The fundamental music genre list

Standard

genres

How are your digital music genres organized? Are they general musical styles, like ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ or are they very specific,
like ‘ambient techno’ or ‘bubblegum pop’?

Having a coarse grained genre classification for your MP3s can have
advantages. What’s a coarse grained classification? It means
there are few genres, probably fewer than ten, with a lot of music
assigned to each genre. The genres are likely to be general, like the
‘rock’ or ‘pop’
examples I gave earlier. We could call this the fundamental music genre list because the genres are the fundamental,
elemental building blocks of musical genre, from which other, finer grained genres come.

Adopting the fundamental music genre classification, or any coarse grained classification, has a number of advantages:

  • Fewer genres to navigate when you are looking for music to play
  • When constructing shuffled playlists from a genre the playlists are longer

The key disadvantage is that music can vary within a genre, so the
coarser grained the genre the more variabilty exists within the genre.
This means playlists constructed from a genre can vary quite a bit.
Genre is only a guide to styles of music. Genre is largely derived from
musical
period, the instruments used and techniques used to play them.

So which genres go into our fundamental music genre list? We’re aiming
for coarse grained genres, ideally as few as possible while maintaining
clear distinctions between genre. To help us, many of the
online music databases publish a list of genres,
which they assign artists and releases to. Here’s a selection:

FreeDB Discogs Wikipedia allmusic
Blues Blues Blues Blues
Classical Brass & Military Classical Classical
Country Children’s Country Country
Folk Classical Electronic Electronic
Jazz Electronic Folk International
Newage Folk, World, & Country Hip-hop Jazz
Reggae Funk / Soul Jazz Latin
Rock Hip-Hop Reggae Pop/Rock
Soundtrack Jazz Religious R&B
  Latin Rock Rap
  Non-Music Traditional Reggae
  Reggae    
  Stage & Screen    

From those lists, here’re the genres everyone agrees on:

  • Blues
  • Classical
  • Reggae

Jazz and Classical are clearly enormous genres with huge variability
within. I could break classical into romantic, baroque, ballet,
neo-classical,
minimalist… and so on. Still, we are aiming at brevity, so classical
it is.

Next, there are the genres agreed by at least three sources:

  • Country
  • Electronic

In addition, hip hop and rap are both represented as distinct genres,
but let’s combine them as ‘hip hop’. I will add ‘New age’, because I
don’t
think it applies to any of the other genres. I think ‘Folk’ should
include ‘World’ music and therefore ‘Latin’ and ‘International’ styles
also (ideally, ‘Folk’ music I believe to be music distinctive of a given
culture; much so-called ‘Folk’ music I think these days is actually
‘Rock’
played with acoustic guitars). ‘Pop’ depends on the style of the
‘Pop'(!); ‘Pop’ can be considered part of ‘Rock’ music, given its
traditional rhythm
and blues origins, or perhaps Electronic, depending on the nature of the
music. Therefore, it doesn’t make the list. This leaves us with our
final listing:

The Fundamental Music Genre List

  • Blues
  • Classical
  • Country
  • Electronic
  • New age
  • Reggae

As I compiled the list I realised that the right classification really depends on your own musical tastes and your existing library.

If you
have a library biased toward particular types of music, which most
people probably do, it makes sense to expand the genres granularity of
that genre. For instance, if you are a classical music fan with a few
jazz records, retain the above list but expand classical into, as
mentioned
before, baroque, romantic, minimalist etc.

So, maybe the conclusion is that the fundamental music genre list is a start point, from which you
can expand the detail of genres as your music collection demands
.

– bliss

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