If you’re here, it’s because you’re interested in learning more about music genres.
Well, you’ll be glad to know we covered over 50 genres with video examples and popular acts below.
Let’s get right into it. Here, in no specific order, are just some of the many musical genres that exist.
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The Beatles are largely considered the most popular rock band of all time. And while there are many songs we could choose from, for this list, we chose the highly recognizable and guitar heavy “Day Tripper.”
Rock is typically characterized by a driving beat. The most common instruments heard on rock music are drums, bass, and guitar, though keyboards, horns, and other instruments are sometimes also used.
Rock is often simplistic in nature, from its chord progressions or riffs to harmonies. That said, it still attracts a ton of virtuosos and innovators, be it Eddie Van Halen, The Edge, Jack White, or otherwise.
More popular rock musicians:
- The Rolling Stones
- Led Zeppelin
- Pink Floyd
- Guns N’ Roses
- Black Sabbath
At the core of genres like blues and rock, you will find jazz. Jazz often features complex chord progressions, sophisticated harmonies, and skilled improvisation.
One of the greatest jazz artists of all time is Miles Davis, and here we have one of his most popular numbers, “So What.” This song has got a laid-back vibe to it, and it has a decidedly metropolitan sound to it too.
Jazz groups often consist of drums, bass, piano, and horns, but there’s plenty of jazz that features guitar, violin, and other instruments too.
More popular jazz musicians:
- Louis Armstrong
- Duke Ellington
- John Coltrane
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Charlie Parker
- Billie Holiday
- Thelonious Monk
One of the most popular hip-hop acts of all-time is the ubiquitous Snoop Dogg. And for this list, we’ve chosen to highlight “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” which happens to feature another popular hip-hop artist, Pharrell Williams.
Hip-hop is often characterized by a backing “beat,” typically in the form of a sample or loop. Some artists and producers do make their own beats, though, and when it comes to acts like Beastie Boys, they even played their own instruments.
Vocals typically appear in the form of rhythmic yelling, chanting, or what is commonly known as “rapping” or even “spitting rhymes.”
More popular hip-hop musicians:
- Ice Cube
- Pharrell Williams
- LL Cool J
- MC Hammer
- Beastie Boys
Pop isn’t a genre per se, though it is often thought of that way. Pop is just what’s popular right now. In the 60s, rock and psychedelia were all the rage. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, we saw the rise of new wave, synthpop, and hair metal. And in the early to mid-90s, grunge took over the airwaves.
We couldn’t think of a better artist to highlight here than Michael Jackson, however, and there are few songs that epitomize Jackson like “Smooth Criminal.”
Following in the footsteps of Jackson, you will find many modern pop artists who are skilled singers and dancers, even if they don’t necessarily write their own songs or play an instrument.
More popular pop musicians:
- The Beatles
- Elvis Presley
- Elton John
- Led Zeppelin
- Pink Floyd
The blues often features a slow, “chuga-chuga” type rhythm that seems to mimic the sound of walking, or the sound of a train passing by. In technical terms, blues is usually in a 12/8 time signature as opposed to the conventional 4/4 time heard in most pop music. 12/8 time has a bit of a swing to it.
The I-IV-V chord structure in blues is beyond iconic, and it set the foundation for many genres to follow – rock and roll, rock, country, and more. This makes blues a simplistic genre at its core, but it’s easy to add layers of complexity on top, which is perhaps why so many talented guitarists were drawn to it.
Here we’ve highlighted John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” This song isn’t just stereotypically blues, it features some of the whimsy and humor the genre also came to be known for.
More popular blues musicians:
- Blind Lemon Jefferson
- T-Bone Walker
- Muddy Waters
- B.B. King
- Bon House
- Howlin’ Wolf
- Elmore James
Bob Dylan is considered one of the all-time greatest songwriters and his chosen mode of expression was generally folk – strummed or picked acoustic guitars, harmonicas, and sometimes (but not always) a rock style backing band.
We handpicked “Like A Rolling Stone” to highlight here, which stylistically sounds a little bit like it sits somewhere between rock and roll and country.
The main difference between folk and rock, besides the prominent use of acoustic instruments (including guitars and violins) is a more traditional style of playing, inspired by country, bluegrass, and roots.
More popular folk musicians:
- Woody Guthrie
- Pete Seeger
- Joni Mitchell
- Leonard Cohen
- Simon & Garfunkel
- The Byrds
Classical music is best represented by famous composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And here we’ve highlighted his famous and instantly recognizable “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.”
There are many definitions for classical music. But to put it simply, classical music is music written in the European tradition from about 1750 to 1830. It follows long-established principles separate from folk, jazz, or popular music.
These often-intricate compositions typically utilize an entire orchestra, and layers of melodic and harmonic complexity often not heard in other styles of music. In some ways, today's film music is the modern equivalent.
More popular classical musicians:
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Giacomo Puccini
- J.S. Bach
- Antonio Vivaldi
- Georges Bizet
- Johann Strauss II
- Maurice Ravel
“Heavy metal” or sometimes just “metal” is basically just a more aggressive form of rock, with heavier guitars, faster drums, and aggressive vocals.
Whereas back in the 60s and 70s the average listener may have referred to bands like Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest as heavy metal, the definition gradually evolved to include only bands with a more aggressive style. But honestly, the lines are still kind of blurry.
Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” offers a bit of context, but to be fair, this is one of their more pop style recordings.
More popular heavy metal musicians:
- Lamb of God
- Avenged Sevenfold
What makes country unique is its characteristic “twang,” which has long polarized listeners. Whether it’s the twang of the vocals, or the twang of a slide guitar, country is often slow, a little cheesy, and kind of bouncy. Once you’ve heard it a few times, you’ll know it for its kind.
Here I pulled in Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which is arguably more roots than country, but that bouncy sound I referenced earlier is undoubtedly present.
More popular country musicians:
- Merle Haggard
- Hank Williams
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- Dolly Parton
R&B (Rhythm & Blues)
R&B originated in African American communities in the 1940s. It can be an all-encompassing or umbrella term for genres like funk, doo-wop, soul, and even hip hop. And it often seems to share some ground with pop and rock.
R&B certainly has its own sound. But its definition has shifted over time, and it has become increasingly harder to pin down what someone means when they say, “rhythm and blues.” The ever-prolific early days of Motown are certainly worth a look though.
Here we chose to highlight Stevie Wonder and his “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”
More popular R&B musicians:
- Smokey Robinson
- Ray Charles
- Aretha Franklin
- James Brown
- Marvin Gaye
- Whitney Houston
Punk rock is essentially a sub-genre of rock. It’s generally a little bit faster, a little bit simpler, and more devil may care and anti-establishment.
In the last three decade or so, Green Day has basically emerged as the most popular punk rock band of all time. Here we give you “Basket Case,” which features all the punk rock staples.
More popular punk rock musicians:
- The Clash
- Sex Pistols
- Dead Kennedys
- Black Flag
- Social Distortion
Electronic music is also known as dance music and can sometimes refer to any music that features non-organic, preprogrammed virtual instruments. “Electronic Dance Music” or EDM and other forms of electronic music tend to fall into this category too.
Have a listen to The Chainsmokers’ collaboration with Coldplay (“Something Just Like This”) for a taste of electronic music.
More popular electronic musicians:
- Calvin Harris
- Major Lazer
- Martin Garrix
- DJ Snake
Soul can be thought of as a sub-genre of R&B. But if it's R&B music that features elements of gospel music, it’s soul. That’s the basic differentiation.
Have a listen to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” It’s a great tune.
More popular soul musicians:
- Sam Cooke
- Al Green
- Luther Vandross
Reggae originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. And it shows. Musically, it’s got a slow, syncopated groove that seems perfect for an island vacation. It’s great for dancing too.
We’re big Bob Marley fans, and couldn’t resist pulling in his “No Woman, No Cry” as an example here. Marley is great for just about any occasion.
More popular reggae musicians:
- Winston Rodney
- Toots Hibbert
- Bunny Rugs
Funk found its roots in African American communities in the mid-1960s. It’s kind of like a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues, with a decidedly syncopated, danceable groove.
A friend of mine once described funk as “a musical form where all instruments become percussive instruments,” which is kind of true.
There is no one that better epitomizes funk than James Brown. Have a listen to his “I Got You (I Feel Good).” It ought to make you feel good!
More popular funk musicians:
- Sly & The Family Stone
- George Clinton / Parliament-Funkadelic
- Earth, Wind, & Fire
- Curtis Mayfield
- Isley Brothers
- Kool & The Gang
- Rick James
Techno is a form of EDM. It has a repetitive four on the floor beat, and it usually has a tempo of 120 to 150 bpm. Techno acts, by the way, are typically DJs.
Here, representing techno is Carl Cox, and DJs don’t have songs – they have sets. So, listen to as much or as little in the video above as you wish.
More popular techno musicians:
- Boris Brejcha
- Adam Beyer
- Paul Kalkbrenner
Disco doesn’t represent a genre – it’s also a subculture that found its start in the 1970s. Musically, it usually has a four on the floor beats, syncopated (and sometimes slapped) bass lines, strings, horns, electric piano, synthesizers, and electric guitar.
There’s no one better to represent the genre than Donna Summer and her “I Feel Love.”
More popular disco musicians:
- Bee Gees
- Gloria Gaynor
- Kool & The Gang
- KC & The Sunshine Band
As with several genres or sub-genres on this list, alternative rock is a bit of a moving target. It has its origins in the independent music underground of the 1970s and rose to popularity in the 1990s. By that definition, it’s apparent that grunge would be considered a form of alternative rock, which is true.
It would be unpopular to feature a band other than Nirvana here, and of course, their trademark “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the song we’ve chosen to highlight.
Generally, what makes alternative rock alternative is that it’s far more abstract lyrically. Musically, it’s a little like punk rock, except that chord progressions tend to be more outside the box.
More popular alternative rock musicians:
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Pearl Jam
- Green Day
Ambient music is written with atmosphere and tone in mind. Therefore, it doesn’t always have a clear rhythmic structure. You could think of it as formless instrumental “mood” music.
Sigur Ros is the obvious choice to feature here, and we’ve highlighted their song, “Olson Olson” for your listening pleasure.
More popular ambient musicians:
- Aphex Twin
- Brian Eno
Swing is a sub-genre of jazz, and it was especially popular from the mid-30s to mid-40s. It was the most popular form of music in America, in fact (it was even known as the swing era).
There are many songs we could feature here, but we chose Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
If you want to hear more great music, it might be worth watching the 1993 film Swing Kids.
More popular swing musicians:
- Frank Sinatra
- Count Basie
- Glenn Miller
- Louis Armstrong
- Benny Goodman
- Artie Shaw
- Billie Holiday
Industrial music is generally considered the most aggressive and abrasive form of music. And it’s also the meeting place of rock and electronic music.
Have a listen to Skinny Puppy’s “Worlock” to get a better sense of just how this type of music sounds.
More popular industrial musicians:
- Nine Inch Nails
Gospel is a form of Christian music and is often slow and vocal heavy. When combined with rhythm and blues, it becomes soul, as noted earlier. Images of church choirs instantly come to mind, at least for me.
Modern day gospel music is more like gospel R&B though, and it often features sophisticated arrangements.
Have a listen to Kirk Franklin’s “I Smile” above.
More popular gospel musicians:
- Marvin Sapp
- Tasha Cobbs
- Fred Hammond
- Donnie McClurkin
- Tamela Mann
- Yolanda Adams
- Mary Mary
Trance is a form of electronic music. It came out of the British new age music scene as well as the 1990s German hardcore scene. Trance music has a tempo of 135 – 150 bpm, has repeating melodic phrases, and has tension buildups that lead to what’s popularly known in electronic music as “drops.”
Trance artists are often DJs. The above is Paul van Dyk’s “For An Angel 2009.”
I find trance music addicting and like to listen to it while working.
More popular trance musicians:
- Above & Beyond
- Ferry Corsten
- Rank 1
As you can guess, the label “instrumental” describes a broad range of music that features no vocals. Or, more accurately, there may be some inarticulate “ooh” and “aah” style vocals depending on the track.
Again, instrumental music can take just about any form but here we’ve featured Apocalyptica’s “Path.”
More popular instrumental musicians:
- Explosions in the Sky
- Yann Tiersen
- God is an Astronaut
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor
- Hans Zimmer
Electronic music sub-genres are in no short supply. Dubstep originated in South London in the late 1990s. In addition to minimalist rhythmic patterns with prominent sub-bass frequencies, it is also often characterized by “random” samples and sounds that come and go – vocals, screaming, shouting, speech, and so on.
We couldn’t possibly choose anyone other than Skrillex to represent the genre, and you can listen to his “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites” above.
More popular dubstep musicians:
- Flux Pavillion
- Zeds Dead
Breakbeat describes just about any type of electronic music with breaks. Breakbeats have been used in hip hop, jungle, drum and bass, big beat, breakbeat hardcore, and even UK garage styles. Breakbeat music often utilizes samples from early funk, jazz, and R&B recordings.
See above for Plump DJs’ “The Push.”
More popular breakbeat musicians:
- Stanton Warriors
- Adam Freeland
- The Chemical Brothers
- The Crystal Method
- Amon Tobin
- Bomfunk MC’s
Ska music is kind of like the intersection between punk rock and reggae. Fascinatingly, though it rose to popularity in the mid-1990s, it originated in Jamaica in the 1950s and was a precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska often has a walking bass line with accented rhythms on the off beat (syncopation).
Ska has a long tradition, so it’s difficult to pick just one band to represent the genre. We went with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get” here (quite recognizable), but the genre is certainly worthy of more exploration if it interests you.
More popular ska musicians:
- The Suicide Machines
- Reel Big Fish
- The Specials
- Toots & The Maytals
- The Skatalites
The term “pop rock” is a little unhelpful, as it is thought to have better songwriting and recording craft than rock music. That’s a joke. It would be more accurate to say that it’s a more commercial style than rock, even though rock was at the top of charts for entire decades.
But it is true that it tends to have less emphasis on attitude. Some think of pop rock as being distinct form rather than an overlap of pop and rock too.
At the end of the day, it’s a little hard to pin down pop rock, but Coldplay is considered one of the most popular acts in the genre (some might call them “soft rock,” “adult contemporary” or “easy listening” too). Have a listen to their “Yellow” above.
More popular pop rock musicians:
- Maroon 5
- Fall Out Boy
- Michael Jackson
- One Direction
- Dire Straits
Indie rock is a relatively loosely defined genre of rock music and was said to have originated in the UK in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, it was a term to describe independent rock labels and the music they became associated with. But the term “indie rock” quickly became a moving target through the decades, and by the early 2000s, it came to refer to stripped-down, back to basics guitar rock.
Bottom line – it’s a funny term to use, because there is no clear definition.
But you will find Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” above for your listening pleasure.
More popular indie rock musicians:
- Arctic Monkeys
- Modest Mouse
- The Stroke
- Death Cab for Cutie
- Franz Ferdinand
- The Shins
Generally, orchestral music is any music played by an orchestra – a large instrumental ensemble. Orchestras can take different forms but generally feature bowed string instruments, brass instruments, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. And typically, they play classical music.
There are no artists to highlight here specifically, but above you can listen to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Basically, any music that’s been influenced by the 1960s psychedelia – a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness.
While it might sound obscure, it was all the rage in the 60s and it could even be described as the most influential style of pop music, especially if you consider The Beatles a psychedelic act, which most do. Though it would be accurate to say not all psychedelic acts were psychedelic for their entire careers.
We can’t think of a better poster child for psychedelia than Jimi Hendrix. Here’s his unforgettable “Purple Haze.”
More popular psychedelic musicians:
- Jefferson Airplane
- The Doors
- Grateful Dead
- Sly & The Family Stone
- The Byrds
Electro is another subgenre of electronic music and early hip hop influenced by Roland TR-808 drum machines. Electro music typically features drum machines and heavy electronic sounds. Usually, there are no vocals on electro tracks, though sometimes they feature deadpan, heavily effected vocals.
Here’s deadmau5’ “Strobe” for a bit of electro delight.
More popular electro musicians:
- David Guetta
- Calvin Harris
- Crystal Castles
- Hot Chip
- Daft Punk
New wave is another unruly term that doesn’t seem to abide by a specific set of rules. It encompasses a variety of pop-oriented styles, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s. Originally, it was a term used to describe the music that emerged from punk rock but is perhaps a more accessible form of post-punk.
I find that new wave has an indie vibe to it, with twangy guitars, synths, and staccato vocals. That's not a rule, mind you.
Have a listen to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
More popular new wave musicians:
- Talking Heads
- Depeche Mode
- The Cars
- Elvis Costello
- The Cure
Experimental music is kind of a catch-all term for music that pushes boundaries and genre definitions. Basically, unconventional music.
Frank Zappa was an innovator and a genius in the field of experimental music. Have a listen to his “Bobby Brown Goes Down” above.
More popular experimental musicians:
- John Cage
- Laurie Anderson
- Brian Eno
World is a broad musical genre describing music from around the world, be it traditional, quasi-traditional, or music where cultural traditions mix.
Ravi Shankar is a rather influential figure in world music, especially because of his collaboration with The Beatles. Have a listen to his “Morning Raga.”
More popular world musicians:
- Angelique Kidjo
- Youssou N’Dour
If you’ve come this far, you’ve probably caught earlier references to grunge, which is a sub-genre of alternative rock. It is sometimes called the “Seattle sound” that emerged in the mid-1980s. It could be described as the intersection between punk rock and heavy metal, and the lyrics are often angsty and introspective.
Many grunge acts were mentioned earlier, but here we’ve featured Pearl Jam and their “Even Flow.”
More popular grunge musicians:
Drum & Bass
Drum and bass is a form of electronic music with fast breakbeats at about 165 to 185 bpm. It also features heavy bass and sub-bass lines, samples, and synthesizers.
Drum and bass artists are typically DJs. Have a listen to Andy C & Fiora’s “Heartbeat Loud.”
More drum and bass musicians:
- Chase & Status
Hardcore generally refers to hardcore punk, a style of music that’s generally faster, harder, and more aggressive than any other form of punk rock. It is often associated with subcultures and sub-movements.
The Misfits’ “Dig Up Her Bones” is an example worthy of inclusion.
More popular hardcore musicians:
- Bad Religion
- The Minutemen
Baroque music refers to a period (1600 to 1750) or style of Western art music. It forms a significant portion of the classical music canon.
J.S. Bach typified baroque music. Have a listen to “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring.”
More popular baroque musicians:
- Antonio Vivaldi
- George Frideric Handel
- Giuseppe Tartini
Bossa nova is a form of samba with a different beat, unconventional chords, and syncopation. It was developed in the 1950s and 1960s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Above you’ll find Antonio Carlos Jobim’s famous “The Girl From Ipanema.”
More popular bossa nova musicians:
- Newton Mendonca
- Antonio Maria
- Marcos Valle
Bluegrass is a form of American roots music originating in the 1940s, and it comes from the U.S. Appalachian region. It’s not dissimilar to country music, with the main difference being that bluegrass is typically played exclusively on acoustic instruments.
Have a listen to Trampled by Turtles’ “Wait So Long” for some bluegrass goodness.
More popular bluegrass musicians:
- Del McCoury
- The Country Gentlemen
- Greensky Bluegrass
- Hayseed Dixie
- Yonder Mountain String Band
- Alison Krauss
- Old Crow Medicine Show
Shoegaze is also known as dream pop and is considered a subgenre of indie and alternative rock emerging from UK in the late 1980s. It has kind of an ethereal sound, muddled vocals, and heavily effected guitars.
Get your shoegaze on with the Drop Nineteens’ “Kick The Tragedy.”
More popular shoegaze musicians:
- Starflyer 59
Easy listening or “mood music” is often characterized by instrumental versions of standards, hit songs, popular rock songs, and so on. That said, it can often be reduced to any music that isn’t heavy. Jazz, folk, and even pop is sometimes called easy listening.
Can’t go wrong with Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good.”
More popular easy listening musicians:
- Mary Juan Clair
- Dean Martin
Enka is a form of traditional Japanese music. I sometimes describe it as Japan’s country music. It’s basically sentimental ballad music.
Have a listen to a bit of Hibari Misora for a taste of enka.
More popular enka musicians:
- Sayuri Ishikawa
- Kiyoshi Hikawa
- Hiroshi Itsuki
Holiday music is also known as Christmas music and is a celebratory genre epitomized by songs like “White Christmas,” “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” and so on.
Most if not all artists are not exclusively holiday music artists. But we’ll leave you with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” for a taste of holiday music here.
J-pop is essentially Japanese pop. The thing is, Japan’s pop music, while often emulating various North American musical styles, tends to have a little more sophistication and its own flavor.
Here I’ll feature one of my personal favorites – the legendary CHAGE&ASKA and their internationally popular “Say Yes.”
More popular J-pop musicians:
- Ayumi Hamasaki
- Hikaru Utada
- Namie Amuro
- Mr. Children
Latin is a catch-all term to describe various musical styles stemming from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, U.S., and music sung in Spanish or Portuguese.
When it comes to Latin music, there are far too many artists to choose from. But we thought we would highlight the 90s Latin invasion with Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”
More popular Latin musicians:
- Christina Aguilera
- Jennifer Lopez
- Mark Anthony
Power metal combines the best aspects of heavy metal with traditional metal and speed metal. Sometimes, it has a bit of a symphonic context too. Power metal tends to have an uplifting sound compared to other types of metal, which can be more dissonant.
Power metal fans will surely remember the pyrotechnics of DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.”
More popular power metal musicians:
- Sonata Arctica
- Blind Guardian
New age music is characterized by inspiration, relaxation, and overall optimism. This description is somewhat vague, though, because new age is still kind of an emerging genre.
Yanni is certainly the poster child for new age music. Here’s his “Face in the Photograph.”
More popular new age musicians:
- Steven Halpern
- David Arkenstone
Opera typically describes a form of theater where the story is told through music, namely by the actors who sing their lines. But it is also a key part of the Western classical music tradition.
Opera music is generally developed by composers, and historically, the likes of Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, and even Mozart wrote for opera.
The example above is from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Adult contemporary is a bit of an amorphous genre, encompassing the likes of soft rock and ballads, with influences from easy listening, pop, soul, R&B, rock, and more.
We’ll have Elton John represent this genre. Because he’s beyond cool. Have a listen to his “Tiny Dancer.”
More popular adult contemporary musicians:
- Neil Diamond
- Savage Garden
- Los Lonely Boys
- Roger Williams
- Anne Murray
- Enrique Iglesias
A List Of Popular & Niche Music Genres, Final Thoughts
From broad to narrow, musical genres may be useful for categorization. But they often don’t tell the full story of the music it represents. Virtually every genre emerged from another, and genre lists continue to grow as new approaches and styles emerge. Just as one artist was often influenced by a group of other artists.
Still, it’s fun to look at all the musical genres that exist. We haven’t even started to explore all of them in this guide!
We hope you enjoyed this guide and learned more about your favorite genres (and even a few genres you don’t like!).