What Is Experimental Music? With 7 Top Examples & History

If you've been thinking of expanding your musical horizons, you might want to try listening to experimental music.

This genre has elements of almost every other genre, making it one of the most diverse genres. As such, no matter what kind of music you gravitate toward, you can find experimental tracks that suit your tastes!

But what is experimental music, and what makes it unique?

Definition: What Is Experimental Music?

Definition What Is Experimental Music

So, what is experimental music? Experimental music defies most traditional genre classifications.

This break from genre norms makes it challenging to create a precise definition of experimental music, as it can embody several characteristics of other genres without necessarily being part of them.

Because experimental music can exhibit traits of any music genre, identifying it can be challenging. Fortunately, you can use a handful of characteristics to determine whether a song is experimental.

Experimental Music Characteristics

Much like lo-fi music, experimental music spans nearly every genre, making it tricky to define and classify.

But three primary characteristics link experimental music, including:

  • Unpredictability
  • Use of multiple genres
  • Unconventional instrumentation

Any song with one or more of these characteristics can fall into the “experimental” genre. Let's explore a few helpful examples that illustrate this.

7 Examples of Experimental Music

Because experimental music incorporates characteristics of all other genres, you can find experimental electronica, pop, and bluegrass music!

So long as a song is unpredictable and unconventional, it can be experimental. The following examples illustrate these characteristics beautifully.

Sun in My Mouth

This Björk track is from her 2001 album “Vespertine.” It features hints of classical and ambient music, but the heady lyrics and vocalization set it apart from more traditional examples of these genres.

The lyrics are poetic and abstract, though many have guessed they speak to sexual exploration or feminine desires that are often seen as taboo.

It's crucial to note that many experimental songs, in addition to utilizing unconventional timing and instrumentation, also present uncommon ideas and topics that are otherwise absent from traditional genres.

Who Could Win A Rabbit

With a cacophony of distorted guitar and vocalization, “Who Could Win A Rabbit” has an upbeat sound that hides a darker subtext.

These darker qualities become more noticeable as the song progresses, hinted at with beat-breaking breathing samples that eventually dissolve into broken dissonance and eerie sounds.

Barely two minutes long, this song is a quick snapshot of modern, pop-infused experimental music. It lacks a chorus, and its lyrics are abstract, with influences that seem to combine the experimental poetry written by E.E. Cummings and traditional nursery rhymes.

Black Swan

Thom Yorke, the lead vocalist of Radiohead, has created some of the most popular experimental songs of the last few decades. Some have even argued that many of Radiohead's albums fall within the genre.

However, his solo releases, including the 2006 album “The Eraser,” might be a better example of experimental music. Tracks like “Black Swan” show off his unique musical style and preferences, but they're not entirely divorced from his previous work, making them excellent footholds for fans of albums like “OK Computer.”

But be warned—this song does contain expletives, so it might not be the best track to play during a family car trip!

The Highest Flood

Matthew Barnes, better known as Forest Swords, has produced a list of groundbreaking tracks that feature unconventional instrumentation and pacing.

Though this artist's roots lie within the DJ community and genre, his modern experimental music contends with that of other well-known artists like Björk and Aphex Twin.

The 2017 track “The Highest Flood” exemplifies these qualities, utilizing repetitive samples, dissonant sounds, and spliced vocalizations to produce a distinct sound supported by consistent, soft orchestration. At just over five minutes long, it's lengthier than the average song.


“Branches” is one of the most oft-repeated John Cage creations, and it might be one of the most experimental songs ever created.

Not only does it come from the modern “father” of experimental music, John Cage, but its precise sound, tempo, and duration vary significantly from performance to performance. And in many ways, this is a track designed for live performance.

It consists of diegetic sounds produced by multiple performers tending to cacti. The pace of these sounds creates a rhythm that morphs, pauses, and quickens depending on the performer's actions.

While some might not consider “Branches” to be music, this John Cage track's controversial and experimental nature has helped it become an iconic part of the genre.

Canyons of Your Mind

Often likened to Frank Zappa and Warren Zevon, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (later shortened to Bonzo Dog Band) was a psychedelic, experimental phenomenon during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Perhaps best-known for the associations with Neil Innes and the British comedy troupe Monty Python, this band released several strange-yet-delightful tunes during their initial run, including “Canyons of Your Mind.”

Lead vocalist Vivian Stanshall begins the tune with a buttery-smooth, Elvis-esque croon, but things soon devolve into spasm-like screams and a single, unapologetic belch. Without a doubt, this song oozes unpredictability, one of the hallmarks of the experimental music genre.

My Oh My

The music released by Punch Brothers generally falls within the bluegrass genre. But there's a good chance you've never heard bluegrass music quite like theirs!

Their fourth studio album, “Phosphorescent Blues,” contains several tracks showing lead vocalist Chris Thile's passion for experimental music, but “My Oh My” has the most heavy-handed experimental influences.

This song's meaning is straightforward enough, discussing the need to appreciate and feel grateful for the small gifts and treasures found in one's life. But the musical composition is varied, jumping from rock-like, aggressive strumming to gentle, slower-paced instrumentation.

Both fast-paced and sentimental, the only checkbox this song doesn't fill is unconventional instrument use.

5 Top Experimental Musicians


Many notable bands and musicians have dabbled (and continue to dabble) in the experimental genre. Though the work of these artists can also fall into more traditional categories like rock, R&B, or indie, their songs tend to be anything but traditional.

Let's briefly discuss a handful of the most popular and well-known bands and musicians that have helped expand and develop the experimental music genre.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin is considered one of the first forms of electronic experimental music.

Though Aphex Twin's first album (“Selected Ambient Works 85–92”) was released in 1992, many of the songs created by this artist (full name Richard David James) are still celebrated today for their creative and unusual lyrics, structure, and use of electronic sound.

Some of the most popular Aphex Twin tracks include “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy,” both of which have controversial and experimental corresponding music videos. If you enjoy ambient and electronica genres, you may enjoy listening to this experimental artist's music.

Animal Collective

Animal Collective takes the traditional form and sound of pop music and turns it on its head, resulting in a new take on the experimental genre that may appeal to listeners who tend to avoid unconventional music.

Their 2009 album “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is a fantastic example of this distinct style. Named after a music venue in Maryland, this album has several features that make it a notable example of the experimental genre.

Its length is a palindrome (54 minutes and 45 seconds), and tracks vary from a more traditional 3 minutes and 52 seconds to a far lengthier 6 minutes.

Instead of relying on traditional instrumentation, the band utilized samplers to produce this album, giving it a mixed-media feel that other pop songs of the time lacked.

Still, Animal Collective has continued to push boundaries throughout later albums, and much of their work has inspired changes within the primary pop genre.


Even if you've never listened to experimental music, there's an excellent chance you've heard of Icelandic artist Björk.

Björk has developed herself as one of the most genre-expanding artists of the 21st century. Her eclectic and eccentric style has helped her become an icon of post-modern experimental music.

Many Björk songs feature ambient, pop, and avant-garde elements, but they twist these elements into new forms that are distinctly different from more traditional examples.

Like Aphex Twin and Animal Collective, these tracks also correspond to equally experimental music videos, offering a visual representation of the unusual nature of the songs themselves.

If you're interested in exploring Björk's experimental side, you'll likely want to listen to her 2004 album “Medúlla.” The unpredictability of each track's length and composition ensures that this album adheres to nearly all the hallmarks of the experimental music genre.

Frank Zappa

Those who enjoy classic rock music may want to explore the many diverse and experimental albums of Frank Zappa.

Zappa, often compared to Captain Beefheart and the Bonzo Dog Band, created over 100 studio albums during his career. Though each of these albums is unique, they all feature early elements of experimental music, including unconventional song lengths and the combination of unharmonious pre-recorded sounds.

However, unlike much of the modern experimental music developed today, these tracks also had a traditional rock n' roll spine that added just enough structural familiarity to make them attractive to the average listener.


Portishead's music has been described as trip-hop, indie, and alternative. But the band doesn't seem to ascribe to these genre classifications, often preferring to be known for their innovative sound and creative style.

For this reason, Portishead falls within the experimental music genre, which becomes more noticeable when listening to tracks like “Roads” or “Numb.” These tracks have ambient, jazz, and alternative elements, but they combine them uniquely.

The band's 1994 album “Dummy” is often heralded as the most experimental, making it a fantastic starting place for those hoping to introduce themselves to the experimental music genre.

The History of Experimental Music

The History of Experimental Music

Despite experimental music's reputation for cutting-edge composition, it's older than other genres like new age or indie. After all, all new genres technically fall under the blanket term “experimental music” before earning a unique classification.

But you can trace the experimental music genre as we understand it today to a single person: John Cage.

John Cage was an American composer who began to develop the genre in the early 1950s. His fascination with music as a spontaneous activity inspired him to develop unpredictable tracks using unconventional instruments.

Much of Cage's work had a performance aspect that differentiated it from studio-recorded rock and pop music that was commonplace at the time. However, emerging genres and artists would soon take the reigns of the experimental genre, developing it even further.

The development of electronic instruments, electronica, and EDM helped expand the experimental genre's borders.

After all, experimenting with electronic sound can result in unusual beats and sounds. When these unconventional aspects are combined, they result in electronic experimental music. But instrumental innovation isn't the only aspect that influenced the burgeoning experimental genre.

A need for less-formulaic music also helped the genre develop and expand. Though standard pop and rock songs remain popular, their rigid structures can become a boring inevitability.

For example, almost all popular songs feature two to three stanzas and a chorus that falls between each stanza. Additionally, these songs adhere to a song time limit of about three minutes or less.

Modern experimental music doesn't adhere to these structural or time restrictions. Instead, it seeks to break these rules while remaining engaging and unfamiliar.

These qualities make experimental tracks easily identifiable, as they often sound completely different from songs belonging to other genres.

What Is Experimental Music? Final Thoughts

Experimental music is any type of audio track or song that doesn't fully belong to any other genre. This type of music might not be particularly melodic, it might not feature lyrics, and it might not feature traditional instrumentation.

Though challenging to define, you'll likely recognize experimental music as soon as you hear it. You can use the tracks listed throughout this article as an excellent starting point to explore the experimental music genre.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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