If there is a topic that has led to more questions than any other, it’s this one – difference between genre and style in music.
There are those who equate genre with style, while others see little difference between the two. We humans are a bewildering lot even at the best of times, so it’s not helpful when various websites and businesses confuse the two of us.
A musical genre is a broad classification of works that have common stylistic traits. On the other hand, while talking about a song’s style, we’re usually referring to characteristics that are shared by songs of related genres.
This eliminates practically all possibilities of identifying genre or style. To find out the clear and precise difference between genre and style in music, read on.
What Is A Genre?
Genres are characterized by sharing characteristics such as common song structures, musical elements and methods, cultural context, geographical origin, and topics or sounds. Additionally, they have their own subgenres.
Genre is the overarching classification and subcategorization of music by which listeners can more easily identify the various styles, themes, sounds, and instruments that make up a piece of music.
Blues, to give one example, can be recognized by its distinctive lyrical themes, instrumentation, and overall sound. Even though the classical music genre is less defined than others because it encompasses so many decades, it nonetheless gives the listener some idea of what to expect.
Among the many types of music, popular music is one of the most inclusive. This encompasses any and all forms of music that can be purchased by the general public. Rock, punk, metal, jazz, electronica, country, blues, hip hop, and so on are just some examples of subgenres within the larger popular music category.
Religious music is another large category of music within the cultural setting. Technicalities aside, any musical work that was written with the intention of spreading a religious belief or that is purely devotional is considered religious music. Gospel and choral music are perfect examples of this type of music.
There is a common tendency to label as “Avant-Garde” or “art” music that defies categorization or does not conform to established musical norms. Although jazz is a subset of mainstream music, the works of select performers such as Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman are avant-garde because it concentrates not simply on the technicality of the genre but focuses on spontaneity.
One of the most popular types of music is folk music. It spans multiple decades and is rooted in societal and cultural history. The traditional instruments are played by the musicians and the topics are frequently philosophical.
When it comes to sub-genres, it can be difficult to tell the distinction between style and genre. Subgenres are used to identify regional distinctions and lyrical theme variations within a given genre.
To give just one example, hip-hop is a name for any music in which a rapper or MC raps over a generated beat. However, gangsta rap is a subgenre of hip-hop due to the fact that its lyrical substance and musical sound are exclusive to a small group of artists and locations.
One explanation for the existence of sub-genres is the need to brand specific musical styles for distribution to specific demographics.
Usefulness of Genre
It’s debatable whether or not it’s helpful to classify music into genres, given that many musicians freely move between styles.
The Beastie Boys, for instance, got their start in punk but have since released multiple hip-hop albums, including a few with unique funk and soul tunes.
A lot of their music is influenced by French musicians like Serge Gainsbourg. Because it encompasses so many different styles of music from so many different eras, the word “classical music” is too broad to be of much use to people who are looking for a specific sub genre within the classical music genre.
What are the main genres of music?
The term “folk music” encompasses a wide variety of musical styles, including ballads, work songs, epic songs, drumming, and folk dance music.
Popular music encompasses a wide range of styles, from classical to jazz to rock to rap. Some examples of Western art music are the symphony, sonata, opera, ballet, and concerto.
What Is Musical Style?
Style in music pertains to a sequence of aesthetic compositional choices made by directors, arrangers and musicians.
These individual preferences can be heard in shifts in tempo, picking or plucking techniques, tone, rhythm, and harmonics.
Certain artists, composers, and conductors may be identified immediately just by listening to their work since their distinctive styles have become ingrained into the music itself. In the current day, style may also pertain to the manner that music is represented with packaging and images.
Thus, the term “musical style” refers to a certain category of musical compositions that have common characteristics but are otherwise easily identifiable.
It might describe the sound, the mood it creates, or the musical style. It may also be used to indicate the historical time in which it was made or the identity of the composer or entertainer.
When we mention ‘classical’ music, we generally imply the style of music that was extensively created throughout the medieval and early-modern periods. This style encompasses the works of composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc.
Incorporating personal qualities as they see fit, composers make their mark on the music they create. This is also known as their style. Many contemporary electronic musicians and producers credit the work of artists like Brian Eno, who has a distinct style, as an inspiration.
Performers too can affect a style of music. Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist, has a distinctive playing style that combines slapping and conventional finger-picking with funk.
In the same way that the hallmarks of a given genre define its style, the same is true the other way around. When we mention funk-style guitar, we immediately link it with the playing approach of the non-dominant hand employed to produce rhythm patterns.
What are the different styles of music?
Different types of music include classical music, traditional music, and contemporary music. Western art music, rock, and jazz are all examples of subgenres within these broader umbrellas.
Different subgenres, such as progressive rock and punk rock, can be found within these larger umbrella genres.
Final thoughts on the differences between genre and style in music
In the realm of music, the terms “genre” and “style” are commonly used interchangeably. This is not totally inaccurate.
It’s hard to put firm boundaries between musical genres and styles because music lacks material qualities and is instead made to elicit subjective experiences.
However, if you’re a musician or composer, recognizing the distinction between the two can help you communicate more clearly with your audience and improve your understanding of a wide range of musical styles.