Art music and popular music are considered parent genres in the world of music. Parent genres are the main categories of music that branch out into thousands of other sub-categories and sub-genres.

There are significant differences between these two categories of music. Even though we may not be able to explain it, our ears can easily detect these differences between art music and popular music. This article will explain these differences and help you understand the characteristics that make these two parent genres different. 

Basic Characteristics of Art Music

Art music is a term that is used for music styles that originated from Western classical music. Art music is rooted in classical traditions and formal styles. Listeners require some technical knowledge to truly appreciate this style as it is usually discussed by deconstructing the performance in detail.2

The origins of art music date back to the 11th century, and some sub-genres that are included under this category are avant-garde, baroque, chamber music, classical crossover, high classical, impressionist, modern composition, opera, orchestral, renaissance, and romantic.3

Basic Characteristics of Popular Music 

Popular music, not to be confused with pop music, which is a subgenre of this category, is a style of music that is focused on commercial success and mass appeal. People who enjoy popular music don’t necessarily need to have any knowledge of music and listen to it for pleasure.4 

Rock, pop, jazz, blues, rap, hip-hop, funk, disco, heavy metal, soul, R&B, etc are some of the sub-genres that are a part of the popular music category.  

Art Music vs Popular Music – What’s the Difference?  

Art music is rooted in written musical tradition, and the compositions are preserved in notations. Most of the elements of performance in art music are specified in advance in written form, and performers strictly adhere to these instructions. Art music is usually recorded without any changes to the composition of the original artist. The authenticity of the music is usually preserved and appreciated by the audience and listeners.   

After the 1930s, the most common method of listening to popular music shifted from being played live to being heard on phonograph records. Popular music is a style that is in constant flux and is continuously evolving into new styles. Musicians are allowed to improvise and experiment with the songs. They can also deviate from the sounds and styles that are characteristic of certain genres. Live performances of popular music genres generally sound different from the original recorded versions in terms of instrumentation and vocals. 

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1. McKay, C. (n.d.). Issues in Automatic Musical Genre Classification. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
2. What Is Art Music? – WorldAtlas. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
3. Classical Music Genres – Music Genres List. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
4. popular music | Description, History, & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from