Genres Test

music genres definitions

These music genres and definitions were originally compiled to aid Music Library volunteers when writing their reviews and categorizing/labeling music. It has now been expanded and opened up to the general public by Programmer volunteers to serve as a guide for people to discuss music, which is a feeble attempt at best to describe the indescribable. Nonetheless, we hope this can be helpful in discovering many of the shows KOOP offers, which is constantly revolving and changing.

Of course, there are many more music genres out there, including sub-genres of sub-genres, and all of these are also in constant change. So this can never be a complete list, but we hope it can serve as a handy guide on your voyage of discovery.

Music Genres and Definitions We Use at KOOP

Acid House

House music featuring squelching loops from Roland TB-303 synthesizers.

Acid Jazz

Contrary to its name, this style has little in common with Acid House. Acid Jazz consists of various blends of Jazz, Funk, House and Hip-Hop.


Created without the use of electricity. As a genre it refers to folk, traditional, or singer-songwriter modes of music.


Afro-Pop is a catch-all term encompassing the rich variety of contemporary African music styles — typically urban, electric dance music. As each of Africa’s 54 countries lays claim to dozens of distinct languages and musical traditions, Afro-Pop is a blanket description of the continent’s many diverse styles, from Algerian rai to Senegalese mbalax to East African taarab.


Afrobeat is a music genre which involves the combination of elements of West African musical styles such as fuji music and highlife with American funk and jazz influences, with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion. The term was coined in the 1960s by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for pioneering and popularizing the style both within and outside Nigeria.


Coined in the early 1980s, the term “alternative rock” or “alternative music” was used to describe music that didn’t fit into mainstream genres of the time. Alternative styles included indie, post-punk, gothic rock, college rock, grunge, and new wave bands, to name a few.


Atmospheric electronic music, sometimes combined with Jazz, New Age and other influences. Usually quieter than other styles, ambient music describes three dimensional atmospheres with sound, often without a beat.

Americana or Roots Rock

Americana is a genre of contemporary music which incorporates elements of various American music styles, including country, rock, folk, bluegrass and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound.


The Art Rock genre generally reflects a challenging approach to music, making use of modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements, yet with rock instrumentation and approach. It was predominantly spear-headed in the mid 70’s on Brian Eno’s rock albums, as well as David Bowie and Roxy Music’s mid-70’s work, and many others.


Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of innovation in artistic expression for the time period in which it was produced, yet often remains fresh in this regard. It is the weirder end of the Art-Rock spectrum, and usually difficult to the layperson to listen to, but this is not always the case. Examples are Henry Cow and all of their offshoot projects, The Residents and all the 70’s and early 80’s work on their label Ralph Records, and more


Bebop or bop is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States, which features songs characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody. Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians expanded the creative possibilities of jazz beyond the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new “musician’s music” that was not as danceable and demanded close listening.

As bebop was not intended for dancing, it enabled the musicians to play at faster tempos. Bebop musicians explored advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords, extended chords, chord substitutions, asymmetrical phrasing, and intricate melodies. Bebop groups used rhythm sections in a way that expanded their role. Whereas the key ensemble of the swing era was the big band of up to fourteen pieces playing in an ensemble-based style, the classic bebop group was a small combo that consisted of saxophone (alto or tenor), trumpet, piano, guitar, double bass, and drums playing music in which the ensemble played a supportive role for soloists.

Rather than play heavily arranged music, bebop musicians typically played the melody of a song (called the “head”) with the accompaniment of the rhythm section, followed by a section in which each of the performers improvised a solo, then returned to the melody at the end of the song. Some of the most influential bebop artists, who were typically composer-performers, are: tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and James Moody; alto sax player Charlie Parker; clarinet player Buddy DeFranco; trumpeters Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie; pianists Bud Powell, Mary Lou Williams, and Thelonious Monk; electric guitarist Charlie Christian, Joe Pass and drummers Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.


A form of American roots music with its own roots in the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music of immigrants from the British Isles (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia), as well as the music of rural African-Americans, jazz, and blues. Like jazz, bluegrass is played with each melody instrument switching off, playing the melody in turn while the others revert to backing; this is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carried the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.


A vocal and instrumental form of music based on a pentatonic scale and a characteristic twelve-bar chord progression, blues evolved from African American spirituals, shouts, work songs and chants that found its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa. Blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big band, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, country music, conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.


(also: bugalú, shing-a-ling, Latin boogaloo, Latin R&B) A genre of Latin music and dance which was popular in the United States in the 1960s. Boogaloo originated in New York City mainly among teenage Hispanic and Latino Americans. The style was a fusion of popular African American rhythm and blues (R&B) and soul music with mambo and son montuno, with songs in both English and Spanish.


Louisiana music that tends to sound more like early country, with the use of steel guitar and acoustic guitar along with the older traditional instruments — fiddle, triangle and accordion. Cajun music is typically a waltz or two step.


The music of the Caribbean is a diverse grouping of musical genres. They are each syntheses of African, European, Indian and native influences. Some of the styles to gain wide popularity outside of the Caribbean include reggae, zouk, salsa and calypso. Areas include: The Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad


Celtic music is a broad grouping of musical genres that evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic peoples of Western Europe. Most typically, the term Celtic music is applied to the music of Ireland and Scotland, because both places have produced well-known distinctive styles which actually have genuine commonality and clear mutual influences. The music of Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany, Northumbria and Galicia are also frequently considered a part of Celtic music, the Celtic tradition being particularly strong in Brittany, where Celtic festivals large and small take place throughout the year. Finally, the music of ethnically Celtic peoples abroad are also considered, especially in Canada and the United States.


Christian music refers to music created by Christian artists or adapted to deliver general Christian religion themes.


Classical music is generally a classification covering music composed and performed by professionally trained artists. Classical music is a written tradition. It is composed and written using music notation, and as a rule is performed faithfully to the score. In common usage, “classical music” often refers to orchestral music in general, regardless of when it was composed or for what purpose (film scores and orchestral arrangements on pop music recordings, for example).

Club or Dance

Music composed, played, or both, specifically to accompany social dancing, though from the late 1970s, the term “dance music” has come to refer (in the context of nightclubs) more specifically to electronic music such as disco, house, techno and trance. Generally, the difference between a disco, or any dance song, and a rock or general popular song is that in dance music the bass hits “four to the floor” at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure), while in rock the bass hits on one and three and lets the snare take the lead on two and four.


The comedy/spoken word is known as comedians and stand up stories.


Also known as Norteño. A traditional style of Mexican music that originated in rural northern Mexico in the early 20th century, a form of music based largely on corridos and polka. The accordion and the bajo sexto is the music’s most characteristic instruments. Norteño is extremely popular among first-generation Mexicans in both the inner city barrios and the rural countrysides of the United States and Mexico.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz is a style of modern jazz music that arose in the United States after World War II. It is characterized by relaxed tempos and lighter tone, in contrast to the fast and complex bebop style. Cool jazz often employs formal arrangements and incorporates elements of classical music. Broadly, the genre refers to a number of post-war jazz styles employing a more subdued approach than that found in other contemporaneous jazz idioms. As Paul Tanner, Maurice Gerow, and David Megill suggest, “the tonal sonorities of these conservative players could be compared to pastel colors, while the solos of [Dizzy] Gillespie and his followers could be compared to fiery red colors.” The term cool started being applied to this music around 1953, when Capitol Records released the album Classics in Jazz: Cool and Quiet. Mark C. Gridley, writing in the All Music Guide to Jazz, identifies four overlapping sub-categories of cool jazz: “Soft variants of bebop,” including the Miles Davis recordings that constitute Birth of the Cool; the complete works of the Modern Jazz Quartet; the output of Gerry Mulligan, especially his work with Chet Baker and Bob Brookmeyer; the music of Stan Kenton’s sidemen during the late 1940s through the 1950s; and the works of George Shearing and Stan Getz. The output of modern players who eschewed bebop in favor of advanced swing-era developments, including Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh; Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond; and performers such as Jimmy Giuffre and Dave Pell who were influenced by Count Basie and Lester Young’s small-group music.


Once known as Country & Western music, this music form is developed mostly in the southern United States of America, with roots in traditional folk music, spirituals and blues. See The Lonesome Stranger and Pearl’s General Store.

Dixieland (Jazz)

Traditional Jazz, originally referred to as “Dixieland,” developed in New Orleans, Louisiana at the start of the 20th century, and spread to Chicago, Illinois and New York City, New York by New Orleans musicians. It was, for a period, quite popular among the general public and experienced a revival of sorts in the 1960s with performers such as Pete Fountain and Al Hirt of New Orleans as its most popular proponents. It is often considered the first true type of jazz, and was the first music referred to by the term jazz (before 1917 often spelled jass). Most enthusiasts and performers today prefer to use the term “Traditional” instead of “Dixieland” as the latter refers to the slave-era moniker of the South, which, as jazz great, Danny Barker, once remarked “Do you think that any black musician wants to be reminded of slavery?”

Dream Pop

Dream Pop is a subgenre of alternative rock and neo-psychedelia that emphasizes atmosphere and sonic texture as much as pop melody. Common characteristics include breathy vocals, dense productions, and effects such as reverb, echo, tremolo and chorus. It often overlaps with the related genre of Shoegaze, and the two genre terms have at times been used interchangeably. The genre came into prominence in the 1980s through the work of Cocteau Twins, A.R. Kane, and their contemporaries. Groups such as My Bloody Valentine, Galaxie 500, Lush, Slowdive and Mazzy Star released significant albums in the style. It saw renewed popularity among millennial listeners following the late-’00s success of Beach House.


Drone music is a minimalist musical style that emphasizes the use of sustained or repeated sounds, notes, or tone clusters – called Drones.


From a vintage perspective, dub is primarily instrumental remixed versions of reggae songs emphasizing reverb, echo, delay, and other effects.

Easy Listening

Easy Listening is a term used to describe a certain style of popular music which emphasizes simple, catchy melodies and cool, laid-back harmonics and rhythms, suitable for dancing. Easy listening emerged in the mid 20th century. Other terms used by fans of this style today include Lounge and Lounge Core, connecting it to the cocktail lounge culture of the 1960s and 1970s.


Eclectic is an all encompassing approach to music that incorporates a multitude of other genres all mixed up together.


Electronica is a rather vague term that covers a wide range of electronic or electronic-influenced music. The term has been defined by some to mean modern electronic music that is not necessarily designed for the dance-floor, but rather for home listening. In the mid-1990s, the term became popular as a means of referring to the then-novel mainstream success of post-Rave global electronic dance music. Prior to the adoption of “electronica” as a blanket term for more experimental dance music, terms such as “electronic listening music,” “braindance” and “intelligent dance music” (IDM) were common.


Emo is a sub-genre of hardcore punk music. In its original incarnation, the term emo was used to describe the music of the mid-1980s DC scene and its associated bands. In later years, the term emocore, short for “emotional hardcore”, was also used to describe the DC scene and some of the regional scenes that spawned from it. The term emo was derived from the fact that, on occasion, members of a band would become spontaneously and literally emotional during performances.


A general term surrounding music without predefined rules, often incorporating free-form improvisation.


Flamenco is a song, music and dance style which is strongly influenced by the Gitanos (Spanish Gypsies), but which has its deeper roots in Moorish and Jewish musical traditions. Originally, flamenco consisted of unaccompanied singing (cante). Later the songs were accompanied by flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping (palmas), rhythmic feet stomping (zapateado) and dance (baile). The toque and baile are also often found without the cante, although the song remains at the heart of the flamenco tradition.


Music by and of the common people, folks is a down-to-earth style focusing on universal truths, often with traditional acoustic instrumentation and a simple melody. Folk music arose in societies not yet affected by mass communication and the commercialization of culture. It was originally shared and performed by an entire community — not by a special class of expert performers — and was transmitted by word of mouth.


Folk-rock is popular music resembling or derived from folk music but incorporating the stronger beat of rock music and using electric instruments.


Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), The Meters, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated three against four rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an “on the one” beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Marva Whitney or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; dance-ability; and strong jazz influences (e.g., as in the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).


At the time of its origin, Fusion was a blend of Jazz with the aggressive qualities of Rock. Today it can represent a blending of any two or more styles.

Garage (Rock)

A simple, raw form of rock and roll that emerged in the mid-1960s, largely in the United States. The term “garage rock” comes from the perception that many such performers were young and amateurish, and often rehearsed in a family garage (this stereotype also evokes a suburban, middle-class setting). Largely inspired by British Invasion bands like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and The Rolling Stones, these groups mostly played a homespun variation on British Invasion rock — although other influences were also apparent, especially the surf music style that immediately preceded the garage era. “Garage rock” was often musically crude, but nevertheless conveyed great passion and energy. Most of the bands used simple chord progressions, pounding drums, and short, repetitive lyrics.


Glam rock is a style of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s performed by musicians who wore outrageous costumes, makeup, and hairstyles, particularly platform shoes and glitter. Bands included David Bowie (in 1973), Roxy Music (until about 1974), T-Rex, Elton John, Slade, and Sweet, among others.


Glam rock is a style of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s performed by musicians who wore outrageous costumes, makeup, and hairstyles, particularly platform shoes and glitter. Bands included David Bowie (in 1973), Roxy Music (until about 1974), T-Rex, Elton John, Slade, and Sweet, among others.


Gospel music may refer either to the religious music that first came out of African-American churches in the 1930’s or, more loosely, to both black gospel music and to the religious music composed and sung by white southern Christian artists. While the separation between the two styles was never absolute — both drew from the Methodist hymnal and artists in one tradition sometimes sang songs belonging to the other — the sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct. It tends to be characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a religious nature.


Gothic rock evolved out of post-punk during the late 1970s. Originally considered just a label for a small handful of punk rock/post-punk bands, goth only began to be defined as a separate movement in 1981. While most punk bands focused on aggressive, outward rock, the early gothic bands were more introverted and personal, with elements that can be traced to much older literary movements such as gothic horror, Romanticism, existential philosophy, and the philosophical construct of nihilism. The earliest gothic bands were Bauhaus, Gloria Mundi (credited as the first goth band by Mick Mercer), and UK Decay.


(Sometimes also referred to as the Seattle Sound) A genre of alternative rock inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock. It became commercially successful in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in mainstream popularity between 1991 and 1994. Bands from cities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, such as Seattle, Washington, Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, created grunge and later made it popular with mainstream audiences. The genre is closely associated with Generation X in the US, since it was popularized in tandem with the rise in popularity of the generation’s name. The popularity of grunge was one of the earliest phenomena that distinguished the popular music of the 1990s from that of the 1980s. Grunge music is generally characterized by “dirty” guitar, strong riffs, and heavy drumming.

Hardcore Punk

Hardcore Punk is defined as a form of exceptionally harsh punk rock and subculture that originated in the late 1970s and hit its stride in the mid to late 80’s. It is generally faster, harder, and more aggressive than other forms of punk rock. Its roots can be traced to earlier punk scenes in San Francisco and Southern California which arose as a reaction against the still predominant hippie cultural climate of the time. It was also inspired by New York punk rock and early proto-punk. New York punk had a harder-edged sound than its San Francisco counterpart, featuring anti-art expressions of masculine anger, energy, and subversive humor. Hardcore punk generally disavows commercialism, the established music industry and “anything similar to the characteristics of mainstream rock” such as synthetic technological effects and guitar solos. It often addresses social and political topics with confrontational, politically-charged lyrics.

Hip Hop

Music composed of four main elements: rapping (also known as emceeing), disk jockeying, break-dancing and graffiti. A cultural movement, hip hop began among African Americans in New York City in the 1970s. Most typically, hip hop music consists of one or more rappers who chant semi-autobiographic tales, often relating to a fictionalized counterpart, in an intensely rhythmic lyrical form, making abundant use of techniques like assonance, alliteration, and rhyme. The rapper is accompanied by an instrumental track, usually referred to as a “beat” because of the emphasis on rhythm, performed by a DJ, a record producer, or one or more instrumentalists. This beat is often created using a sample of the percussion break of another song, usually a funk, rock, or soul recording. In addition to the beat, other sounds are often sampled, synthesized, or performed. Sometimes, a track can be made up of just the beat by itself, as a showcase of the skills of the DJ or producer.

Honky Tonk

The first genre of music to be commonly known as honky tonk music was a style of piano playing related to ragtime, but emphasizing rhythm more than melody or harmony, since the style evolved in response to an environment where the pianos were often poorly cared for, tending to be out of tune and having some non functioning keys.


Named after its birthplace, the Warehouse, a club in Chicago, House is in many ways an electronic extension of Disco. House features a steady 4/4 beat, with accented percussion and bass-lines.


A genre of alternative rock that primarily exists in the indie underground music scene. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with indie music as a whole, though more specifically implies that the music meets the criteria of being rock, as opposed to indie pop or other possible match-ups. These criteria vary from an emphasis on rock instrumentation (electric guitars, bass guitar, live drums, and vocals) to more abstract (and debatable) rockist constructions of authenticity.


Industrial music is a loose term for a number of different styles of electronic and experimental music. The first wave of this music appeared in 1977 with Throbbing Gristle and NON, and often featured tape editing, stark percussion, and loops distorted to the point where they had degraded to harsh noise. Vocals were sporadic, and were as likely to be bubblegum pop as they were to be abrasive polemics. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Factrix, DAF, Nocturnal Emissions, Esplendor Geometrico, and SPK soon followed. Blending electronic synthesizers, guitars, and early samplers, these bands created aggressive and abrasive music fusing elements of rock with experimental electronic music.

Jam or Jam-Band

An outgrowth of psychedelic bands, most popularized by the Grateful Dead, who abandoned standard pop traditions in favor of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with Jazz, Prog, or Americana music. At its center is improvisation, so it is geared more for the live performance than studio recordings. Key elements of Jam often include but are not limited to: 1) Abandoning the standard lengths of rock or pop songs, which sometimes has led to epic length of compositions. 2) Virtuosic playing ability. 3) Eclectic inclusion of a wade array of musical styles, even juxtaposed within one song. 4) A large canon of material. Jam bands frequently play two or three sets per day in several-day stints with little repetition of material, inspiring fans to catch each and every show.


Jazz music has been called the first original art form to develop within the US. It grew out of a cross-fertilization of folk blues, ragtime, and European band music. Although there have been many renowned jazz vocalists, and many of the most well-known jazz tunes have lyrics, it is primarily an instrumental form of music. The instrument most closely associated with jazz is the saxophone, followed by the trumpet. The trombone, piano, double bass, guitar and drums are also primary jazz instruments. It is characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, and polyrhythm, yet the single most distinguishing characteristic of jazz is improvisation. Jazz also tends to utilize complex chord structures and an advanced sense of harmony, and requires a high degree of technical skill and musical knowledge from the performers.

Jungle or Drum ‘n’ Bass

Both styles display very fast tempos around 160-200 BPM, with double-speed break-beats along strong bass-lines. According to leading DJs, Jungle conveys a party atmosphere with Reggae inspired bass, while Drum ‘n’ Bass is considered to be more intelligent listening music.


A category that includes songs for babies, toddlers, and young teens; often designed to educate and uplift children as well as entertain.


Kitsch music is once popular music that is way past its prime. It endears the listener with a quaint recognition of times past, and can engender an ironic or campy appeal. It can also contain novelty elements.


Klezmer is a musical tradition that parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism. Around the 15th century, a tradition of secular (non-liturgical) Jewish music was developed by musicians called kleyzmorim or kleyzmerim. They drew on devotional traditions extending back into Biblical times, and their musical legacy of klezmer continues to evolve today. The repertoire is largely dance songs for weddings and other celebrations. Due to the Ashkenazi lineage of this music, the lyrics, terminology, and song titles are typically in Yiddish.


Krautrock (also called Kosmische Musik, German: cosmic music) is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among artists who blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and various avant-garde influences. These artists largely avoided the blues influences and song structure found in traditional Anglo-American rock music, instead utilizing hypnotic rhythms, tape-music techniques, and early synthesizers. Prominent groups associated with krautrock music included Neu!, Can, Faust, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül II, and Tangerine Dream. The term was coined by the band Faust on their 4th album, named for one of their compositions.


Latin-American music is sometimes called Latin music, and it is more of an umbrella style than a genre. It often features acoustic instruments and horns with many layers of percussion, and includes the music of many countries and comes in a wide variety of choices: from the down-home conjunto music of Northern Mexico to the sophisticated habanera of Cuba, from the symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos to the simple and moving Andean flute.


Local music is any music that is recorded in the hometown where it is featured or features musicians who hail from that location.


Lounge music refers to music played in the lounges and bars of hotels and casinos, or at standalone piano bars. Generally, the performers include a singer and one or two other musicians. The performers play or cover songs composed by others, especially pop standards, many deriving from the days of Tin Pan Alley. Notionally, much lounge music consists of sentimental favorites enjoyed by a lone drinker over a martini, though in practice there is much more variety. The term can also refer to laid-back electronic music, also named down-tempo, because of the reputation of lounge music as low-key background music.