (3) only possible in an industrial monetary economy where it becomes a commodity and (4) in capitalist societies, subject to the laws of 'free' enterprise ... it should ideally sell as much as possible.
Popular music is found on most commercial radio stations, in most commercial music retailers and department stores, and in movie and television soundtracks. It is noted on the Billboard charts and, in addition to singer-songwriters and composers, it involves music producers more than other genres do.
The distinction between classical and popular music has sometimes been blurred in marginal areas such as minimalist music and light classics. In this respect music is like fiction, which likewise draws a distinction between literary fiction and popular fiction that is not always precise.
Traditional music is a modern name for what has been called "folk music", excluding the expansion of the term folk music to include much non-traditional material. The defining characteristics of traditional music are:
- Oral transmission: The music is handed down and learned through singing, listening, and sometimes dancing;
- Cultural basis: The music derives from and is part of the traditions of a particular region or culture.
Critics of the axiomatic triangle
Musicologist and popular music specialist Richard Middleton has discussed the blurred nature of these distinctions:
Neat divisions between 'folk' and 'popular', and 'popular' and 'art', are impossible to find ... arbitrary criteria [are 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 'Hallelujah Chorus', many Schubert songs, many Verdi arias) have qualities of simplicity; conversely, it is by no means obvious that the Sex Pistols' records were 'accessible', Frank Zappa's work 'simple', or Billie Holiday's 'facile'.
Some genres in Brazilian music, such as Samba and Forró, are not always easily classified as traditional or popular music. These styles are regional in their origin, and often very close to their traditional roots, such as the music of Luiz Gonzaga and artists such as Flávio José and Santanna, O cantador, but have a wide commercial appeal.
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Other criteria for categorization
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Regional and national music
It is possible to categorize music geographically. For example, Australian music includes Australian rock music, Australian traditional music in the European style (such as "Waltzing Matilda"), Aboriginal Australian music, Australian classical music, and Australian jazz.
Technique and instrumentation
Music can also be categorized by some technical aspect such as the instruments used. For example, rock music revolves around the electric guitar, and club music is typically accompanied by synthesizers, drum machines, or both.
A genre can be labelled to express its origin as a fusion of other genres, like blues rock and latin jazz. Some names refer to fusion without identifying both styles. Examples are crossover and jazz fusion (a blend of jazz and rock).
Emergence of new genres and subgenres
New genres can arise by the development of new forms and styles of music and also simply by creating a new categorization. Although it is conceivable to create a musical style with no relation to existing genres, new styles usually appear under the influence of preexisting genres. The genealogy of musical genres expresses, often in the form of a written chart, the way in which new genres have developed under the influence of older ones. If two or more existing genres influence the emergence of a new one, a fusion between them can be said to have taken place.
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 music and country music. The main characteristics of fusion genres are variations in tempo, rhythm, and style.
Artists who work in fusion genres are often difficult to categorize within non-fusion styles. While there are many reasons for this, the main is that most genres evolved out of other genres. When the new genre is finally recognized as separate, musicians may find themselves in a large gray area. These artists generally consider themselves part of both genres. A musician who plays music that is predominantly blues but is influenced by rock, for example, is often labelled a blues-rock musician. The first genre is the one from which the new one evolved. The second is the newer and less dominant component genre in the artist's music. An example of a group that combined blues with the popular music of the time, rock, was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.
The originality of new genres and subgenres
What constitutes a genuine fusion between genres and what is merely the influence of one genre on another is debatable, as is the level of originality needed to create a completely new genre. But some genres, such as rock music, are certainly distinct from their predecessors. In some cases, many subgenres appear, and their originality and distinctness are dubious.
When a certain level of individuality has been reached, especially when new styles diverge from more established forms, expressions like alternative rock and alternative country have been used. Such styles are often referred to simply as "alternative".
- Samson, Jim. "Genre". In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed March 4, 2012.
- Green, Douglass M. (1965). Form in Tonal Music. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. p. 1. ISBN 0-03-020286-8.
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.
- Moore, Allan F. "Categorical Conventions in Music Discourse: Style and Genre". Music & Letters, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Aug. 2001), pp. 432–442.
- Tagg, Philip. "Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice". Popular Music 2 (1982): 41.
- Siron, Jacques. "Musique Savante (Serious Music)". Dictionnaire des mots de la musique (Paris: Outre Mesure): 242.
- Arnold, Denis: "Art Music, Art Song", in The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 1: A-J (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983): 111.
- Tagg, Philip. "Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice". Popular Music 2 (1982): 37–67, here 41–42.
- Arnold, Denis (1983): "Art Music, Art Song", in The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 1: A-J, Oxford University Press, p. 111, ISBN 0-19-311316-3.
- Middleton, Richard (1990). Studying popular music. Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-15275-9.
- Pachet, François; Westermann, Geert; Laigre, Damien. "Musical Data Mining for Electronic Music Distribution". Proceedings of the 1st WedelMusic Conferencesou, pp. 101-106, Firenze, Italy, 2001.
- Holt, Fabian (2007). Genre in Popular Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Negus, Keith (1999). Music Genres and Corporate Cultures. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-17399-X.
- Starr, Larry; Waterman, Christopher Alan (2010). American popular music from minstrelsy to MP3. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-539630-0.
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