Popular Music Glossary

acid rock
Rock music with a repetitive beat and lyrics that suggest psychedelic experiences.
alternative
Guitar-based rock with desultory male vocalists or chirpy female vocalists. It grew in response to the last gasp of dinosaur bands from the 1970s and from the commercial success of bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Also known as modern rock.
bluegrass
An early form of country music that combines the gospel-tinged vocals of the Blue Ridge Mountain region with folk melodies. Instrumentation generally includes guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles.
blues
A style of music that evolved from southern African-American secular songs and is usually characterized by slow tempo and flatted thirds and sevenths. Blues influenced the development of rock, rhythm and blues and country music.
boogie-woogie
A style of jazz piano characterized by a repeated rhythmic and melodic pattern in the bass and a series of improvised variations in the treble.
bop
A style of jazz characterized by rhythmic and harmonic complexity, improvised solo performances and a virtuoso execution.
Calypso
A type of music that originated in the West Indies and is characterized by humorous, improvised lyrics often on topical subjects.
doo-wop
A style of music popularized in the 1950s with words and nonsense syllables sung in harmony by small groups.
folk music
1. Music that originates among the common people of a nation or region and is spread about or passed down orally. It is characterized by simple melodies.
2. Contemporary music based on traditional folk that often contains political or satirical lyrics.
funk
A type of popular music combining elements of jazz, blues and soul and characterized by syncopated rhythm and a heavy, repetitive bass line.
gangsta rap
A form of rap music characterized by violent, often degrading lyrics.
grunge
The label applied to a rock form featuring distorted guitars, whining vocals and flannel-shirt-wearing band members. Popularized by and associated primarily with Seattle bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains.
heavy metal
A ponderous rock form characterized by brittle, flashy guitar work, unnaturally high-pitched male vocals and an adolescent fascination with the darker side of human experience. Born in the late 1960s of bands such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, heavy metal is currently associated with bands such as Metallica and Soundgarden. Also called metal and speed metal.
hip-hop
The cultural context of rap music found in the urban style of dress, speech and art.
jazz
American music born in the early part of the century from African rhythms and slave chants. It has spread from its African-American roots to a worldwide audience. Jazz developed from early ensemble improvisation to big band swing to the soloing brilliance of bop to thorny atonality and back to the current rearticulation of melody and harmony.
New Age
Modern music characterized by quiet improvisation on the acoustic piano, guitar and synthesizer and a dreamy, relaxing sound.
new wave
An emotionally detached style of rock music characterized by a synthesized sound and a repetitive beat.
punk
A rock form characterized by aggressive volume, short, angry vocals and often bitter political or hopeless emotional content. It was born as a reaction to the bland, corporate rock of the 1970s. Early exponents of punk include Sex Pistols, The Clash, Ramones and Buzzcocks. Punk's recent revival is attributed to the dominance of sound-alike “alternative” bands.
raga
A traditional form in Hindu music, consisting of a theme that expresses an aspect of religious feeling and sets forth a tonal system on which variations are improvised within a framework of progressions, melodic formulas and rhythmic patterns.
ragtime
A style of jazz with elaborately syncopated rhythm in the melody and a steadily accented accompaniment.
rap
Urban, typically African-American music that features spoken lyrics, often reflecting current social or political issues, over a background of sampled sounds or scratched records.
reggae
Popular music of Jamaican origin having elements of Calypso, soul and rock and characterized by a strongly accentuated offbeat.
rhythm and blues
The all-encompassing term used to describe the African-American wellspring of postwar popular music. From rhythm and blues has come rock, soul, funk, rap and regional and stylistic offshoots. Critics consider rhythm and blues's birth to coincide with the decline of big bands and jazz's turn toward the bop emphasis on soloing. Rhythm and blues retained an emphasis on vocals while adding a more pronounced beat characteristic of the blues.
rock
Perhaps the most popular form of 20th-century music, a combination of African-American rhythms, urban blues, folk and country music of the rural South. It has developed since the early 1950s into hundreds of subgenres, each with its own audience, record labels and radio formats.
salsa
A popular form of Latin-American dance music, characterized by Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Cuban big-band dance melodies and elements of jazz and rock.
ska
A brisk form of Jamaican-born rock derived from reggae and rock energy. It was popularized in the early 1980s by British “black-and-white” multiracial bands that formed a lighter faction of the punk movement.
soca
A West-Indian style of music that is a blend of soul and Calypso.
soul
The name for a type of rhythm and blues built on elements of gospel and spiritual music. Often, practitioners such as Sam Cooke maintained two careers simultaneously in soul and popular music.
zydeco
Music of Louisiana's bayous that blends Cajun rhythms with rhythm and blues. Instrumentation includes washboards and accordions, though more generally, electric instruments.

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