Musical genres are an inexplicable phenomenon. With each one that is discovered, there are a seemingly endless number of others waiting to be revealed and enjoyed by music fans around the world.
Most genres are born out of the fusion of two or more existing styles, with musicians taking certain elements and combining them. The rapid advances in music technology are also responsible for the creation of many genres.
If we were to go through all of the different music genres in existence, this article would take days to read!
Therefore, we’ve condensed them down to the 25 most popular genres of music. In this guide, we’ll discuss the origins of each musical style, their place in the world of modern music, and their main stylistic attributes.
Pop music is perhaps the most obvious addition to this list. It could be said that pop is a compilation of other genres, which are considered to be mainstream in a certain time period.
For example, in the 1960s, rock bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys were labeled as “pop music”. Four decades later, the term pop was being used to describe hip-hop artists like Eminem or Kanye West.
In the modern era, pop music is heavily influenced by electronic dance music, trap – which is a sub-genre of hip-hop and uses other elements taken from alternative styles. These songs commonly top the charts on streaming services and dominate popular radio stations’ playlists.
One of the top musical genres in existence, rock music originated in the 1940s and 50s in the form of rock & roll. However, its roots can be traced back to the rhythm and blues of the African-American culture in the 1920s, merged with country music.
When recording techniques and musical equipment became more advanced in the 1960s, rock music exploded in the Western world. The genre is synonymous with high-gain electric guitar tones, accompanied by bass guitar, drum kits, and powerful vocals.
Rock’s influence has stretched far and wide, with a plethora of sub-genres being created from its key aspects. Although it perhaps doesn’t enjoy the mainstream popularity it did in the ‘60s and ’70s, rock bands still sell out huge stadiums today.
3. Hip-Hop & Rap
In its relatively short history, hip-hop has emerged as one of the most popular and innovative genres of music. Hip-hop originated in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, in the late 1970s when DJs would use samples and breakbeats to create backing tracks for MCs to rap over.
Like rock music before it, hip-hop took the world by storm in the 1990s. Artists like Dr. Dre, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and many others rose to worldwide fame, paving the way for a new generation of rappers and hip-hop producers in the new millennium.
Digital equipment has made hip-hop much easier to make these days, with producers and rappers able to compose albums with a microphone and a laptop. This has led to huge exposure for hip-hop and its many sub-genres.
Country music can be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century. It was created mainly in the south of the USA, by working-class people. These people would use country as a means to tell stories through music, about the realities of everyday life and their perspectives.
Some of the most influential country artists include Woodie Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. Today, the genre continues to be incredibly popular in America but is often combined with other popular styles.
R&B, or rhythm and blues, is rooted in African-American culture from the 1940s. In the decades that followed, record labels used the term to describe recordings that were targeted towards that community in the US, and the style eventually inspired many rock artists of the 1960s.
Today’s R&B music commonly uses a blend of acoustic and electronic instruments, with bluesy melodies and soulful vocals.
Folk music has existed in many different parts of the world for centuries. Traditionally, this genre is essentially built upon people gathering to sing and play songs with others in their community.
In the 1960s, artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez popularized folk music to the masses. The genre is relevant today and is commonly associated with archaic melodies, acoustic instruments, and insightful lyrics with strong messages.
In the early 20th century, musicians in the city of New Orleans experimented by blending musical elements from European and African genres. This resulted in the origination of jazz, which would go on to become one of the most popular and unique musical styles in existence.
Jazz is defined by its swung rhythms, a diverse range of instruments, and smooth melodies. While it rarely tops the charts today, it still has a huge following around the world.
8. Heavy Metal
Heavy metal music is a sub-genre of rock and is characterized by loud volumes, crashing cymbals, pounding rhythms, and distorted guitars which often use drop tunings. Black Sabbath and Motorhead are two prime examples of classic heavy metal bands.
The live metal scene is as strong as ever today, with bands constantly coming up with new ways to innovate within the genre by using effects and complex playing techniques.
EDM is short for “electronic dance music”, which is a very broad category. In a popular music context, this genre describes songs that feature classic elements from dance music, such as four-to-the-floor drum beats, synthesizers, and repeated loops.
There are many sub-genres of EDM, some of which I’ll discuss later in this guide. The genre also has a huge live scene, with DJs playing sold-out shows all over the globe.
Soul music is a blend of traditional R&B, gospel, and jazz. It originated in the African American communities in the late 50s and early 60s, with popular artists like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and later the likes of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye.
Soul and R&B are often categorized together in the modern era because both genres have changed significantly over the years which has resulted in many similarities.
Like the soul, funk was also the result of African Americans blending jazz and R&B. Funk has a strong rhythmic pulse, prominent bass lines, and syncopated rhythm guitar playing.
Although James Brown was known as “The Godfather of Soul”, many of his songs are considered the blueprint for funk music.
Reggae was invented in Jamaica in the late 60s, and quickly become the country’s favorite music genre. In the decades that followed, it reached the UK, USA, and Africa, where it amassed huge audiences.
Bob Marley is regarded as one of the pioneers of reggae music. The genre commonly uses a distinctive rhythm, where the emphasis is placed on the off-beat.
Disco music rose to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s, making its way into the upmarket nightclubs of major US cities.
In terms of musical characteristics, disco typically has a strong four-on-the-floor backbeat, syncopated basslines, funky guitar riffs, and reverb-draped vocals. The genre’s popularity began to dwindle after the 1970s, but a new wave has emerged in the past decade.
14. Punk Rock
Perhaps the ultimate rebellion against technical musicianship, punk is a hugely influential sub-genre of rock.
Punk rock has an aggressive sound, with fast-paced tempos and simple guitar riffs often played using only downstrokes. It was seen as a departure from the technical styles of the main music genres that had dominated the 1970s, with bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash bringing it into the public eye.
Classical music is amongst the oldest genres features in this list, but it continues to be popular around the globe.
This style features a range of orchestral instruments, and composers use pre-established forms to create emotive symphonies with soaring melodies and ear-friendly chord progressions.
Technically a sub-genre of EDM, house music has a huge global fanbase. Musically, it is often characterized by a tempo of between 120 to 130 BPM, with the kick drum being played on every beat.
House is especially popular in Europe and America, in raves, nightclubs, and at music festivals. It is one of, if not the most prominent subgenres of electronic dance music in the past thirty years.
Techno shares some similarities with the house music but tends to feature electronic sounds more heavily. It is incredibly popular in the rave scene, with its powerful, thudding drum beats making the genre perfect for long dancing sessions.
Electronic instruments like samplers, synths, and retro drum machines are commonly used to compose techno music. Its tempo usually sits somewhere between 120 and 150 BPM.
18. Indie Rock
In the past thirty years or so, indie has developed into one of the most popular sub-genres of rock music. With its D.I.Y ethos inspired largely by punk, indie reached its peak in popularity in the 2000s, with bands like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys paving the way.
Like punk before it, indie rock doesn’t require technical proficiency to be played. It is a genre more focused on songwriting, with catchy melodies, jangly guitar tones, and introspective lyrics often used by composers in the genre.
In the 1980s in Seattle, a collective of aspiring musicians had become disillusioned with the mainstream rock music that dominated the radio stations. Out of their frustration, a new genre was born – grunge.
As the genre amassed a growing fan base, bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were propelled to stardom. Highly distorted guitar riffs, pounding drums and gritty vocals are three common characteristics of this genre. It continues to inspire the new generation of rock musicians today.
With dreamy atmospheric layers that constantly change and evolve, ambient music is a unique instrumental genre. It includes a blend of acoustic and electronic instruments and samples, placing more emphasis on tonal qualities rather than rhythm.
The ethereal nature of ambient music makes it a popular choice for people who want to relax or meditate.
Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, you can enjoy the beautiful sound of gospel music. This Christian genre is often performed in churches and takes influence from traditional blues, R&B, and country.
Typically, gospel often includes rich layers of vocal harmonies sung by choirs. Pianos, guitars, and other acoustic instruments are used to create the backing music for the soulful vocalists to sing over.
22. Latin Music
Latin music is a genre that includes several styles originating in Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and parts of the USA.
This genre often heavily features syncopation and is incredibly catchy. Rhythmically, it takes inspiration from African beats and blends acoustic instruments like guitars and bass with electronic instruments like keyboards and synthesizers.
Grime originated in London, England in the early 2000s. For many years, it was seen as an underground sub-genre of hip-hop, but in recent years it has enjoyed prolonged mainstream success and become one of the most popular music genres in the UK.
Compared to traditional hip-hop and rap music, grime has a considerably faster tempo, which is usually around 140 BPM. Grime MCs use repeated phrases known as “bars”, and rap in a quick, technical way.
Trap music has its roots in the south of the United States and features a minimalistic production style with syncopated hi-hats and prominent snare drums.
Over the past decade, trap has emerged as one of the top music genres in the world. Producer Lex Luger is credited with popularizing the distinctive modern style of trap beats which dominates the US music charts consistently.
25. Psychedelic Rock
To conclude our list of the 25 most popular genres of music, we have psychedelic rock. As guitar effects experimented within the 1960s, artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors created mind-bending compositions that were inspired by psychedelic experiences.
Psych-rock doesn’t often feature in mainstream music charts these days, but artists like Tame Impala and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have revived the genre and in recent years.
This list provides you with an overview of the most popular music genres in existence today. While these words can provide you with a brief description, the best way to experience the genres is to dive straight in and listen for yourself.