If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Introduction to Popular Music

Folk Music (Roots Music): Folk music is music that was learned at home and taught from parents to children for generations. Record companies killed this. Gospel Music, African chants, Bluegrass, Cajun Zydeco, Jug Bands, and 'Old Time Music' are all folk genres. Country and The Blues also started as folk.

Country (Hillbilly) Music: Country today is really just like pop rock, where the singers have southern accents. But, it started as Folk Music, gradually taking on more and more influence from The Blues and other genres. Early on, Country added the African-American banjo, and, eventually (1956), the drums.

The Three Most Important Forms of roots music that developed into 20th Century pop are Ragtime, The Blues, and Boogie-Woogie, all being African-American music. From these three genres we get Jazz, Rock n’ Roll, Rhythm & Blues, and everything else.

Ragtime: was a form of popular/classical music that combined African rhythms with European concepts of melody and harmony. Ragtime songs were short and meant for dancing.

The Blues: Blues songs are very simple and sad, sung in minor keys. You can sing it alone, or in a small band. Feeling blue means feeling sad (how you feel when you have a bruise - modrina). In Blues, you sing a line, repeat it, and then sing a third line that responds to the first. It comes from Call and Response chants that African American slaves used to sing while working. Here’s an example:

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, babe, come snoopin’ round my door.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, babe, come snoopin’ round my door.
You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more.”

Boogie-Woogie: is a fast, upbeat dance music played on the piano that started around the same time as The Blues. It comes from Rag Time, and is very similar to Jazz. Boogie-Woogie is important because it’s really the first Rock n’ Roll. If you hear it, and imagine an electric guitar playing it – that’s Rock n’ Roll.

Jazz: is hard to define because it keeps evolving. Jazz started from Rag Time also. The three major innovations of Jazz were a singer, wind and brass instruments, and improvised, instrumental solos. Different kinds of Jazz include Swing, for dancing, and then more abstract forms like Bebop, Cool Jazz, and Free Jazz.

Boogie-Woogie, Jazz, and The Blues were all popular during Prohibition in America, when alcohol was illegal. Bands would play in illegal bars called “speakeasies”. This gave the music a bad reputation. Blues and Jazz bands eventually amplified their instruments to increase the volume, leading to the electric guitar.

Rhythm and Blues (R&B): R&B has meant different things at different times, but is mostly considered the combination of Blues and Gospel music, made famous by Ray Charles. Ray added backup singers and instruments such as piano, organ, and an orchestra to accompany the main vocalist.

Rock n’ Roll: The original Rock n’ Roll is different from the Rock we know today. It was fast dance music, similar to Boogie-Woogie, and played by black performers such as Chuck Berry. It also added snare drums. There are three important facts about Rock n’ Roll:

1. It used modern technology, including the new electric guitar, bass guitar, as well as new records, juke boxes, the radio, and television.

2. It was a product of capitalism, one of the first music genres to be dominated, almost invented, by record companies, starting a business approach to making music. Talent scouts traveled across the country, looking for new performers. Musicians were put together into bands, based on their looks and voice. Often times they would sing other people’s songs - they did what the company told them.

3. Most important, socially, it was one of the first times that black culture became accepted and copied by white people, bridging the gap and slowly helping to calm the hostility between these two races. Not only the music, but new forms of dance, like The Twist shocked the world, as society began to open and liberalize.

There are many kinds of Rock today: Blues Rock, Folk Rock, Pop Rock, Psychedelic, Glam, Progressive, Punk, Soft Rock, Experimental,  etc.

The British Invasion (1960’s): This refers almost exclusively to The Beatles who were a major hit in America, but it also includes many other bands, like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who. These Rock n’ Roll bands influenced the music industry, shifting focus away from R&B, Surfer Rock, and Folk. It changed the face of radio and TV. A second generation of British bands in the 80’s was called New Wave.

Soul (1960’s-70’s): Singing with soul means singing with spirit – anything sung from the heart. While some Soul music is fast and loud, such as James Brown, most of it is slower and softer, with love songs by Al Green and Marvin Gaye.

Funk (1960’s-70’s): Another style that grew from R&B and Soul. Funk is a dance music that maintains the notes of one chord, instead of playing an actual melody. George Clinton is the most famous singer.

Reggae (1960’s – Present): A style of music coming from Jamaica. Reggae started as Ska, a quick, Jamaican form of Jazz, which slowed down it’s tempo to begin Rocksteady, and then Reggae.

Hard Rock (1970’s-80’s): Also called Classic Rock, this is a harder, louder kind of music, with distortion, feedback, and loud, aggressive singers, yet still having a strong Blues influence.

Disco (1970’s): Was a fun, upbeat dance music with singers, emphasizing  synthesizers and a syncopated bass line. Famous groups include ABBA, the Bee Gees, The Village People, and The Jackson Five.

Heavy Metal (1970’s – The Present): Is an extreme form of hard rock, but angrier and scarier, with fast guitar solos, no longer similar to The Blues. The singers often scream. Lyrics may be scary and/or satanic, as a way to upset and tease religious conservatives.

Alternative (1980’s – The Present): Also called Underground or Indie music, developing independently from major record labels. Alternative mixes Punk, Folk, and Hard Rock. Guitars are the main instrument. The lyrics often have social or political messages, similar to Punk. Alternative includes Grunge and Britpop.

Rap/Hip Hop (1980’s – The Present): is speaking in rhyme, to the rhythm of a beat. Rap songs often repeat “samples” – audio clips from other songs, films, or TV. Rap songs also often have DJ’s who scratch records to the beat, and beatboxing – when someone sings the part of a drum.

Industrial Music (1980’s): is a loud, aggressive fusion of rock and experimental, electronic music. It’s a bit like Electronic Heavy Metal. Examples are Nine Inch Nails, and White Zombie.

Techno (1980’s - Present): is electronic dance music, starting in Detroit, Michigan. It’s repetitive, without singing.

Emo (1990’s): Short for Emotional, Emo is a form of rock that’s softer and more melodic, with confessional lyrics.

Dubstep (1990’s - Present): is electronic dance music, starting in South London. Dubstep has a syncopated rhythm, and uses “wobbly bass” or “wub” notes. It has some Reggae influence, and occasionally has a singer.

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