Genres & Definitions
Genre Definitions as used in the KOOP Music Library
These definitions were compiled to aid Music Library volunteers when writing their reviews and categorizing/labelling music. Of course, there are many more out there, including sub-genres of sub-genres, but there's no need to get that specific. Just choose the category in which your artist/group fits best. If the artist/group seems to cross over into a number of categories, pick the one most prevalent -- for example, a CD might include 3 blues songs, 2 folk songs, and 5 rock songs -- that artist would probably go in the "rock" category (although you may want to check the Music Library first and see if there are other CDs by that artist/group already there -- in that case, try to keep all the CDs in the same section).
The review you write can get as specific as you like, and the terms and definitions below may be useful. However, when labelling your CD (or record) for its inclusion in the Music Library, try to stick to the main genres listed on the Label Chart. There are only a limited number of colored stickers, so the categories had to be fairly broad. And hundreds of very specific letter-codes would only get confusing for programmers trying to locate music, so please confine yourself to the ones listed on the chart.
House music featuring squelching loops from Roland TB-303 synthesizers.
Contrary to its name, this style has little in common with Acid House. Acid Jazz consists of various blends of Jazz, Funk, House and Hip-Hop.
Created without the use of electricity.
Coined in the early 1980s, the term "alternative rock" or "alternative music" was used to describe music that didn't fit into mainstream genres of the time. Alternative styles include indie, post-punk, hardcore punk, gothic rock, college rock and new wave bands.
Atmospheric electronic music combined with jazz, New Age and other influences. Usually quieter than other styles, ambient music describes three dimensional atmospheres with sound, often without a beat.
A form of American roots music with its own roots in the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music of immigrants from the British Isles (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia), as well as the music of rural African-Americans, jazz, and blues. Like jazz, bluegrass is played with each melody instrument switching off, playing the melody in turn while the others revert to backing; this is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carried the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.
A vocal and instrumental form of music based on a pentatonic scale and a characteristic twelve-bar chord progression, blues evolved from African American spirituals, shouts, work songs and chants that found its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa. Blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big band, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, country music, conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.
Louisiana music that tends to sound more like early country, with the use of steel guitar and acoustic guitar along with the older traditional instruments -- fiddle, triangle and accordion. Cajun music is typically a waltz or two step.
The music of the Caribbean is a diverse grouping of musical genres. They are each syntheses of African, European, Indian and native influences. Some of the styles to gain wide popularity outside of the Caribbean include reggae, zouk, salsa and calypso. Areas include: The Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Trinidad
Celtic music is a broad grouping of musical genres that evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic peoples of Western Europe. Most typically, the term Celtic music is applied to the music of Ireland and Scotland, because both places have produced well-known distinctive styles which actually have genuine commonality and clear mutual influences. The music of Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany, Northumbria and Galicia are also frequently considered a part of Celtic music, the Celtic tradition being particularly strong in Brittany, where Celtic festivals large and small take place throughout the year. Finally, the music of ethnically Celtic peoples abroad are also considered, especially in Canada and the United States.
Christian music refers to music created by Christian artists or adapted to deliver general Christian religion themes.
Classical music is generally a classification covering music composed and performed by professionally trained artists. Classical music is a written tradition. It is composed and written using music notation, and as a rule is performed faithfully to the score. In common usage, "classical music" often refers to orchestral music in general, regardless of when it was composed or for what purpose (film scores and orchestral arrangements on pop music recordings, for example).
Club / Dance
Music composed, played, or both, specifically to accompany social dancing, though from the late 1970s, the term "dance music" has come to refer (in the context of nightclubs) more specifically to electronic music such as disco, house, techno and trance. Generally, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or general popular song is that in dance music the bass hits "four to the floor" at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), while in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four.
The comedy/spoken word is known as comedians and stand up stories.
(Also known as Norteño) A traditional style of Mexican music that originated in rural northern Mexico in the early 20th century, a form of music based largely on corridos and polka. The accordion and the bajo sexto is the music's most characteristic instruments. Norteño is extremely popular among first-generation Mexicans in both the inner city barrios and the rural countrysides of the United States and Mexico.
Once known as Country & Western music, this music form is developed mostly in the southern United States of America, with roots in traditional folk music, spirituals and blues.
Dixieland developed in New Orleans, Louisiana at the start of the 20th century, and spread to Chicago, Illinois and New York City, New York by New Orleans bands in the 1910s, and was, for a period, quite popular among the general public. It is often considered the first true type of jazz, and was the first music referred to by the term jazz (before 1917 often spelled jass).
Drone Drone music is a minimalist musical style that emphasizes the use of sustained or repeated sounds, notes, or tone clusters – called Drones.
East Coast (Hip Hop)
(Sometimes also referred to as New York hip hop) A style of hip hop music that originated in New York City during the late-1970s. East Coast hip hop emerged as a definitive subgenre after artists from other regions of the United States (chiefly the West Coast) emerged with different styles of hip-hop. It has since grown into a major subgenre of hip hop, and has played an instrumental role in hip hop history. East Coast hip hop has developed several creative epicenters and local scenes within the Northeastern United States, most of which are primarily located within African-American and Hispanic urban centers.
Easy Listening is a term used to describe a certain style of popular music which emphasizes simple, catchy melodies and cool, laid-back harmonics and rhythms, suitable for dancing. Easy listening emerged in the mid 20th century. Other terms used by fans of this style today include Lounge and Lounge Core, connecting it to the cocktail lounge culture of the 1960s and 1970s.
Electronica is a rather vague term that covers a wide range of electronic or electronic-influenced music. The term has been defined by some to mean modern electronic music that is not necessarily designed for the dance-floor, but rather for home listening. In the mid-1990s, the term became popular as a means of referring to the then-novel mainstream success of post-Rave global electronic dance music. Prior to the adoption of "electronica" as a blanket term for more experimental dance music, terms such as "electronic listening music," "braindance" and "intelligent dance music" (IDM) were common.
Emo is a subgenre of hardcore punk music. In its original incarnation, the term emo was used to describe the music of the mid-1980s DC scene and its associated bands. In later years, the term emocore, short for "emotional hardcore", was also used to describe the DC scene and some of the regional scenes that spawned from it. The term emo was derived from the fact that, on occasion, members of a band would become spontaneously and literally emotional during performances.
A general term surrounding electronic music without predefined genres.
Flamenco is a song, music and dance style which is strongly influenced by the Gitanos (Spanish Gypsies), but which has its deeper roots in Moorish and Jewish musical traditions. Originally, flamenco consisted of unaccompanied singing (cante). Later the songs were accompanied by flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping ( palmas), rhythmic feet stomping (zapateado) and dance (baile). The toque and baile are also often found without the cante, although the song remains at the heart of the flamenco tradition.
Music by and of the common people, folks is a down-to-earth style focusing on universal truths, often with traditional acoustic instrumentation and a simple melody. Folk music arose in societies not yet affected by mass communication and the commercialization of culture. It was originally shared and performed by an entire community -- not by a special class of expert performers -- and was transmitted by word of mouth.
Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), and groups like The Meters. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated three against four rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an "on the one" beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Marva Whitney or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; danceability; and strong jazz influences (e.g., as in the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).
At the time of its origin, Fusion was a blend of Jazz with the aggressive qualities of Rock. Today it can represent a blending of any two or more styles.
A simple, raw form of rock and roll that emerged in the mid-1960s, largely in the United States. The term "garage rock" comes from the perception that many such performers were young and amateurish, and often rehearsed in a family garage (this stereotype also evokes a suburban, middle-class setting). Largely inspired by British Invasion bands like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and The Rolling Stones, these groups mostly played a homespun variation on British Invasion rock -- although other influences were also apparent, especially the surf music style that immediately preceded the garage era. "Garage rock" was often musically crude, but nevertheless conveyed great passion and energy. Most of the bands used simple chord progressions, pounding drums, and short, repetitive lyrics.
Gospel music may refer either to the religious music that first came out of African-American churches in the 1930's or, more loosely, to both black gospel music and to the religious music composed and sung by white southern Christian artists. While the separation between the two styles was never absolute -- both drew from the Methodist hymnal and artists in one tradition sometimes sang songs belonging to the other -- the sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct. It tends to be characterised by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a religious nature.
Gothic rock evolved out of post-punk during the late 1970s. Originally considered just a label for a small handful of punk rock/post-punk bands, goth only began to be defined as a separate movement in 1981. While most punk bands focused on aggressive, outward rock, the early gothic bands were more introverted and personal, with elements that can be traced to much older literary movements such as gothic horror, Romanticism, existential philosophy, and the philosophical construct of nihilism. The earliest gothic bands were Bauhaus, Gloria Mundi (credited as the first goth band by Mick Mercer), and UK Decay.
(Sometimes also referred to as the Seattle Sound) A genre of alternative rock inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock. It became commercially successful in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in mainstream popularity between 1991 and 1994. Bands from cities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, such as Seattle, Washington, Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, created grunge and later made it popular with mainstream audiences. The genre is closely associated with Generation X in the US, since it was popularized in tandem with the rise in popularity of the generation's name. The popularity of grunge was one of the earliest phenomena that distinguished the popular music of the 1990s from that of the 1980s. Grunge music is generally characterized by "dirty" guitar, strong riffs, and heavy drumming.
(Also referred to as simply metal) A form of music characterised by aggressive, driving rhythms and highly amplified distorted guitars. Its origins lie in the hard rock bands who, between 1967 and 1974, took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar-and-drums-centered sound. From the late 1970s on, many bands would fuse this sound with a revival of European classical music. Heavy metal had its peak popularity in the 1980s, during which many of the now existing subgenres first evolved.
Music composed of four main elements: rapping (also known as emceeing), disk jockeying, breakdancing and graffiti. A cultural movement, hip hop began among African Americans in New York City in the 1970s. Most typically, hip hop music consists of one or more rappers who chant semi-autobiographic tales, often relating to a fictionalized counterpart, in an intensely rhythmic lyrical form, making abundant use of techniques like assonance, alliteration, and rhyme. The rapper is accompanied by an instrumental track, usually referred to as a "beat" because of the emphasis on rhythm, performed by a DJ, a record producer, or one or more instrumentalists. This beat is often created using a sample of the percussion break of another song, usually a funk, rock, or soul recording. In addition to the beat, other sounds are often sampled, synthesized, or performed. Sometimes, a track can be made up of just the beat by itself, as a showcase of the skills of the DJ or producer.
The first genre of music to be commonly known as honky tonk music was a style of piano playing related to ragtime, but emphasizing rhythm more than melody or harmony, since the style evolved in response to an environment where the pianos were often poorly cared for, tending to be out of tune and having some nonfunctioning keys.
Named after its birthplace, the Warehouse, a club in Chicago, House is in many ways an electronic extension of Disco. House features a steady 4/4 beat, with accented percussion and basslines.
A genre of alternative rock that primarily exists in the indie underground music scene. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with indie music as a whole, though more specifically implies that the music meets the criteria of being rock, as opposed to indie pop or other possible matchups. These criteria vary from an emphasis on rock instrumentation (electric guitars, bass guitar, live drums, and vocals) to more abstract (and debatable) rockist constructions of authenticity.
Industrial music is a loose term for a number of different styles of electronic and experimental music. The first wave of this music appeared in 1977 with Throbbing Gristle and NON, and often featured tape editing, stark percussion, and loops distorted to the point where they had degraded to harsh noise. Vocals were sporadic, and were as likely to be bubblegum pop as they were to be abrasive polemics. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Factrix, DAF, Nocturnal Emissions, Esplendor Geometrico and SPK soon followed. Blending electronic synthesisers, guitars and early samplers, these bands created an aggressive and abrasive music fusing elements of rock with experimental electronic music.
Jazz music has been called the first original art form to develop within the US. It grew out of a cross-fertilization of folk blues, ragtime, and European band music. Although there have been many renowned jazz vocalists, and many of the most well-known jazz tunes have lyrics, it is primarily an instrumental form of music. The instrument most closely associated with jazz is the saxophone, followed by the trumpet. The trombone, piano, double bass, guitar and drums are also primary jazz instruments. It is characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, and polyrhythm, yet the single most distinguishing characteristic of jazz is improvisation. Jazz also tends to utilize complex chord structures and an advanced sense of harmony, and requires a high degree of technical skill and musical knowledge from the performers.
Jungle / Drum 'n' Bass
Both styles display very fast tempos around 160-200 BPM, with double-speed breakbeats along strong basslines. According to leading DJs, Jungle conveys a party atmosphere with Reggae inspired bass, while Drum 'n' Bass is considered to be more intelligent listening music.
A category that includes songs for babies, toddlers, and young teens; often designed to educate and uplift children as well as entertain.
Klezmer is a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism. Around the 15th century, a tradition of secular (non-liturgical) Jewish music was developed by musicians called kleyzmorim or kleyzmerim. They drew on devotional traditions extending back into Biblical times, and their musical legacy of klezmer continues to evolve today. The repertoire is largely dance songs for weddings and other celebrations. Due to the Ashkenazi lineage of this music, the lyrics, terminology and song titles are typically in Yiddish.
Latin-American music is sometimes called Latin music, and it is more of an umbrella style than a genre. It often features acoustic instruments and horns with many layers of percussion, and includes the music of many countries and comes in a wide variety of choices: from the down-home conjunto music of Northern Mexico to the sophisticated habanera of Cuba, from the symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos to the simple and moving Andean flute.
Lounge music refers to music played in the lounges and bars of hotels and casinos, or at standalone piano bars. Generally, the performers include a singer and one or two other musicians. The performers play or cover songs composed by others, especially pop standards, many deriving from the days of Tin Pan Alley. Notionally, much lounge music consists of sentimental favorites enjoyed by a lone drinker over a martini, though in practice there is much more variety. The term can also refer to laid-back electronic music, also named downtempo, because of the reputation of lounge music as low-key background music.
Mariachi is a type of musical group, originally from Mexico, consisting of at least two violins, two trumpets, one Spanish guitar, one vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar) and one guitarrón (a small-scaled acoustic bass), but sometimes featuring more than twenty musicians. The mariachi sound, known as son, is a mixture of Spanish, native and African traditions and differs from region to region.
Memphis blues is a type of blues music that was pioneering in the early part of the 20th century by musicians like Sleepy John Estes and Willie Nix, associated with vaudeville and medicine shows. It was in the Memphis blues that groups of musicians first assigned one guitarist to play rhythm, and one to play lead and solos -- this has become standard in rock and roll and much of popular music. In addition, the jug band arose from the Memphis blues, mixing the sound with jazz and using homemade, simple instruments.
(Also referred to as heavy metal) A form of music characterised by aggressive, driving rhythms and highly amplified distorted guitars. Its origins lie in the hard rock bands who, between 1967 and 1974, took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar-and-drums-centered sound. From the late 1970s on, many bands would fuse this sound with a revival of European classical music. Heavy metal had its peak popularity in the 1980s, during which many of the now existing subgenres first evolved.
A style of soul music with distinctive characteristics, including the use of tambourine along with drums, bass instrumentation, a distinctive melodical and chord structure, and a call and response singing style originating in gospel music.
New Age music is a vaguely defined style of music that is generally quite melodic and often primarily instrumental, frequently relying on sustained pads or long sequencer-based runs. Very long songs, up to 20 minutes and more, are not uncommon. Vocal arrangements and usage of acoustic instruments is less common (in many cases, high-quality samples are used instead of the latter). Recordings of naturally occurring sounds are sometimes used as an introduction to a track or throughout the piece.
Traditional Nordic dance music is a type of traditional music or folk music that once was common in all five Nordic countries ( Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). The most typical instrument is the fiddle. In most cases normal violins are used, but there are exceptions such as the hardingfele, used in parts of Norway, that in addition to the normal four strings has a set of sympathetic strings. Other instruments that traditionally often were used are simple clarinets, mainly home-made, and later accordion.
Norteño (literally meaning "northern" in Spanish, and also known as conjunto) is a traditional style of Mexican music that originated in rural northern Mexico in the early 20th century, a form of music based largely on corridos and polka. The accordion and the bajo sexto is the music's most characteristic instruments. Norteño is extremely popular among first-generation Mexicans in both the inner city barrios and the rural countrysides of the United States and Mexico.
Styles that have characteristics from being created by the latest of technology and technique in audio production.
Pop music is a subgenre of popular music. Pop music may be distinguished from classical or art music and from folk music, but since the term spans many rock, hip hop, rhythm and blues (R&B), country, dance and operatic pop acts, it is reasonable to say that "pop music" is a loosely defined category.
Psychedelic / Trippy
Genres relating to hallucinations, distortions of perception, or altered states of awareness.
Punk Rock is an anti-establishment music movement that began about 1976 (although precursors can be found several years earlier), exemplified by The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. The term is also used to describe subsequent music scenes that share key characteristics with those first-generation "punks". The term is sometimes also applied to the fashions or the irreverent "DIY" ("do it yourself") attitude associated with this musical movement.
Rhythm and blues (or R&B) was coined as a musical marketing term in the late 1940s by Jerry Wexler at Billboard magazine, used to designate upbeat popular music performed by African American artists that combined jazz and blues. It was initially used to identify the style of music that later developed into rock and roll. By the 1970s, rhythm and blues was being used as a blanket term to describe soul and funk as well. Today, the acronym "R&B" is almost always used instead of "rhythm and blues", and defines the modern version of the soul and funk influenced African-American pop music that originated with the demise of disco in 1980.
An American musical genre, enjoying its peak popularity around the years 1900–1918. Ragtime is a dance form written in 2/4 or 4/4 time, and utilizing a walking bass, that is, the bass note played legato on the 1-3 beats with a staccato chord played on the 2-4 beats. Much Ragtime is written in Sonata form, with four distinct themes and a modified first theme appearing in the work. Ragtime music is syncopated, with the melodic notes landing largely on the off-beats
A form of rhyming lyrics spoken rhythmically over musical instruments that typically uses a musical backdrop of sampling, scratching and mixing by disk jockeys (DJs). Rapping is one of the elements of hip hop music and was originally called emceeing.
Music founded upon a rhythm style, which is characterized by regular chops on the backbeat, played by a rhythm guitarist. Reggae is an African-Caribbean style of music developed on the island of Jamaica and closely linked to the religion of Rastafarianism (though not universally popular among its members).
Music directly imitating styles of the past.
Rock (Rock & Roll)
Also called rock 'n' roll, is a form of popular music, usually featuring vocals (often with vocal harmony), a strong back beat, electric guitars, and a catchy melody backed by three or four chords.
Rockabilly is the earliest form of rock and roll as a distinct style of music. It is a fusion of blues, hillbilly boogie, bluegrass music and country music, and its origins lie in the American South.
A term often applied to music closely related to the birth of a genre.
Salsa is essentially Cuban in stylistic origin, though it is also a hybrid of various Latin styles mixed with pop, jazz, rock and R&B. Most specifically, however, salsa refers to a particular style developed by the 1960s and '70s New York City-area Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants to the United States.
Music used in the sound mix for a motion picture.
Soul music is a combination of rhythm and blues and gospel. Rhythm and blues (a term coined by music writer and record producer Jerry Wexler) is itself a combination of blues and jazz, and arose in the 1940s as small groups, often playing saxophones, built upon the blues tradition. Soul music is differentiated by its use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists, and its merging of religious and secular themes.
Another one of Southwest Louisiana's main musical genres, swamp pop is more of a combination of many influences, and the bridge between Zydeco, New Orleans second line, and rock and roll. The song structure is pure rock and roll, the rhythms are distinctly New Orleans based, the chord changes, vocals and inflections are R&B influenced, and the lyrics are sometimes French.
Swing music, also known as swing jazz, is a form of jazz music that developed during the 1920s and solidified as a distinctive style during the 1930s in the United States. Swing is distinguished primarily by a strong rhythm section, usually including double bass and drums, medium to fast tempo, and the distinctive swing time rhythm that is common to many forms of jazz.
This term has come to have two popular interpretations, the first being a description of all electronic music. The second interpretation is a style that developed from House music, which completely abandoned the influences of Disco; Techno is more mechanical and less organic.
Tejano (Spanish for "Texan") or Tex-Mex music is the various forms of folk and popular music originating among the Mexican-descended Tejanos of Central and South Texas. In recent years artists such as Selena Quintanilla, Emilio Navaira, and Selena's brother A.B. Quintanilla's band, Los Kumbia Kings have transformed Tejano music from primarily a local, ethnic form of music to a genre with wide appeal in North America, Latin America, Europe, and beyond. Usually, Tex-Mex refers to more the traditional styles such as its most popular sub-genre by far, norteño music. Tejano is usually more modern and is heavily influenced by rock, cumbia, and blues.
Trance music is electronic dance music (EDM) that developed in the 1990s. Trance could be described as a melodic, more-or-less freeform style of music characterized by steady beat between 130 and 158 bpm and repeating melodic patterns. The genre is arguably derived from a combination of largely techno and house. Trance got its name from repeating and morphing beats and melodies which would presumably put the listener into a trance.
Trip hop is downtempo electronic music that grew out of England's hip hop and house scenes. Sometimes characterized by a reliance on breakbeats and a sample-heavy sound pioneered by Coldcut's remix of Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full", trip hop gained notice via popular artists such as Portishead, Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Tricky, and rock-influenced sound groups such as Ruby, California's DJ Shadow, and the UK's Howie B.
A term given to R&B and Soul produced in the 80s and 90s.
West Coast (Hip Hop)
West Coast hip-hop, also known as California hip-hop or West Coast rap, is a style of hip-hop that originated in California in the 1980s. It has since grown into a subgenre of hip-hop and has developed several creative epicenters, most of which are in California.
World music is, most generally, all the music in the world. More specifically, the term is currently used to classify and market recordings of the many genres of non-western music which were previously described as "folk music" or "ethnic music". Succinctly, it can be described as "local music from out there." The term is used primarily as a marketing/classification device, sometimes referring to any kind of foreign music, especially in a foreign language.
In popular music, worldbeat refers to any style of music which fuses folk music from non-traditional sources (essentially, outside the Appalachian folk and Celtic traditions) with Western rock or other pop influences. Worldbeat is usually said to have begun in the mid-1980s when artists like David Byrne, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon began incorporating influences from around the world, especially Africa. Within the next few years, worldbeat became a thriving subgenre of popular music that influenced many more mainstream musicians. Some of the most commonly incorporated types of folk music include rai, samba, flamenco, tango, qawwali, highlife and raga.
One of Southwest Louisiana's main musical genres, Zydeco sounds more like gospel or R&B, with artists adopting a James Brown kind of persona, and instrumentation involving accordion and rubboard washboard along with electrical instruments (guitar and bass), keyboards, drumkit and horns, and are well suited to the jitterbug.