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Context: MusicalStuff

(ReadWith) TheSpecializationOfMusic

Genre is one of the most complex and fascinating ideas in music. Because a genre demarcates not just a set of pieces of music. But also a set of normative criterion for the evaluation of quality in music.

To the extent that we can make such normative evaluations of quality in music, such evaluations and criteria end at the boundary of the genre. There is no point judging the quality of 3 minute punk single in criteria designed for 19th century opera.

Genre and normativity are inextricably bound together. Perhaps defined in terms of each other. Or perhaps each could be refactored into a function of the other.

And this is very weird when you think about it.

It feels like genre is nothing but a convenience. A marketing category. A taxonomy to help organize our record shops and radio stations.

And yet if "quality" in music is a real, metaphysical category, (AestheticRealism) then it's extraordinary that something like genre should help to shape it.

If "quality" is a real metaphysical category, then genre must be as well.

Quora Answer : Why are there genres of music? Why are there different categories?

Feb 9, 2020

Genres are just a classification scheme.

They help us organize a large mass of music so that it's easier to locate and identify stuff we don't know.

They help record shops. So if you want something that's "like" Miles Davis and John Coltrane you go to the shelf named "jazz".

They help the publishing industry. If you want to buy a magazine that talks about bands like Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore you can buy a "metal" magazine without the risk that it's full of articles about ABBA and the BeeGees.

They help concert venues. You don't want to book a hard rock band as support for an acoustic singer-songwriter.

They even help musicians. Partly because musicians are almost always music lovers who appreciate some help in finding other similar artists to listen to and collaborate with. Partly because they help the musician and their audience find each other.

At the same time, often musicians DON'T want to be pigeon-holed. Musicians often slide from one genre to another.

The most frustrating experience in music curation is surely trying to map musicians onto genres. Musicians WANT to move from genre to another. Or blend them. While the logic of curation tends to want to put a musician or band into a particular category.

It's important to note that genre exists to help us navigate music we don't know. If you just want to organize your own collection which you DO know, you can organize it by artist, alphabetically. Or by year. It's your music, you know it. That can work fine for you.

But for music you don't know, genre is invaluable as a quick way of locating it.

Of course, genre doesn't really "exist" in any meaningful way beyond being our classification scheme. We could have chosen different categories. We could have drawn the boundaries differently. There's plenty of uncertainty at the edge cases or in-between zones. I have bands in my MP3 collection that I move from one genre to another every couple of years. Partly because, other music I acquire changes the shape of the whole collection.

For example, I just a got a few Blondie tunes in my collection. I've never listened to them much before but I'm enjoying these (fairly poppy) hits a lot at the moment. But this immediately throws up a dilemma. I had my Talking Heads in a rather large and loose category called "post-punk", along with everyone from The Cocteau Twins to Cardiacs. But add in Blondie and it's immediately obvious that Talking Heads and Blondie should be grouped close together. So should I make a separate "New Wave" category that's distinct from "Post-Punk"? Or is a sub-category of it? What about The Stranglers who I actually tend to listen to in the same playlist? Are they more New Wave or more Post Punk? And really, are The Cocteau Twins anything like this stuff? Maybe not, but does that mean I put them together into a more "ambient" / "mellow" category with The Durutti Column and Talk Talk? (I did ... but I'm not entirely happy with that approach.)

Taxonomy is a fun nerdish game. But it's not something to take too seriously. And certainly not worth fighting about. Genres are just our classification scheme to help us navigate music. To an extent, that influences institutions like labels and magazines and venues. And fan-bases. But there's no more to it than that.

Quora Answer : Can I create my own genre of music as a Musician?

Feb 14, 2020

It takes two.

The genre isn't created by the guy who creates the genre, if you see what I mean.

It's created by the next guy. The guy who copies your formula and makes something in the "same style".

Now, it's a genre.

Quora Answer : What genre is O Fortuna?

Feb 27, 2020

It's a bit sui generis.

There isn't really anything much like it.

You could kind of group it with some of Messiaen's choral work. Or other modernist choral masses.

Or Benjamin Britten

But it's profane rather than sacred. And quite jolly and tuneful compared to those.

In one sense it's early 20th century "pop modernism". Music with the orchestral stylings of the late Romantics / early Modernists. With a more popular "crowd pleasing" twist. More melody, more "hooks".

Possibly the nearest thing I'd classify it with is Holst's Planets

Mars for the dramaticity.

Neptune for the choir.

Or Stravinsky's Firebird

Seems that Orff was influenced by Stravinsky, particularly the use of folk tunes. He was also influenced by Debussy and his use of interesting colours and instruments.

Finally, I'd say it's likely that Orff has been very influential on film music and other popular orchestral composition. You'll find a lot of modern film music that sounds like Carmina Burana. And plausibly you might group him in your collection with that.

But I'd be inclined to put him with Stravinsky and Holst. Or if you stretch to a larger category, with Grieg and Rimsky Korsakov, Debussy, Satie, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Holst, Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainger. Maybe even Kurt Weill who, despite being more obviously "poppy" was at some point a friend of Orff's and one of his successful German contemporaries.

Quora Answer : Why does it seem there is less and less good and profound music and artwork being produced? Is the era of artistic creation over?

Jul 15, 2014

A bunch of reasons. Covered well by the other answers.

One which hasn't been covered is that art is getting more "speciated". Today there are thousands of genres of music, hundreds of visual arts etc. Dozens of types of movie.

Each of those genres has both its good quality stuff, made with flair and intuition, and deep understanding of the genre it belongs to. And a lot of dross that picks up and repeats a few superficial markers with little imagination or art.

The problem is that each genre has a bunch of different, insider criteria as to what counts as "good". And as an outsider to a genre, without feeling those rules, you can't tell which examples are good and which aren't. Which means you aren't exploring the good; just having the bad "happen to you".

It's active listening and active appreciation (connoisseurship if you like) that makes art valuable to you. And if you don't know how to appreciate a genre, naturally it won't convey much. And the more the genres fragment, the more art there is out there which you don't really know how to parse, the more the majority of art will look colourless and banal.

Now until fairly recently there was a respected bunch of critics who told us what was important. So even when we didn't really "get it", we believed that there was something there. Today we've more or less given up on trusting critics, believing we can just work things out for ourselves. But the result is we find ourselves locked into one or two genres that we discovered as teenagers but most of the rest of the expanding universe of art is a mystery to us. No one tells us it's particularly good. And we can't understand it ourselves. So we see nothing there.

Quora Answer : Most of the EDM beats sound the same. What are your views about it?

May 24, 2020

My views about it are that any genre you aren't familiar with "all sounds the same".

People who know nothing about jazz think that all jazz sounds the same. People who aren't familiar with classical music think that all classical music sounds the same.

Of course people who aren't familiar with EDM think that EDM all sounds the same.

Quora Answer : In objective terms, should rock'n'roll be considered the only good type of music?

Jul 16, 2020


The relationship between "good and bad" in music and "types" or "genres" of music is more interesting than some people think. Because genre can modify what counts as good and bad.

You can't set up some criteria for what makes a good classical sonata and then judge a 3 minute punk single on those same criteria. Punk has none of the things you'll be looking for. But will have all kinds of other virtues that sonata can't even imagine.

And that fact is fascinating.

But it's certainly not the case that only certain genres are, or can be, good.

All genres have good music within them. But what make the music good seems to change subtly from genre to genre.

Quora Answer : Is genre a recent invention in music? It seems classical composers were all doing more or less the same thing in terms of genre compared to today.

Jul 5, 2018


There's always been genre in music. A string quartet is different from a symphony is different from a mass etc.

Once you start listening more carefully that should be clear.

However today we have more recording techniques to help reinforce the differences in the genres. Genres today have very different soundworlds.

Whereas a recording of different classical pieces might take place in similar environments : big studio or concert hall; and use similar instruments. Violins, cellos etc. It's possible that the recordings you hear of classical aren't helping you distinguish in the way that recordings of, say rock vs. pop make very clear.