Music genres are classified based on several factors, ranging from the geographical origins of the style to something as specific as the musical patterns used in songs.1So far,  around 5,913 music genres have been identified, demonstrating the diversity of music and the limitless creative possibilities of this art form, which is only growing with time.2 

But, how are all these music genres categorized? Here’s a list of 10 popular music genres and a look at their origins, basic characteristics, descriptions, and some examples of the subgenres they have birthed to give you an idea of how music genres are categorized.       

1. Pop 

Pop music is the genre with the most mass appeal currently.3 The genre is specifically targeted at commercial success and can use any kind of instrumentation and musical qualities as long as the song is catchy, upbeat, and appealing to a large audience. The first signs of this style of music started to appear in the late 19th century.


Art pop, dance-pop, orchestral pop, country pop, indie pop, bubblegum, Sunshine Pop, Surf Pop, Synthpop, Teen Pop, Traditional Pop Music, Turkish Pop, Vispop, Wonky Pop, Post-Disco, Progressive Pop are among the many subgenres of pop music.5 

2. Rock 

Rock music originated in the United States around the 1950s, and due to its growing diversity to this day, it is still not possible to arrive at a concrete definition of the genre. However, rock music has a strong beat accompanied by simple tunes that are generally played or performed loudly by a small group of people, usually with electric guitars and drums. This is an extremely basic definition of rock music, as it is an exceptionally dynamic genre.6  


Some subgenres of rock music are alternative rock, rock ‘n’ roll, blues rock, progressive rock, indie rock, punk rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, roots rock, Britpop, folk rock, electronic rock, arena rock, funk rock, garage rock, space rock, soft rock, experimental rock, surf rock and art rock. 7 

3. Soundtrack

Soundtrack is not exactly a genre but a term used for a selection of songs that are featured in a film. These songs have become a category of their own, with increasingly high-quality music being composed and used in many movies that have generated large-scale appeal. These songs can be existing tracks that are licensed by the producers or original songs that are composed and written to fit the film’s story. “Soundtrack” can also refer to the commercial album released with a movie, as well as a collection of sound effects, music, and dialogue used in a movie.8


There are no subgenres for this type of music. However, there is also original music called “score” that is composed and recorded by a single composer, and sometimes more, especially for a film. It adheres to a strict timecode as it is composed to fit certain parts and the story of the film precisely. Orchestras usually perform film scores, however, the music for films these days can deviate from this norm. 

4. Rap and Hip-hop

Rap music is a style that has rhythmic and rhyming speech, which is chanted to musical beats. The backing music can include digital sampling, which is music and sounds extracted from other recordings. It is also called hip-hop, a term that represents this type of music at large and includes rap, deejaying, graffiti painting, and break dancing. Rap originated in the African American communities of New York City around the 1970s.9


Old school, boom-bap, jazz rap, trap, mumble rap, rap rock, country trap, gangsta rap, crunk, emo rap, grime, UK drill, bounce, horrorcore, Latin trap, conscious hip-hop, Soundcloud rap, hyphy, Soundcloud rap, lo-fi hip-hop, G-funk, footwork, etc., are some styles of rap and hip-hop music.10

5. Electronic Dance Music 

Electronic dance music, known more commonly by its abbreviation EDM, typically has inorganic sounds and timbres. These sounds are often produced on cheap music equipment of the early 1980s, such as  the 808 drum machine and the 303 bass synthesizer, or from samples of previous recordings. Although the style does include some instrumentation and singing, it is not the main focus of EDM. It is composed specifically for dancing; therefore, rhythm plays a vital role in most subgenres of EDM.11 


House, techno, techno, dubstep, drum & bass, garage, grime, trap, hardstyle, moombahton, juke, breakbeat, downtempo, etc., are some of the most popular sub-genres of EDM, which further branch out into styles of their own.12

6. K-Pop

K-pop is a form of Korean popular music, and it originated in South Korea in the 1950s. However, the type of K-pop music that has gained popularity today is a new form of the genre that emerged in the 1990s. K-pop is heavily influenced by Western music and pop groups, especially all styles of American pop music and culture, which continues to impact this style of music to this day.13 K-pop is mostly focused on esthetic and the trendsetting style of the artists. It maintains its reputation as a strictly Korean genre through tunes based on traditional Korean music and lyrics that have some short English sentences or words used in some places.14 


The sub-genres of K-pop are based on both Korean and North American music, such as soundtrack, gayo, jazz, pop, new age, classic, gukak, Religious music, World music, Hip-hop, Dongyo, Electronic, Rock, R&B, Indie and Metal.15

7. Indie Music 

“Indie” is a term that is short for “independent” and was first used for artists who recorded and released their music themselves instead of signing with a record label. However, the genre now defines a certain attitude, sound, or way of creating music. Therefore, since its inception in the 1970s, the term has come to encompass indie music artists who are also working with major labels. Indie is a style of music that was initially not focused on commercial success or appeal. It was known for straying from the accepted norms of pop music, which are still retained, with the exception of the large-scale success and appeal that indie music has garnered since and artists signing deals with record labels.16


Indie music has some fascinating types of subgenres such as math rock, post-rock, shoegaze, chillwave, freak folk, Nintendocore, and folktronica, apart from the more commonly known styles like indie rock, indie rap, indie R & B, indie electronica, and indie synthpop.17 

8. R&B 

R&B, aka rhythm and blues, is a style of popular African American music that started to gain popularity during the post-World War II era. A variety of different styles of music emerged soon after and were included under the term R&B later. R&B is described as sophisticated urban music with humorous lyrics and upbeat rhythms that were inspired by other music styles such as boogie-woogie and classic blues.18 


Contemporary R&B, disco, doo Wop, funk, Motown, neo-Soul, quiet Storm, soul,19 indie soul, alternative R&B, new jack swing, pop-soul, trap soul, pop R&B, and gospel R&B are some other popular styles that emerged from this genre.20  

9. Country

Country music originated in the rural areas of the southwest United States in the early 20th century and is also referred to as western music.21  Country songs are based on the stories of rural life, and most artists endorse the cowboy style through their music and clothing. The style of singing is very distinct and incorporates a quality called “twang,” which can be described as the elongation of words during the singing and the usage of diphthongs and triphthongs.22     


Country music has branched into many different styles over the years, such as alternative country, Americana, sertanejo, Nashville sound, country pop, bluegrass, country soul, Australian country, zydeco and western swing.23

10. Jazz

Jazz started to develop through the blending of African American musical traditions with other cultures during the early 20th century in the United States. Jazz is characterized by improvisations, which are one of the most defining qualities of this style. It requires artists to create solos spontaneously during a performance. Jazz music is usually rhythmic and is accompanied by lots of string bending and a forward momentum called “swing.”24  


Some early sub-genres of jazz are big band, boogie-woogie piano, bop, classic jazz, Dixieland, jump blues, original New Orleans jazz, ragtime, stride piano, swing, and vocal jazz. Some styles that emerged later are Afro-Cuban jazz, avant-garde jazz, bossa nova, cool jazz, eclectic fusion, funk jazz, fusion, hard bop, Latin jazz, nu jazz, and post-bop.25

BYJU’S FutureSchool

We hope this BYJU’S FutureSchool article has enriched your knowledge of music genres. If you want more music resources, you can sign up for a FREE trial class where you can learn the piano and guitar in a live 1:1 setting with knowledgeable instructors—or check out some more helpful articles.

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