When you think of Western music, the image of cowboys riding on horseback always comes to mind. But Western music is so much more than cowboy songs. Western music offers a wide range of genres, from classical, jazz, blues, and even rock and roll.
In this article, you will discover the definition of Western music, see examples, and learn a brief history of each given.
Definition: What is Western Music?
Western music was composed by early settlers to the Western United States and Canada. It celebrates the traditions of Western America from the Rocky Mountains to the Prairies.
Through a combination of many music cultures, including Scottish, Irish and folk ballads, among several others, the definition of Western music was developed. Western music has many similarities to country music.
In the 20th century, Western music was often grouped with country music as “country and Western.” However, Western music is so much more than just country. Did you know that there are 16 genres of Western music?
In 2013, the band CDZA made an interesting video that went viral. The video cleverly describes the 16 genres of Western music and helps give you a better understanding of the true definition of Western music. The video also describes the transition of the various genres of Western music throughout history.
Mark Sidney Johnson and his band CDZA, lead their listeners through an incredible journey of the evolution of Western music through a guitar solo of 28 songs over 50 years of the evolution of Western music. The songs depict the various genres of Western music from Baroque and Classical to Jazz and Blues.
Western Music Characteristics
Listing down the characteristics of western music is hard to pin down. Western music is not a genre like Ska, Indie or R&B, it encompasses these same genres and more. The characteristics of western music would look more like a supermarket list in the apocalypse, quite long to say the least.
For that very reason, I thought it would be more interesting and fulfilling to list down several genres that western music embraces, from there you can look at the characteristics of each genre. The list of genres is also extensive to say the least, after all, we’ve been making music for several centuries. Notwithstanding, here’s a list of the most popular genres through different ages.
To learn more about the various genres of Western music, here are some definitions:
- Baroque: Describes music developments in the 1600s to the mid-1800s.
- Classical: The development of symphony and concerto music from 1750 to 1830 concentrated on beauty instead of emotions within the music.
- Jazz: Developed in the Southern USA, jazz focused on instrumental styles mainly used by black musicians.
- Soul: A popular style of Western music that combines gospel, rhythm and blues. Soul was common among African-Americans.
- Blues: A slower version of jazz, usually portraying an unhappy love story. Played in 12 bar groups, its stanza consists of three lines.
- Reggae: Originated in Jamaica as a combination of rhythm, blues and calypso music.
- Bluegrass: A combination of folk, and dance music, Bluegrass was a popular genre of Western music popular in the 1940s in the USA.
- Disco: Characterized by percussion instruments, orchestra music, bass drums with a strong beat and soulful vocals, Dance music became increasingly popular in the 1970s.
- Punk: Defined the spirit of rock and roll in the 70s, which opened up a cultural movement for the definition of Western music.
- Heavy metal: Rock music that featured guitars, heavy bass, and various styles of unique solo artists.
- Rap: Originated in the 70s as a rhythmic, spoken vocal style.
- Pop: A genre of Western music that began in the 90s. The notes in pop music harmoniously repeat the previous note to make the song easier to remember and to sing along with.
A Brief History of Western Music With Examples
The second we hear the words “Western music” we automatically assume that we are talking about country music. Although both styles have similar attributes, country music has a simpler beat and uses fewer musical instruments than Western music.
Whereas, Western music consists of larger bands with more diverse instruments. Western music is more consistent with swing music than country because it is more upbeat and toe-tapping.
Music has always been a huge part of our culture since the beginning of time. However, when talking about the history of Western music, there are six significant time periods that are more prevalent. These time periods include the church and folk medieval era, the renaissance era, the baroque era, the romantic and classical era, and the modern classical time period.
Each era of music offered a new genre and unique music styles to be added to the Western music industry throughout history.
Pre-Western Musicians Who Had a Significant Influence on Western Music
From the 17th to the 18th century, the evolution of the Western music industry saw several changes, including the Baroque era, the opera, instrumental and others.
Two famous musicians from the 17th and 18th-century era who contributed to the definition of Western music include Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), and Leopold Kozeluch (1747 – 1818).
The 19th century was a turning point in the Western music industry. With it came diversity, new music styles, and more dramatic performances by several well-known musicians.
Famous musicians from the 19th century include Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1910, and Igor Stavinsky (1882 – 1971), among many others. The talents of these artists added definition to Western music and paved the way for musicians of the 20th century to make a name for themselves.
Here is an overview of Western music artists from the 20th century. These musicians have had a significant influence on the music industry and are still favored by many adorning fans today.
Western Music from the 1970s
The 70s saw a significant rise in disco. It quickly became a popular genre among many Western music listeners.
Aside from disco, jazz and soul music were also well-loved during the 70s. Rock and roll and punk rock music also became a famous part of the 70s Western music scene. Other genres included reggae and hip-hop. But, they were not quite as popular in the decade's Western music scene. It was not until the 80s that they would gain more music lovers.
The decade also saw an increase in electronic musical instruments as harmonizers and synthesizers were developed. This new technology gained a following of Western music listeners searching for unique sounds. It also led to a Western music trend of synthpop that began gaining popularity in the late 70s.
Before his death in 1977, Elvis Presley was a well-loved performer of a mix of Western music ranging from pop, rock and country. He rocked the stage in sparkling rhinestone jumpsuits, doing hip shakes and karate kicks. Known as the “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis significantly contributed to the definition of Western music.
Neil Young was another singer of the 70s. He quickly rose to stardom with his deep-rooted folk-rock music, strong vocals and his excellent songwriting skills. Harvest Moon is one of the signature songs that helped him contribute to the definition of Western music.
Bob Marley, born in Jamaica, was a Western musician who could sing the best of reggae, mixed with powerful rock and roll that helped add to the definition of Western music with his creativity and kinetic stage personality. In favor of the social justice system, Marley’s main focus in his music was to unite humanity in song with his healing powers of Western music.
Joni Mitchell dominated the 70s with her folk music. Accompanied by piano playing and acoustic guitar melodies and a touch of jazz, she wooed her audiences with an experimental and unique take on Western music. Her 1974 album, Court and Spark, made a significant impact on the definition of Western music in the world as we know it today.
Elton John was a profound singer-songwriter in the 70s scene. He also had a significant impact on the definition of Western music. His unique individuality, large framed sparkling glasses and bright coloured outfits rocked his performances. His most famous songs included Rocket Man, Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road and Daniel.
Western Music From the 80s
By the time the 80s rolled around, disco music had sizzled out. It was replaced with many new genres of Western music, including rap, pop, hip-hop, heavy metal and rock and roll music.
Along with the new decade, and new genres of Western music came new technology. CDs replaced records and in the 80s version of the iPod, the walkman hit the market. This was a major boost for the music industry that allowed teenagers to listen to music on the go, any time and any place.
Next came the invention of cable tv in the 80s with several music stations offered to listen to your favorite selection of Western music genres. The most famous channel to watch was MTV, which changed music into story-telling with music videos available to watch.
Synthpop and new wave music genres also became popular in the 80s. This style of music had unique lyrics that defined the Western music industry.
Michael Jackson had already reached stardom when he was a child as a member of the Jackson Five. However, it was in the 80s that he became a worldwide sensation.
Awwing the world with his moonwalk, elaborate stage performances, and entertaining dance moves and outfits, Jackson set the bar high for dominating the definition of Western music, for years to come. His album Thriller sold 32 million copies in 1983 with famous hit songs, including Beat It and Billie Jean.
Prince was a fierce and talented funk-pop pioneer of Western music. Prince topped the music charts throughout the decade. His most memorable songs included Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret. His one-of-a-kind performances led him straight to the top of the 80s music industry.
Van Halen was also an influential Western music band of the 80s. He played a combination of hard rock and heavy metal that led him to great success in the definition of Western music in the 80s. Eddie Van Halen was the band's lead guitarist and vocalist. The band's number 1 hit was Jump, which led them to become one of the most popular bands worldwide.
Whitney Houston was another talented 80s Western musician. With a history of gospel singing, Houston became a pop star of the 80s for her powerful vocals. She is one of the top-selling musicians of all time. Houston has sold over 200 million records worldwide.
Her most famous hits include How Will I Know, and I Want To Dance With Somebody. Houston's career was cut short when she died at the age of 48. She still played a vital role in the definition of Western music during her lifetime.
Dolly Parton was a Western music icon who found fame in the country music genre. Her hit songs include Islands in the Stream, Jolene and I Will Always Love You. Parton is a skilled vocalist and a songwriter. She earned several music awards throughout her career in the music industry. Inducted into the Music Hall of Fame, Parton made several contributions towards the definition of Western music.
Western Music From the 90s
The 90s saw more positive changes to the evolution of the Western music industry. New music genres such as techno, and dance music began to evolve. Techno artists began topping the Billboard charts with their unique styles of Western music.
The Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks was one of the largest all-female bands in the history of Western music. The Dixie Chicks dominated the decade with famous hits, including Good-Bye Earl and the Travelling Soldier. The outgoing band said it all when they voiced a comment live about President Bush, which sent them soaring straight to the top of the country Western music charts.
Shania Twain was another famous Western music star of the 90s. Her songs topped the music charts as she wooed fans with her crop tops and feminism during her concerts. Born in Canada, Twain topped international charts with her songs Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under and Main I Feel Like a Woman.
Green Day is an American musical band that also topped the Western music industry charts in the 90s with punk rock hits like Good Riddance, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and When I Come Around. Infused with the raw talent of punk mixed with melodic pop and powerful lyrics, Greenday was a favorite Western band among many teenagers in the 90s.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a popular rock band in the 90s that were from Los Angeles. Their music consists of several Western music genres including punk rock, funk and rock. Under The Bridge is the rock band's signature song that helped lead them to stardom in the 90s.
Other hits by the Red Hot Chili Peppers include Californication, Scar Tissue and Higher Ground. The Red Hot Chili Peppers helped put a definition to Western music in the 90s with their unique style and contributions made to the music industry.
Madonna is also a famous Western musician in the 90s decade. Most famous in the 90s, Madonna is a successful music icon that has significantly influenced pop culture around the world. Known as the “Queen of Pop,” Madonna is distinguished among other musicians for her versatility as a music artist, her strong songwriting abilities, and her one-of-a-kind stage performances.
Western Music From the 2000s
The music industry has certainly evolved over the decades. Changing technology and genres have given a new definition to Western music. With new technology came better-sounding musical instruments, high-quality videos and access to internet downloads of your favorite artists to listen to any time and anywhere.
Pink is a popular American singer, and songwriter. She was well-known in the 2000s for her individuality as an artist. She had a magic about her that seemed to stand out among the crowd. Born as Alecia Beth Moore, she uses the stage name Pink. Some of Pink's most popular songs of the 2000s include All I Know, So Far, and Crystal Ball.
Pink has given definition to the Western music industry by blessing the world with her pop-rock singing talent. Her records have earned her several awards and sold over 13 million worldwide. Pink was the second most-played female musician of the 2000s, trailing Madonna slightly.
Nickelback is a Canadian rock band. They achieved international fame in the 2000s, selling over 50 million records worldwide. Billboard ranked Nickelback as the most successful band of the 2000s. Some of their best-loved songs of the decade include How you Remember, Silver Side Up and Someday.
The band's Western music genres include pop-rock, hard rock, heavy metal, among others. Nickelback has helped put a definition to Western music through their significant talents to the music industry.
Stefani Angelina Germanotta, or Lady Gaga, as we all know her, is a talented American singer and songwriter from the 2000s. Best known for her versatility and out-of-the-ordinary stage performances, Lady Gaga wowed the crowd with her outrageous costume design and rare talent to hit high notes.
Her hit songs of the 2000s include Poker Face, Born This Way and Shallow. Lady Gaga has earned many music awards and sold over 124 million records worldwide.
Johnny Cash was an American singer, songwriter and music legend way before the decade of the 2000s began. However, he continued to release several albums in the 2000s that kept him in the music spotlight. Most of his work centered on moral tribulations, grief and redemption, as noticed more specifically in the latest years of his career as a musician.
Some of his most notable songs of the decade include Man Comes Around, I See Darkness, and One. Johnny Cash was a musical legend of all time and sold over 90 million records worldwide during his lifetime as a well-loved musician.
Taylor Swift was another famous singer and songwriter. She gave definition to the Western music industry with her musical talents. She sang in many genres including pop and country among others. Swift has earned many awards during her career as a musician. Her top hits include Fearless, Shake It Off, and Blank Space. Swift has sold over 114 million albums worldwide.
Where is Western Music Now?
Western music has certainly evolved over the decades. Technology has advanced, offering a better quality of music through videos, CDs, headphones and internet downloads. Much of the music that was popular years ago, has now been replaced with new genres of Western music.
Nowadays, teenagers are often attracted to pop music. However, with such a diverse array of music genres to choose from, there are music lovers of all kinds that make up the world of listeners. Other popular genres of Western music culture include rock, punk, and hip hop, among several others.
Is Western Music Still as Popular Today?
Today, Western music is still just as popular as it ever was. Western music can be downloaded onto many platforms and enjoyed on several devices any time of the day or night. Older style Western musicians such as Al Hurricane and Marty Robbins are also being streamed onto devices all around the world.
New genres of Western music and remakes of old songs are also constantly being performed nationwide. Western music is most prevalent in America, Canada, and Mexico today, although it is also appreciated worldwide.
What is Western Music? Final Thoughts
Western music has encountered a variety of progressions and changes to get to where it is today. One thing for certain is that Western music still emphasizes texture, density, and quality of sound to keep music lovers coming back for more. And with ever-changing qualities being made to the music industry by new and upcoming artists, more and more fans are being added to the list of Western music listeners worldwide.