What are music genres today?

I think this is a riddle for almost everybody. The list of known genres/styles is huge:





(still more are listed in numerous music libraries), and there are no comprehensive definitions of them. One can only judge as follows: "X writes in style S. Y is similar to X. So Y writes in style S", which is hardly a correct reasoning. Songwriting competitions usually announce some 10 genres, e.g., "Country, Folk, Adult Contemporary, Dance, Christian, Hip-Hop, Rock, Lyric Only, Instrumental, Pop", many of which intersect with each other, so even for those participating in a competition it is hard to decide to which category his music belongs. In classical music the situation is simpler: genres are correlated with music form, tempo and instrumentation.

Do you think it is possible to apply some similar reasoning for arranging what we write and hear today by music genres?


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  • I absolutely think it is possible, but the reason for the ridiculous number of genres is simply so record companies (or whoever runs things) can target specific sets of buyers, I think.  Genres are correlated with music form, tempo, instrumentation already though, but to this add lyrical themes, what clothes the band wears, style of singing, types of effcts used, preferred tonalities, ethnicity of band members, sex of band members, blah blah blah.
  • What we are missing is some comprehensive guide explaining us where all those genres originally come from and how they evolved. About ten years ago I became friends with a Canadian DJ who is a real connaisseur of most contemporary genres and his mission was to educate his new friend (me) in all those styles. He managed to simplify it all for me into one clear concept. I will ask him to write a book on this topic :>) I do think it is a good thing to know a lot about all these genres. It sharpens the ears and the mind. I never believed I would learn to appreciate styles like techno, progressive trance, progressive house, two step, chicago house etc. but once I started to understand where it all was coming from, I also learned to recognise really good musical efforts within all those styles. As a result of this I started composing in lots of these genres and later on I could integrate this into my own personal style which has become kind of diverse. The past years I have been moving on and focussed more on experimental work and improvisation, still taking advantage of all these lessons.
  • The development of genres is a really fascination to me. Being musically educated, I suffer from the doubt that there is nothing new to discover and everything is just recycled from a previous incarnation. To an extent this may well be true, but that doesn't stop people with little musical education using new technology (and sometimes old) to produce music that is quite different from anything else, at least in some aspect or another. These developments are to some extent the blind leading the blind but their relevance, as well as their unpredictable nature is one of the key driving forces of contemporary music.
  • I hate trying to categorize music in that manner. I've been writing my own little style/version of stuff for years and I still don't know what the hell to call it...new age, dark ambient, sci-fi experimental, pop, what...? I only mention those because that's what I've been told from my listeners. I can see how a track can be tailored to a certain audience and by doing so appeal to a certain accepted genre. The jargon is just a play on semantics to me and like you said, there are almost limitless genres out there with new hybrids popping up all the time.
  • Genres are for the listeners, not for the musicians. Once you say "my music is in this genre", you also say "It's not in that genre". That locks you up in little boxes, where you are supposed to stay. But the musically interesting things happen in between the boxes, more than inside of them.  What genre did Mozart write in? Symphony? String quartet? Piano concert?


    I have to invent genres to describe my music. Such as "baroque 'n' roll. But I can't manage to stay even in my own invented genres! As time goes by the genres are clumped together in larger blocks that often makes more sense. I think I definitely write post-1800th music. That my genre!





  • Point taken. My definition is too limited. Interesting in this is that when the Cubans melted all those parts together, they crossed a lot of genre borders. The same is happening today with urban techno and rap based music. But with that definition of genres the range grows tremendously. If you enter music in a competition or online community you get a very limited range of genres to choose from, and that forces the music into tight boxes that doesn't fit any music.


    I could not define my own music without saying what it's not. And as soon as I do that, I limit myself and my own thinking in ways that I don't like at all.

  • Hi,

    I think music genres classification must be done according with (a possible) musicology theory. As in classical music the musicologist succeeded to discover most of techniques used in music composition, today, for me, musicology is hopeless because of the avalanche of techniques and the intensive use of computer in composition. Without a strong theory behind I think any classification is more or less arbitrary and subjective.

  • To clarify my earlier remarks: Certain genre classifications are legit I think, others I question. For example, are the differences between death metal and black metal great enough for the two to qualify as different genres? Or speed metal and thrash metal?  East Coast vs West Coast rap?  Where do genres end and individual styles begin?  What would be useful here is a working definition of genre.


    I went too far in saying that genre is simply a matter of record companies, you're right there.  The gist I wanted to portray is that I think record companies used to play a large role in defining some genres at least: take the above examples for instance.  For a very specific example, let's look at grunge.  Nirvana was hugely successful, then the whole grunge "genre" exploded, created, at least in part, by record execs who wanted to cash in by producing cookie cutter bands using the Nirvana "formula".  No matter how it was created though, grunge does have its own defining characteristics.  Are these characteristics, in themselves, enough to call it its own genre though, or may it have been drawn with crayon outlines to make youth feel that they were identifying with their own specific culture?  Is it different enough from hard rock to be a genre or is it really just hard rock with flannel shirts?


    As for your description of salsa music, it is very detailed and your knowledge of salsa music is impressive.  However, I could go on in similar detail about any type of music, or a band, or an album, or a song (as long as I am intimately familiar with it).  Does a very specific definition of a type of music make that type of music a genre?  I'm not saying that salsa is not a genre, mind you, just that one needs to define it in terms of a working definition of genre if one is to classify it as such.


    Chris Alpiar said:

    Genres are not only for listeners. Just because you don't want to fit into a genre doesn't make them inapplicable. Take salsa music for example. Salsa is a Cuban music form, a derivative of African rhythms, Spanish missionary church music, and instruments that were able to be made with carribbean materials. Salsa is VERY specific, and it is specific to each village in Cuba where it spread. So it is a combination of percussion players, bass, chordal instrument, vocals and horns. But one slight variation of one of the patterns played by say the kebassa or congas or timbales or clave or whatnot, one change in that specific rhythm and it changes from one sub genre of salsa to another. But certain rhythms are essential to salsa as a whole, like 3-2 or 2-3 clave, with or without delay on the last note in the 3. Andnthe bass rhythm of anticipated sixteenths, these are defining factors of salsa music, specific to the musicians and has nothing to do with record labels
    What are music genres today?
    I think this is a riddle for almost everybody. The list of known genres/styles is huge:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_music_styles http://en…
  • As a composer, I been thinking lately of Genre in the same way I think about pitch, rhythm, timbre and other musical elements etc.--it's just another tool to use to create something outside a genre, or something inside a genre. You're the composer, you decide how you want to write. Now a fundamental difference between genre and pitch, rhythm, timbre etc. is that genre is part of a shared understanding of how to categorize music considering any number of people who either do or don't listen to it, while other elements in music are fundamentally inseparable as components. You can define genre if you wish, or you can choose not to define it, but whatever you choose it will not affect the music as it exists on its own.

    So my answer to the question "what are music genres today" would be "whatever you want them to be". This is of course /my/ personal answer and not a universal one. In order to come up with a universal definition well... that's what musicologists are for.

    The way I see the question of genre is that we composers today are blessed to live in an age when we probably have more tools to work with than any other musical age before us. Doesn't matter how you want to use the idea of "genre" if you should choose to pay any attention to it at all.
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