There are several genres of music, and country music is one of the widest. This term covers plenty of sub-genres, so it can be somewhat tricky knowing what it is. When thinking about this form of music, the image of guitar or banjo players comes to mind.
Stetson hats, steel guitars, and a Southern accent might also be what pops up in the mind. While these are images that wouldn't be wrong to think about when talking about country music, there is more to it than all these.
In this post, we will consider the characteristics of country music. We will look at its history and other things that have defined it through the ages.
Characteristics of Country Music
To understand something, it is important to know its history. Country music has a rich and unique history that sets it apart from other music genres. Country or Western music is one of the biggest genres in American music.
It traces its origins to the 1920s and was developed by white Southerners. Like many other genres of music, it has been influenced over the course of its existence by other genres.
Therefore, you would find elements of folk, gospel, rock, and others in country music. While these genres have affected country music, country has also had an influence on them.
On paper, this genre is one of the simplest styles to produce and listen to, which is likely why it is so popular. As we will see in the other characteristics, it comes with a fundamental aspect of lyrical content over the musical content.
The story within a country song is often inspiring and evokes certain emotions in the listener as many people find it easy to relate to such experiences.
Harmony in country is made up of repeated chords selected together. These might number three, although there are exceptions when more than three chords are repeated, especially in the chorus. Country music's history shows that most of the lyrics of the genre are about the everyday lives of normal people, and more often than not, focuses on the themes of love, loneliness, and work. If you made a collection of country songs, you would discover that most of these do not use plenty of lyrics, as they tend to use under 150 words in a song. Despite this brevity, though, the message is far reaching and poetic.
The history of the genre had the use of string bands. These bands were usually composed of combinations of string instruments like the mandolin, guitars, and others. However, in the 1930s, country music saw the introduction of the drum into the ensemble. Additionally, other instruments, for example, the piano, were not found in this genre until the late 1940s.
The first known recordings of country music were discovered in the 1920s. And at the time, this genre appealed mostly to the traditional Christian folk of the rural Southeast. As radio stations became more popular, so did country music. This spread this genre around.
The regional influences are a big part of why it is called country music.
Apart from the history, another characteristic of country music is the type of instruments used to make the music. Many of the songs in this genre come with a twangy sound that definitely sounds unique. If you made a poll, most of the songs have instruments common to folk music. Therefore, the major instruments used in this genre include banjos, steel guitars, string basses, and fiddles.
Country music has been a very important part of music history and the instruments are one of the things that make it different from other genres. Like some others, country music is easily identified by the sound. Over the years, there have been some very important and unique instruments used in this genre and we will go over them.
The banjo remains one of the most iconic instruments used in country music. Although it isn't as common as before, especially in modern times, there is no denying the important role played by this instrument in the country genre. It is an easily distinguishable instrument because of the unique sound. Additionally, it has spawned other sub-genres in country music. For instance, the Nashville sound comprises of the banjo sound. Another instrument that has played a big role in country music is the fiddle. This instrument wasn't often used solo but was combined with the banjo to make country songs.
One thing that makes the fiddle and banjo, along with other older instruments unique is the quick rhythm and high-pitched sounds. These make the genre easy to identify.
When country music moved away from being just a genre played in the South and became something more popular, an evolution occurred with regards to the instruments used. The modern country music instruments include the guitar, drum, and bass. As country music became popular, the instruments used changed and birth the country music that we have today.
Another important characteristic of country music is the foundation. What is defined as country music varies from individual and location, however, the foundation of country music remains the same wherever and whatever the definition is provided. When you listen to country music, these start to shape into a basic core formula. For the foundation, there are three main things to look out for that characterize country music. These are the chord progression, the bridge, and the story. Let's see how these form the foundation that characterizes country music.
Regardless of where the song is written, whether in a pub or lonely mountains, whether a ranch or a studio, at its heart, country music is known by the deceptively simple to play and listen chord progression. This progression forms the foundation of any country song. Because of the repeated chords, country music is catchy and easy to remember. This characteristic of country music means that it appeals to those that prefer a structure that is easy to follow.
For some listeners, the other genres of music like classical or jazz music have complicated forms and progressions that make them hard to follow. However, with country music, the chord progression is pretty simple and forms the basis of the music that appeals to millions of listeners today.
At the heart of country music are simple chord progressions and catchy riffs. Many of the best country songs of all time have this type of structure. These are enhanced by the vocal harmonies, and of course, the bridge and chorus.
Another characteristic of country music is the bridge or chorus. Almost every song needs a bridge, and the choruses from country music are some of the most touching and memorable. Throughout music history, the best, most successful, inspiring, and beautiful country songs come with an arrangement that gives room for an incredible chorus. This chorus or refrain has the addition of chords or vocals and even other instruments to elevate the listening of the audience. It creates an even more impressive song.
For most country songs in history, the chorus or bridge is the most important part of the song. It serves as the punctuation of the message being given to the audience. Ask people that do not even avidly listen to country songs and even they would tell you that a great chorus is one of the defining features of country music. The chorus sometimes plays the role of the song's signature. It combines incredible harmonies and lyrics and gives an addendum to the unique quality of a country song.
Another very important feature or characteristic of country music is the storytelling. Right from the first time you listen to country music, it is clear that it is designed to tell stories. The history of country music shows that it is developed from the lives of the writers. Most of the best country songs right now and of all time where created by people that lived in rural, poor areas and that have been exposed to a harsher side of life. This has motivated them in their music and it is easy to see how these experiences spill over into their music.
The story within a country song is often inspiring and evokes certain emotions in the listener as many people find it easy to relate to such experiences. Regardless of the sub-genre of country music, the story of the song can be as touching as a beautifully composed poem. This characteristic of country music makes it quite unique.
The use of a narrative is an essential part of this genre. It gives the song a compelling element. It can be referred to as the glue that holds the entire music together. Most of the country songs that you hear today feature the personal stories of the listener. It encompasses a wide range of experiences and emotions, ranging from love and loss. One of the reasons this appeals to folks is that many have experienced almost exactly what the singer is singing. One of the more popular country musicians of the age, Lee Ann Womack, revels in this ability. Her songs always tell a story that captivates the listener and expresses what it means to be human.
The emotional content of country music makes it one of the favorite music genres. Live performances of country songs are a sight to behold as almost everyone in the audience sways along and feels the lyrics from the singer.
Affiliation with Cowboys
Western or Country music has several icons, and one of the most enduring was the genre's affiliation with cowboys. Before the commercialization of the genre, the cowboy was the romantic interest and the pinnacle of the genre. Considering the connotations of farming and rural life, it was only natural for country singers to adopt the wearing of cowboy clothes and western themes in their music.
Many of the most popular country songs and artists, both now and in the past have affiliation with cowboys or symbols from the West. Take for instance one of the most popular songs in recent times, Old Town Road.
The themes of many of these songs feature the heartbroken cowboy (Or in some cases, the cowboy is the heartbreaker), and the artists are often dressed as cowboys or Western clothing, especially when they have live performances. Perhaps the greatest display of the cowboy influence is the cowboy hat. Very few country artists would perform without wearing the hat.
Many people believe that country music started with cowboys that sang campfire songs as they engaged in their cattle drives. However, some have said that the origins of the genre are far older. Either way, it is clear that cowboys play a big part in what is known as country music today.
Another characteristic is the voice. As country music is believed to come from the rural parts and is predominantly Western, most country singers have a similar type of voice. This twang is an identifying part of most country music. It is associated with the elongation of certain words, the addition of triphthongs and diphthongs, and the removal of some consonants and vowels. Aside from the twang, the vocals might vary but usually come together at the chorus. For many country songs, the vocals aligned with a 3rd above or under the melody. Either way, country music usually has the singers singing with a unique voice.
Characteristics of Country Music, Final Thoughts
We have considered a brief history of how this genre originated. Country music is a unique genre of music that has undergone several evolutions, but the main characteristics remain. The roots of traditional folks still influence the genre until today. Country music is a lovely genre that offers a soothing sound to the heart of listeners. Listen to some country song today and you might just have your day brighten up.
Country music is heartfelt music that comes in different shades. Underneath all the commercialization of this genre today is a heartfelt story by the singer. It is characterized by the structure, chord progression, instruments, and more. Overall, it is a unique form of art.