20th-century music  

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"If modern music may be said to have a definite beginning, then it started with this flute melody, the opening of the "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (1894) by Claude Debussy." -- A Concise History of Avant-Garde Music (1978) by Paul Griffiths

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During the 20th century there was a large increase in the variety of music that people had access to. Prior to the invention of mass market gramophone records (developed in 1892) and radio broadcasting (first commercially done ca. 1919–20), people mainly listened to music at live Classical music concerts or musical theatre shows, which were too expensive for many lower-income people; on early phonograph players (a technology invented in 1877 which was not mass-marketed until the mid-1890s); or by individuals performing music or singing songs on an amateur basis at home, using sheet music, which required the ability to sing, play, and read music. These were skills that tended to be limited to middle-class and upper-class individuals. With the mass-market availability of gramophone records and radio broadcasts, listeners could purchase recordings of, or listen on radio to recordings or live broadcasts of a huge variety of songs and musical pieces from around the globe. This enabled a much wider range of the population to listen to performances of Classical music symphonies and operas that they would not be able to hear live, either due to not being able to afford live-concert tickets or because such music was not performed in their region.

Sound recording was also a major influence on the development of popular music genres, because it enabled recordings of songs and bands to be inexpensively and widely distributed nationwide or even, for some artists, worldwide. The development of relatively inexpensive reproduction of music via a succession of formats including vinyl records, compact cassettes, compact discs (introduced in 1983) and, by the mid-1990s, digital audio recordings, and the transmission or broadcast of audio recordings of music performances on radio, of video recordings or live performances on television, and by the 1990s, of audio and video recordings via the Internet, using file sharing of digital audio recordings, gave individuals from a wide range of socioeconomic classes access to a diverse selection of high-quality music performances by artists from around the world. The introduction of multitrack recording in 1955 and the use of mixing had a major influence on pop and rock music, because it enabled record producers to mix and overdub many layers of instrument tracks and vocals, creating new sounds that would not be possible in a live performance. The development of sound recording and audio engineering technologies and the ability to edit these recordings gave rise to new subgenres of classical music, including the Musique concrète (1949) and acousmatic (1955) schools of electronic composition. In the 1970s, African-American hip hop musicians began to use the record turntable as a musical instrument, creating rhythmic and percussive "scratching" effects by manipulating a vinyl record on the turntable.

In Beethoven's and Felix Mendelssohn's time in the 19th century, the orchestra was composed of a fairly standard core of instruments which was very rarely modified. As time progressed, and as the Romantic period saw changes in accepted modification with composers such as Berlioz and Mahler, the 20th century saw that instrumentation could practically be hand-picked by the composer. Saxophones were used in some 20th-century orchestra scores such as Vaughan Williams' Symphonies No.6 and 9 and William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, and many other works as a member of the orchestral ensemble. Twentieth-century orchestras generally include a string section, woodwinds, brass instruments, percussion, piano, celeste, harp(s), with other instruments called for occasionally, such as electric guitar and electric bass.

The 20th century saw dramatic innovations in musical forms and styles. Composers and songwriters explored new forms and sounds that challenged the previously accepted rules of music of earlier periods, such as the use of altered chords and extended chords in 1940s-era Bebop jazz. The development of powerful, loud guitar amplifiers and sound reinforcement systems in the 1960s and 1970s permitted bands to hold large concerts where even those with the least expensive tickets could hear the show. Composers and songwriters experimented with new musical styles, such as genre fusions (e.g., the late 1960s fusion of jazz and rock music to create jazz fusion). As well, composers and musicians used new electric, electronic, and digital instruments and musical devices. In the 1980s, some styles of music, such as electronic dance music genres such as house music were created largely with synthesizers and drum machines. Faster modes of transportation such as jet flight allowed musicians and fans to travel more widely to perform or hear shows, which increased the spread of musical styles.



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A revolution occurred in 20th century music listening as the radio gained popularity worldwide, and new media and technologies were developed to record, capture, reproduce and distribute music. Because music was no longer limited to concerts and clubs, it became possible for music artists to quickly gain fame nationwide and sometimes worldwide. Conversely, audiences were able to be exposed to a wider range of music than ever before, giving rise to the phenomenon of world music.Copyright laws were strengthened, but new technologies also made it easier to record and reproduce copyrighted music illegally.music illegally.


20th century music brought new freedom and wide experimentation with new musical styles and forms that challenged the accepted rules of music of earlier periods. The invention of electronic instruments and the synthesizer in the mid-20th century revolutionized popular music and accelerated the development of new forms of music. Eastern, Middle-Eastern, Latin and Western sounds began to mix in some forms. Faster modes of transportation allowed musicians and fans to travel more widely to perform or listen. Amplification permitted giant concerts to be heard by those with the least expensive tickets, and the inexpensive reproduction and transmission or broadcast of music gave rich and poor alike nearly equal access to high quality music performances. Music performances became increasingly visual with the broadcast and recording of music videos and concerts. Music of all kinds also became increasingly portable. Headphones allowed people sitting next to each other to listen to entirely different performances or share the same performance.


20th century classical music

In the 20th century, many composers continued to work in forms that derived from the 19th century, including Rachmaninoff and Edward Elgar. However, modernism in music became increasingly prominent and important; among the first modernists were Bartók, Stravinsky, and Ives. Schoenberg and other twelve-tone composers such as Alban Berg and Anton von Webern carried this trend to its most extreme form by abandoning tonality altogether, along with its traditional conception of melody and harmony. The Impressionists, including Debussy and Ravel, sought new textures and turned their back on traditional forms, while often retaining more traditional harmonic progressions. Others such as Francis Poulenc and the group of composers known as Les Six wrote music in opposition to the Impressionistic and Romantic ideas of the time. Composers such as Milhaud and Gershwin combined classical and jazz idioms. Others, such as Prokofiev, Hindemith, Shostakovich and Villa-Lobos expanded the classical palette to include more dissonant elements without going to the extremes of the twelve-tone and serial composers.

Contemporary classical music

contemporary classical music

In the broadest sense, contemporary music is any music being written in the present day. In the context of classical music the term applies to music written in the last half century or so, particularly works post-1960. The argument over whether the term applies to music in any style, or whether it applies only to composers writing avant-garde music, or "modernist" music is a subject of hot debate. There is some use of "Contemporary" as a synonym for "Modern", particularly in academic settings, whereas others are more restrictive and apply the term only to presently living composers and their works. Since it is a word that describes a time frame, rather than a particular style or unifying idea, there are no universally agreed on criteria for making these distinctions.

Many contemporary composers working the early 21st century were prominent figures in the 20th century. Some younger composers such as Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adès, and Michael Daugherty did not rise to prominence until late in the 20th century. For more examples see List of 21st century classical composers.

Folk music

Folk music, in the original sense of the term, is music by and of the people. Folk music arose, and best survives, in societies not yet affected by mass communication and the commercialization of culture. It normally was shared and performed by the entire community (not by a special class of expert or professional performers, possibly excluding the idea of amateurs), and was transmitted by word of mouth (oral tradition).

During the 20th century, the term folk music took on a second meaning: it describes a particular kind of popular music which is culturally descended from or otherwise influenced by traditional folk music, such as with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Neil Young, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Mamas and The Papas, The Brothers Four and other singers. This music, in relation to popular music, is marked by a greater musical simplicity, acknowledgment of tradition, frequent socially conscious lyrics, and is similar to country, bluegrass, and other genres in style.

In addition, folk was also borrowed by composers in other genres. The work of Aaron Copland clearly draws on American folk music. In addition, Paul Simon has drawn from both the folk music of Peru and South Africa, and was clearly instrumental in increasing the popularity of groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo although it is arguable that The Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight is the first example of such a crossover. The Indian sitar clearly influenced George Harrison and others.

However, many native musical forms have also found themselves overwhelmed by the variety of new music. Western classical music from prior to the 20th century is arguably more popular now than it ever has been even as modern classical forms struggle to find an audience. Rock and Roll has also had an effect on native musical forms, although many countries such as Germany, Japan and Canada all have their own thriving native rock and roll scenes that have often found an audience outside their home market.

Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass was started in the late 1930s by Bill Monroe. Performers such as Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt who were originally members of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys further developed this style of music.

Popular music

Popular music, sometimes abbreviated pop music (although the term "pop" is intended as a more specific musical genre), is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are broadly popular or intended for mass consumption and wide commercial distribution--in other words, music that forms part of popular culture.

Popular music dates at least as far back as the mid-19th century. In the United States, much of it evolved from folk music and black culture. It includes Broadway tunes, ballads and singers such as Frank Sinatra.

The relationship (particularly, the relative value) of classical music and popular music is a controversial question. Richard Middleton writes:

"Neat divisions between 'folk' and 'popular', and 'popular' and 'art', are impossible to find... arbitrary criteria [are used] to define the complement of 'popular'. 'Art' music, for example, is generally regarded as by nature complex, difficult, demanding; 'popular' music then has to be defined as 'simple', 'accessible', 'facile'. But many pieces commonly thought of as 'art' (Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus', many Schubert songs, many Verdi arias) have qualities of simplicity; conversely, it is by no means obvious that the Sex Pistols' records were 'accessible', Frank Zappa's work 'simple', or Billie Holiday's 'facile'."

Moreover, composers such as Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Webber tried to cater to both popular and high brow tastes. Composers as varied as Mozart and Arthur Sullivan had no difficulty in catering to popular taste when it was required, although their credentials as serious composers are also unchallenged. Classical music influenced popular music in movie scores, theater (see rock opera), popular songs (5th of Beethoven) and in the instrumentation used in popular music. Likewise, electronic instruments and styles were incorporated into some classical pieces.

Alternative rock

Originally coined as a catch all term for the various underground styles of rock music in the 1980s, independent of the mainstream pop music industry, Alternative rock drew influence primarily from Punk rock, Post-punk and New Wave; though many of its subgenres drew from influences as wide as Psychedelic rock and Jazz, and notably The Velvet Underground were a formative influence. In the 1980s few bands achieved commercial success, notably The Cure and R.E.M.. In 1991, Nirvana and Grunge music brought Alternative rock into the mainstream, heavily influencing pop music and leading to the success of other subgenres such as Post-grunge, and Britpop in the UK, while many Alt rock bands were so eclectic as to be unclassifiable. Other genres would use Alternative rock influences, such as Alternative metal.

Other subgenres of Alternative rock include: Shoegaze, Dream pop, Gothic rock, Post rock and the so-called "Indie rock".


Blues is a vocal and instrumental musical form which evolved from African American spirituals, shouts, work songs and chants and has its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa. Blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big bands, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and country music, as well as conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.

Blues was often relegated to the status of race music in its early days due to caucasian Americans not wishing to listen to music which was thought to be linked to African Americans. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, W.C. Handy took blues across the tracks and made it respectable, even "high-toned."

Country music

Country music, once known as Country and Western music, is a popular musical form developed in the southern United States, with roots in traditional folk music, spirituals, and the blues.

Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nation-wide hit (May, 1924, with "The Wreck Of Old '97").

Some trace the origins of modern country music to two seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be the founders of country music, and their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist. It is considered possible to categorise many country singers as being either from the Jimmie Rodgers strand or the Carter Family strand of country music.

Country music also received an unexpected boost from new technologies. When ASCAP, which was dominated by Tin Pan Alley composers feared competition from broadcast music, they stopped licensing their copyrights to radio stations. Their replacement, BMI, was dominated by country artists and gave the genre a much wider audience.


Jazz is a musical art form characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America and partakes of both popular and classical musics.

It has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, in African American music traditions, including blues and ragtime, and European military band music. After originating in African-American communities around the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s. Since then, jazz has had a profoundly pervasive influence on other musical styles worldwide including classical and popular music.

Jazz has also evolved into many sometimes contrasting subgenres including smooth jazz and free jazz.

Rock and roll

Main articles: Rock and roll, Rock music.

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel and country and western.

Born in a technological era, Rock and roll was the first form of music to be recorded in a studio before being performed live. This is a reversal of Jazz or classical music, in which the recording is meant to preserve a live performance. Later Rock musicians were to take advantage of this studio orientation to create works impossible to perform live.

Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley were notable performers in the 1950s. The Beatles were part of the "British invasion" of the USA in the 1960s; they remain influential, even today. In 1951 the words "rock, roll" were used in a song called "60 Minute Man", which was banned due to its implications. By 1953 such ballads as "Earth Angel" and "Gee" were played by notable disc jockeys in Cleveland and New York as Allen Freed and Murray the K. By 1956, Dick Clark had one of several popular Television programs "American Bandstand" to show teenagers dancing to the new kind of music aimed especially at teens and adolescents. Though mocked by older generation as "jungle" or "the devil's music", its popularity grew through the next 10 years until by the end of the century it was arguably the most popular form of music on the planet, with fans from every age group in virtually every country of the world.

However, attempting to classify Rock and Roll as a single genre continues to be difficult as it can encompass a wide variety of musical forms. It can be as carefully crafted as a song by Queen, or an album produced by Phil Spector, or as straightforward as a three-chord composition by The Ramones, or as poetic as a song written by Bob Dylan. Although it is clearly defined by the use of guitars and drum kits, virtually no instrument can now be excluded from a rock band, including the piccolo trumpet used in The Beatles' Penny Lane, the cello that graced most of the work of the Electric Light Orchestra, or even "Weird Al" Yankovic's accordion. Rock revolutionized theater. See rock musical and rock opera.

Progressive rock

Progressive rock was a movement to incorporate the more complex structures and instrumentation of jazz and classical music into the limitations of Rock and Roll. Mainly a European movement, it started in the UK in the 1960s with bands like King Crimson, Yes and Genesis and reached its peak popularity during the early 1970s, when albums like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" dominated the charts. Progressive metal (a fusion of heavy metal and progressive rock) later became popular with bands such as Dream Theater.

Major characteristics were long compositions, complex lyrics, a wide range of instruments, unusual time signatures, and the inclusion of long solo passages for different instruments.

Punk rock

Punk rock was originally a style of hard rock played at fast speeds with simple lyrics and fewer than three chords, which originated in the mid 1970s, with acts like Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols. The Clash revolutionised the genre, bringing songs concering political and social matters, particularly in the UK. The main instruments used were electric guitar, electric bass, and drums.

By the 1980s, the genre had evolved into hardcore (even faster songs with shouted lyrics), New Wave (more pop influenced & used electronic keyboards) and post punk (a more experimental form of punk rock); these genres further evolved into psychobilly (a fusion of punk rock and rockabilly), ska punk (a fusion with ska), grunge (a mix of punk rock and alternative rock), pop punk (a development of punk rock with cleaner sounds), Emo (emotionally-charged punk rock), gothic rock (darker sounding with introverted lyrics) & many more genres. Punk Rock had a resounding effect on many genres of rock music.


Originating in Jamaica in the late 60s, Reggae is a genre of music that derives from ska and rocksteady. The genre was brought into British mainstream throughout the 70s, most notably with Eric Clapton's cover of 'I Shot the Sheriff'. Through John Peel's efforts and Reggae's fusion with Punk Rock the genre became widely popular in the late 70s.

Toots and the Maytals, UB40, Peter Tosh and the legendary Bob Marley provided Reggae with its greatest hits in the mainstream music charts.

Heavy metal

Heavy metal is a form of music characterized by aggressive, driving rhythms and highly amplified distorted guitars. Its origins lie in hard rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, who between 1967 and 1974 took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar and drums centered sound. They were soon followed by bands like Aerosmith, AC/DC, Queen, Kiss, Van Halen, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden who have heavily influenced the genre. Heavy metal had its peak popularity in the 1980s, with the advent of Glam Metal and other metal bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Guns N' Roses and Anthrax, during which many of the now existing subgenres first evolved. Though not as commercially successful as it was then, heavy metal still has a large worldwide following, especially in underground music.

Some subgenres brought about through either natural evolution or the convergence of metal with other genres include, but are not limited to Thrash metal, Power metal, Death metal, Symphonic metal, Nu metal and Black metal.


Soul music is fundamentally rhythm and blues, which grew out of the African-American gospel and blues traditions during the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. Over time, much of the broad range of R&B extensions in African-American popular music, generally, also has come to be considered soul music. Traditional soul music usually features individual singers backed by a traditional band consisting of rhythm section and horns, as exemplified by Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.


Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), George Clinton, and groups like The Meters and Tower Of Power. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an "on the one" beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Cameo or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; danceability; and strong jazzy influences (e.g., as in the music of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).


Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean rhythm that is popular in many Latin countries. The word is the same as the salsa meaning sauce. Who applied this name to the music and dance and why remains unclear, but all agree that the name fits, metaphorically referring the music and dance being "saucy" and "tasty". However, the term has been used by Cuban immigrants in New York analogously to swing.


Disco is an up-tempo style of dance music that originated in the early 1970s, mainly from funk, salsa, and soul music, popular originally with gay and black audiences in large U.S. cities, and derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning nightclub).

Hip Hop and Rap

Hip hop music is traditionally composed of two main elements: rapping (also known as MC'ing, a vocal style involving rapid speech with alliteration, assonance and rhyming) and DJing, and arose when disc jockeys (DJ's) began isolating and repeating the percussion break from funk or disco songs. Depending on the source, Hip Hop started in the late seventies or early eighties in African-American neighbourhoods such as Brooklyn and Bronx. Hip Hop was originally seen as a fad, but has become one of the most successful modern music genres.

Subgenres/periods of history in Hip Hop include: Old school hip hop, New school hip hop, the so called "Gangsta rap", Underground hip hop, Alternative hip hop and Crunk/Snap music. At the turn of the 20th Century, in the United States and increasingly in the rest of the World, Hip Hop became extremely popular in the mainstream, possibly eclipsing Rock music. Hip Hop has an associated culture which has become very prominent in western popular culture. See Hip Hop culture.

Electronic music

The 20th century brought the first truly innovative instrument in centuries  — the theremin. For centuries before, music had either been created by drawing hair across taught metal strings (string instruments), constricting vibrating air (woodwinds and brass) or hitting something (percussion). The theramin, which operated by interrupting a magnetic field around the instrument, did not even have to be touched to produce a tone. Although its inventor (Leon Theremin) originally developed it for classical music as a way to prevent the repetitive stress injuries that often plagued musicians, it found use both as an instrument for scoring movies (Forbidden Planet) and in rock and roll (The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations)

As noted above, in the years following World War II, electronic music was embraced by progressive composers, and was hailed as a way to exceed the limits of traditional instruments. Although electronic music began in the world of classical composition, by the 1960s Wendy Carlos had popularized electronic music through the use of the synthesizer developed by Robert Moog with two notable albums The Well-Tempered Synthesizer and Switched-On Bach.

In the 1970s musicians such as Tangerine Dream, Suzanne Ciani, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Jean Michel Jarre, and the Japanese composers Isao Tomita and Kitaro further popularised electronic music, and the film industry also began to make extensive use of electronic soundtracks. From the late 1970s onward, much popular music was developed on synthesizers by pioneering groups like Heaven 17, The Human League, Art of Noise, and New Order. The development of the techno sound in Detroit, Michigan and house music in Chicago, Illinois in the early to late 1980s, and the later new beat and acid house movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s all fuelled the development and acceptance of electronic music into the mainstream and introduced electronic dance music to nightclubs.

Subgenres include, but are not limited to, a variety of dance oriented music (Techno, Trance, Goa, House, Drum and Bass, Jungle, Break Beats) as well as IDM, Trip Hop, Ambient, Dark Wave, and Experimental. Because of the recent explosion of electronic music, the lines between electronic subgeneres can be fuzzy and some of the above mentioned may be considered redundant or further subgenres themselves.

World music

To begin with, all the various musics listed in the 1980s under the broad category of world music were folk forms from all around the world, grouped together in order to make a greater impact in the commercial music market. Since then, however, world music has both influenced and been influenced by many different genres like hip hop, pop, and jazz. The term is usually used for all music made in a traditional way and outside of the Anglo-Saxon world, thus encompassing music from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and parts of Europe, and music by not native English speakers in Anglo-Saxon countries, like Native Americans or Indigenous Australians.

World music radio programs these days will often be playing African or reggae artists, crossover Bhangra, Cretan Music and Latin American jazz groups, etc.

New Age music

Electronic and world music, together with progressive rock and religious music are the elements from which new age music has developed. Works within this genre tend to be predominantly peaceful in overall style but with an emphasis on energy and gentle vibrancy. Pieces are composed to aid meditation, to energise yoga, tai chi and exercise sessions or to encourage connections to the planet Earth (in the sense of a spiritual concept of Mother Earth or, perhaps Gaia). There are also new age compositions which sit equally comfortably in the world music category.

New age music has developed from genre-crossing work like Neil Diamond's soundtrack music for the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from alternative jazz/rock/classical bands like Third Ear Band or Quintessence and experimental work in general. One advantage of this category is that it enables musicians the freedom to do work which might have been stifled elsewhere. Enthusiasts of new age music generally share a set of core common understandings including a belief in the spirit and in the ability to change the world for the better in peaceful ways.

Popular new age artists of the 20th century include Suzanne Ciani, Enya, Yanni, Kitaro, George Winston (solo piano), and many more. Labels include Private Music, Windham Hill, Narada, Higher Octave among others. Private Music and Windham Hill later merged into the BMG group and reorganized under RCA/Victor, while Narada joined with Higher Octave and EMI.

See also

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