My brother and I were talking the other day about music – our favorite singers and genres and more specifically, how to distinguish between genres. When our dad was my age, musical styles were both fewer and more distinct. Every artist stayed strictly in their lane. Today there seem to be more and more music genres with more and more overlap. For instance, most modern country songs resemble rock and roll as much as or more than traditional country. And Southern rock, while it has “rock” in its name, is about equal parts country and classic rock. And modern pop draws heavily on rap and hip-hop. This annoys my brother to no end – he is the type of personality that needs to know where each piece fits in the grand design. So, my big little brother, this one is for you.
If we disregard classical and instrumental pieces, music genres can be grouped into 5 broad categories. First, let’s talk about the easiest and most difficult category to define: Christian Music. Lyrically, these songs are all similar in that they deal with Christian ideas and themes. But musically, they range from old-fashioned hymns to pop tunes to rock and rap styles. So if you want to listen to Christian music, you then have to choose between a wide range of musical styles that fit underneath that umbrella.
Our next category is defined by an era and I call it Retro Music. This includes any type of music popular after the invention of recorded music that is no longer a big deal. There may still be artists producing these genres but they are not mainstream. Swing, big band, easy listening, boogie-woogie, jazz, ragtime, etc. Think of big-name singers from days gone by: Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and other famous singers of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Personally, I am not nearly as familiar with these great artists or music genres as I would like to be.
The third sector of musical styles is the very broadly-defined Pop Music. Subheadings under this category would include dance, electronic, and bubblegum pop. This is probably the easiest genre of all – any song that is popular and doesn’t fit anywhere else belongs here. Restrictions are loose, with no particular sound or style. Pop Music draws inspiration from whichever genre happens to currently be most popular.
Category number four is the one I listen to the least and which I have dubbed Urban Music. I suppose it’s my country-girl bias, but I ascribe the genres in this category to city-dwellers. It may not be an entirely accurate way of viewing music and a musician would probably cringe at my definition, but it helps me keep things straight in my mind. Hip-hop, rap, modern R&B, reggae, disco, heavy metal (particularly what’s termed thrash metal), and punk rock are some of the genres I list under the Urban heading. I don’t know much about this category, but unlike Retro Music, I have no desire to become better acquainted with the music of the Urban category.
As opposed to our previous genre group, our final entry tends to be the territory of country folks. I call it Americana Music: folk, Western, country, outlaw, bluegrass, Cajun and zydeco, blues, soul, Southern rock, and rock and roll. This is my musical world and my brother’s as well; the music we both love best is all included in these music genres. Each genre overlaps the next, making it difficult to ascribe most songs to any one heading. It’s not a stack of boxes, each one neatly holding its assigned artists and songs. It is a meandering pathway, each song a stepping stone to the next. And it is one gloriously beautiful journey.