One of the great things about music is that everyone can find something they like. In many cases, we may like more than one genre. It is a universal pleasure, something that can bring us all together rather than most things that seem to force us apart.
And there are so many different types of songs, the mood, the tempo, the style, and even the meaning. There is so much to be explored, understood, and appreciated. And, quite often, they overlap.
What can be classified as one thing can often also be called another. So, let’s break it down a little by starting at the beginning…
- The Origins of Music
- Did Writing Help?
- What Was Its Use?
- The Medieval Period
- The Originator of the Gregorian Chant?
- What We Know As The Classical Music Period
- The Renaissance
- The Baroque Period
- The Classical Period
- The Romantic Period
- The Opera
- Folk Music
- Blues Music
- Rock n Roll
- Pop Music
- A Brief Mention
- Hip Hop and Rap
- EDM or Electronic Dance Music
- Symphonic Rock
- Looking for Some Great Music?
- Different Types of Songs – Conclusion
The Origins of Music
You might think that its origins might be relatively easy to determine, but that is not the case. Scholars fiercely debate when and how our love of music started. Some think that it may have started with the beginnings of language, others at a later date.
They certainly evolved from mythical beliefs and were present around 40,000 BC because we have remnants of flutes made from bone. But where, when, and how exactly is unknown.
There were instruments in the Xia Dynasty in about 2000 BC. And, in the civilizations in the Indus Valley, again in the Bronze age period about 2500 BC.
Did Writing Help?
Once we had learned formal writing skills that could be understood by others, music certainly changed in substance and complexity. Formalized music was seen in the so-called “literate civilizations.”
These are Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Middle-eastern cultures. One of the great steps forward was taken in 600 BC. This was when the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras identified music as being scientific and having an order.
He might have been famous for his ‘right-angled triangle’ theorem. But, for musicians, he is more famous for observing and creating the octave.
What Was Its Use?
Not for pleasure at that time. It was ceremonial, used as appreciation for any one of thousands of deities, depending on the religion. It also observed, gave reverence, and sometimes promoted fear of mythical figures. There was a point, though, where it became a little more serious.
The Medieval Period
Many people in the western world treat other geographical areas and their music as irrelevant. Of course, it isn’t, and it developed just as it did in Western cultures. But, it is western music we are dealing with here. So, it is there, with respect to the other cultures and their music, that I will be concentrating on.
The Medieval Period lasted from around the 6th to the 15th centuries. It was largely driven by the music used for worship for the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the repertory music has survived, especially what we know as the ‘Gregorian Chant.’
The Originator of the Gregorian Chant?
It is claimed, by Catholics, that Pope Gregory the first was the originator of this style of music. Although, some initially claimed that he wrote about it over a hundred years after his death. That would indicate an exaggeration of the truth. Nevertheless, it became a prominent form of music.
Most of the music was written sometime between Gregory, who died in 604 to Charlemagne in 800. Still, you could say that the music was not written to enjoy. It was functional, often composed, and driven by fear. The antithesis of what it is supposed to be.
And so it remained for a couple of hundred years…
Other music was being written, some for pleasure, but that was suppressed, as far as it could, by the Catholic Church. Wandering minstrels, with their early folk songs, were also frowned upon and stamped out as far as they could be.
But thankfully, the Renaissance was approaching. And, once that juggernaut was released, nothing was going to stop it.
What We Know As The Classical Music Period
This is a period of music that overlaps nearly 700 years of other genres. Furthermore, you could argue it is still with us today. And not only in performances written during the time but also in new composers and their works.
However, the Classical Period was largely divided into four distinct periods, the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods.
The word means rebirth. Its commencement musically is not as clear-cut as the Renaissance, which we all know started in Italy. This commenced in a “Franco-Flemish” area which is now part of France, Holland, and Belgium. From there, it spread to Italy.
It lasted from about 1400 to 1600 AD. It was in this period that composers gained more freedom as views were changing with understanding. The realization that they weren’t going to be burned at the stake as a heretic was a certain incentive.
The Secular Arrival
Much of the music was still religious-based, though. Composers had to work and earn money, but the secular had arrived in force. Notable composers were Guillaume Du Fay from France, Thomas Tallis from England, and Da Palestrina from Italy.
The Baroque Period
This was one of the great periods of Classical music. The arrival of the opera was one which I shall mention later. More creative musical styles evolved that were using new music theories and techniques, and of course, instruments.
Religious influences were still prevalent, but now, the music was for listening to and enjoying. All the major Royal courts in Europe began to have their own personal musicians who wrote to entertain and impress guests.
Notable composers from the period were Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. This period was deemed to have ended with the death of Bach in 1750. Below are some examples to give you an idea of songs in The Baroque Period:
The Classical Period
The impetus established by the Baroque period encouraged the development of the Classical period. It lasted from about 1730 to 1820.
In this period, music took a slightly different format. Concentrating on easy-to-listen-to melodious tunes. Songs and music that would appeal to courts at concerts delivered by the composer’s paymasters.
The main composers of this period were Johann Christian Bach and, of course, Mozart. Beethoven and Schubert both commenced their writings in the Classical period, but are both what they call transitional composers. That means their work spilled over into the later Romantic period.
The Romantic Period
Once again, major changes as the orchestras got larger and the works more dramatic. Music was now featuring plenty of harmonic progressions and emotional expression. The Classical Period had seen its restraints, depending on which “Court” was paying the money.
Now, the shackles were off. Composers, to an extent, were experimenting and writing what they wanted, not what they were told. Some of the greatest pieces of music we have ever seen came from this period.
This warrants a mention as a unique musical form. It was always dramatic, usually tragic, and dominated by its vocals.
It was written by composers with whom we are very familiar. Some, at the behest of those that paid them, others because that is what they wanted to write. Some of the great Opera composers were Monteverdi, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini.
Now, let’s move a little closer to the present day and the different types of songs we will find.
At times, a wide-ranging term that is used to cover many styles. It often originated in a specific area which is why there are so many variants. What is considered folk music in the Appalachian mountains is not the same as what would be found at the Scarborough Fair.
Being geographically influenced, folk music takes in the feelings of the locals from where it derives. It also makes use of the instruments popular in those areas. So, folk music in one area will sound different from others because of the instruments played.
Most folk music is written about local culture. But, it can also include national identity and patriotism, misplaced or otherwise. Some of the great folk musicians from our age include Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Carter Family, and Judy Collins.
You can’t pinpoint a time when “the Blues” became a musical genre. It evolved over many years, but it can be traced back to its African roots. Much of early Blues music was sung by plantation slaves working in the fields.
The songs are composed of social and economic statements, as well as some religious contexts. In the slave fields of North West Mississippi in the late 1800s, it began to take on a formal shape. The Delta Blues.
Through the early 20th century, it became a popular ‘folk’ music tradition. But, it was different from folk music in its rhythms and style.
Today’s Gospel, Rock, and Country music took their forms from the Blues. And it is a music genre that today is still hugely popular and has influenced many great musicians. Here are some of the different types of songs that fall under The Blues category:
- Robert Johnson – Cross Road Blues (Take 1).
- Howlin’ Wolf – Spoonful.
- Muddy Waters – Boom, Boom (Live At Mr. Kelly’s/1971).
You can argue that Gospel music came from the Blues. I heard someone once say, “the Blues is gospel music for bad boys and girls.” An interesting statement, but I instantly knew what they meant.
Gospel is one of only a few musical genres linked to religion. As such, the music is written with that in mind. Powerful vocals and harmonies are designed to make the music soar through the air.
But, it is written and mostly performed to create an increase in spirituality and recognition of its chosen deity. In this case, Christianity. Below are two great examples of Gospel music:
About the same time that the Blues was beginning to make a stir in the 1920s, Jazz also arrived. It originated in the same geographical areas as African-American people. Soon, it became a uniquely American style of music and then a worldwide genre.
It is based on improvisation, pitch and timber variances, and bent notes. Furthermore, as they say, “anything goes.”
From jazz have come some of the greatest musicians and singers we have seen. Far too many to name here. But here are a few examples to give you an idea:
- Mile Davis – Kind Of Blue.
- Charlie Parker – Millennium Collection (20th Century Masters).
- The Greatest of Dizzy Gillespie.
- Ella Fitzgerald – Gold.
This is big business in America and is recognized in some ways as something uniquely American. You could say that it was, for a certain area of America anyway. It is a combination of two styles.
Folk music and Cowboy music combine to provide an interesting genre. It is one of those styles that is instantly recognizable. Steel guitars play away, and the themes of the songs are often very similar.
It is still largely an American genre and is not appreciated anywhere else to a great extent. Of course, it has its adherents, but the numbers are small. However, in parts of America, it is a way of life and something they associate with deeply.
It has thrown up its own set of favorites, again far too many to make a comprehensive list here. Here are a few:
- The Essential Johnny Cash.
- Willie Nelson – Outlaw Justice.
- Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits.
- Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke.
Rock n Roll
Out of the unlikely combination of Blues and Country came Rock n Roll. It was a reaction in many ways to the ‘clean-cut image’ that some kids rebelled against. Names like Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard were four of the five that dominated the scene.
Although, in terms of talent and ability, one stood out even more. His name was Buddy Holly.
Pop, short for popular, arrived in the late 50s or early 60s. Songs with catchy hooks designed to sell big. There have been hundreds of pop artists. Many come, but few remain popular.
But, if we are talking about pop music, then you can start and end with The Beatles. There have been some great pop songs over the years. But, for a body of work from a band or artist, there has been nothing like The Beatles before and nothing since.
A Brief Mention
A couple of brief mentions now for some of what might be called spin-offs from the pop environment. These deserve a mention because they both made a significant impact on music.
Clean, smiling, well-drilled and suited music was back in a big way under the Motown banner. And whilst the men and their groups were popular, it was the girls that made the biggest impact.
Motown was a big player in music from 1960 to about 1968 and produced some memorable music. Check out the different types of songs from Motown to get a feel for how enjoyable the music can be.
- The Supremes – Stop! In The Name Of Love.
- The Ronettes – Be My Baby.
- Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine.
Soul was similar to Motown but with a rougher edge. The rhythms were harder and easier to dance to. As with Motown, Soul music was dressed up as ‘pop’ but wasn’t. Other things were going on, and it had that African-American vibe running through it.
A hard genre to define. It could be Soul music with heavier drums and bass, or it could be R&B but in a laid-back way somehow. Furthermore, it could be frantic, or it could be ‘cool.’
However you want to describe it, the music produced some great stuff on both sides of the Atlantic. It arrived seemingly unannounced in the mid-60s and stuck around for quite a while with a loyal following. It’s still around today, albeit with a much smaller fan base.
Dare I call it West Indian folk music? Essentially, that is what it is. It is definitely a cultural thing, and while others have tried to emulate it, Bob Marley is still king. As I say, cultural music with roots in the West Indies. The rhythms are infectious, and the message in the lyrics is often very clear.
If you don’t like Reggae, it is easy to appreciate the skill of playing and singing it. You could describe it as a mix between Ska and Soul music. It seems to have lost its way a little bit internationally these days. But, go to Jamaica and see if you can walk 100 meters without hearing some.
Of all the genres, this is still by far the most popular. Rock n Roll with distortion? Or, more accurately, Rock n Roll with attitude? Just some descriptions. But, even with the genre of Rock, you can break it down into several categories.
Easy-going, quite gentle, and usually very harmonic in its creation and sound. Some examples:
A little harder than Soft Rock, but still with good melodies and plenty of harmonies. Such as:
Just add some brass and the music still punches through. However, those brass instruments add a slightly jazzy feel to the music. For example:
Turn the Marshall or HiWatt amps up to ten, and off you go. Heavy Rock is still one of the biggest players in today’s music. Maybe not quite as big as it was, but it has produced some memorable tracks.
And, of course, some memorable bands, some of which are still out there. Two of the most well-known Heavy Rock bands are:
From Heavy Rock came Metal. It is distinguished by its even more aggressive tones and often a frantic pace. The subject matter of the songs often revolves around darker subjects. War, death, and sadness are often the prime movers.
Two songs that epitomize the genre are:
There are so many bands that could fit this description. Essentially, they are pushing the boundaries, musically and sometimes lyrically. Some of the earliest pioneering groups in the genre are:
Hip Hop and Rap
A very selective genre that appeals to some but certainly not all. It is dominated by its bass lines, but it is the vocals that make the song. Rap songs are often a product of gang life, especially when the words are used to attack another individual or group of individuals.
It has become a big earner in many ways, especially for those that have developed a more ‘popular’ image, such as Eminem.
EDM or Electronic Dance Music
The rise in popularity of Disco Music and the improvements in technology allowed EDM to flourish. Disco was purely for dancing too. But, it wasn’t cheap to record in a studio. Computer technology made it easy, quick, and cheap to produce EDM, so you could even do it at home.
It makes no pretensions as to its contribution to music. Of all the different genres of music, this is just sounds to dance to. Some people think it isn’t music at all. But, I have included it here because it exists.
To finish, let’s return to Rock, even though that is an inadequate description. These are tracks from bands that are Metal or Gothic in their origin. But, added to the thundering guitars, drums, and bass is the extensive use of orchestras, along with music videos that are at times unbelievable.
Several bands might fall into this category. But, the Dutch band, Within Temptation, is probably the best.
Looking for Some Great Music?
We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on The 20 Best Jazz Albums of All Time, the Top 10 Genres in the Music Industry, the Best Grunge Bands of the 90s, Types of Metal Music, The Baroque Music Period, and The Romantic Period of Music for more information and song ideas.
You will need to hear all that music. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Headphones Under $200, and the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones you can buy in 2022.
Different Types of Songs – Conclusion
Is that enough songs from a variety of styles of music? There have been plenty, and it’s difficult to see where to go from here.
Computers will expand the electronic side, I am sure. But fortunately, there will always be great musicians in every genre to still provide us with great music.
Until next time, happy listening.