free web tracker ...

Music Merit Badge Guides

Music Merit Badge Guide

Music is a universal language that echoes through our lives from our earliest memories, binding us together in a symphony of emotions. It is an integral part of our existence, from the lullabies that soothed us as infants to the varied genres we explore and cherish as we mature.

One can find music not only in man-made creations but in the harmonious sounds of nature too—the rustling of leaves in the wind, the babbling brook, the birds singing at dawn, or the evocative howl of a distant coyote. These sounds, in their profound silence or vibrant intensity, have inspired countless musicians and composers to translate life into music.

The history of music is a vast, fascinating journey, tracing the footprints of tradition, exploration, and innovation. From classical symphonies to rock anthems, new music continues to be shaped, and the untapped potential for the creation of future music remains boundless.

Earning a Music merit badge doesn’t necessarily require one to play an instrument or enroll in lessons. This article serves as your compass, guiding you through your musical journey, whether you’re an avid musician or simply a music enthusiast.

Music Merit Badge Requirements

1. Sing or play a simple song or hymn chosen by your counselor, using good technique, phrasing, tone, rhythm, and dynamics. Read all the signs and terms of the score.
2. Name the five general groups of musical instruments. Create an illustration that shows how tones are generated and how instruments produce sound.
3. Do TWO of the following:
(a) Attend a live performance, or listen to three hours of recordings from any two of the following musical styles: blues, jazz, classical, country, bluegrass, ethnic, gospel, musical theater, or opera. Describe the sound of the music and the instruments used. Identify the composers or songwriters, the performers, and the titles of the pieces you heard. If it was a live performance, describe the setting and the reaction of the audience. Discuss your thoughts about the music.

(b) Interview an adult member of your family about music. Find out what the most popular music was when he or she was your age. Find out what his or her favorite music is now, and listen to three of your relative’s favorite tunes with him or her. How do those favorites sound to you? Had you ever heard any of them? Play three of your favorite songs for your relative, and explain why you like these songs. Ask what he or she thinks of your favorite music.

(c) Serve for six months as a member of a school band, choir, or other organized musical group, or perform as a soloist in public six times.

(d) List five people who are important in the history of American music and explain to your counselor why they continue to be influential. Include at least one composer, one performer, one innovator, and one person born more than 100 years ago.
4. Do ONE of the following:
(a) Teach three songs to a group of people. Lead them in singing the songs, using proper hand motions.

(b) Compose and write the score for a piece of music of 12 measures or more, and play this music on an instrument.

(c) Make a traditional instrument and learn to play it.
5. Define for your counselor intellectual property (IP). Explain how to properly obtain and share recorded music.

The Answer for Requirement Number 1

Earning the Music merit badge involves demonstrating your understanding and ability to perform a piece of music. Here’s how you can approach the task:

  1. Choose a Song or Hymn: Your counselor will select a simple song or hymn for you to perform. You should be familiar with it and comfortable singing or playing it on your chosen instrument.
  2. Good Technique: The technique involves how you physically produce music, either by singing or playing an instrument. It includes things like correct hand position, breath control, and efficient use of your muscles.
  3. Phrasing: Musical phrasing refers to the way musicians shape a sequence of notes in a passage of music to express an emotion or idea. It’s similar to how in speech, phrases are used to convey a complete thought.
  4. Tone: In music, the tone refers to the sound quality or character. For singers, it’s about how your voice sounds; for instrumentalists, it’s about how your instrument sounds.
  5. Rhythm: Rhythm is the pattern of beats or a series of beats in a piece of music. It’s the heartbeat of any song and includes elements like tempo (speed), meter (beat grouping), and articulation (note length).
  6. Dynamics: Dynamics relate to the volume of the music. It’s about the variations in loudness and softness of a song or piece.
  7. Reading Signs and Terms of the Score: A music score is a written representation of a piece of music. It includes various signs and terms that indicate pitch (how high or low a note is), rhythm, speed, and expressive qualities like dynamics and articulation.

Here’s a simple table illustrating some basic musical signs and terms:

Musical Sign/TermMeaning
Treble ClefIndicates higher pitches, often played with the right hand on a keyboard or by instruments like the flute or violin.
Bass ClefIndicates lower pitches, often played with the left hand on a keyboard or by instruments like the cello or tuba.
Sharp (#)Raises the pitch of a note by a half-step.
Flat (♭)Lowers the pitch of a note by a half-step.
Crescendo (cresc.)Gradually get louder.
Decrescendo (decresc.)Gradually get quieter.

Make sure to practice thoroughly before you perform for your counselor, and most importantly, enjoy the music!

The Answer for Requirement Number 2

Music can be produced by a variety of instruments, and these are generally classified into five main groups. They are:

  1. Strings: These include instruments like the guitar, violin, cello, and harp. Sound is produced by vibrating the strings, which is typically achieved by plucking, striking, or bowing them.
  2. Woodwinds: This group contains instruments like the flute, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone. They produce sound by blowing air across a reed or an opening in the instrument.
  3. Brass: Trumpets, trombones, tubas, and French horns belong in this group. They generate sound when the player buzzes their lips against the mouthpiece, creating vibrations that travel through the instrument.
  4. Percussion: This category includes instruments like the drum, tambourine, marimba, and cymbals. They produce sound when struck, shaken, or scraped.
  5. Keyboard: The piano, organ, and synthesizer are examples of keyboard instruments. Sound is produced when a key is pressed, which either causes a hammer to strike a string (in a piano), opens an air passage (in an organ), or generates an electronic signal (in a synthesizer).

Illustrating how tones are generated and how instruments produce sound would require drawings or visual aids, which text-based AI can’t provide. However, here’s a simplified textual explanation:

  1. Strings: The player plucks, bows, or strikes the string. The vibration of the string creates a sound wave that resonates within the body of the instrument, amplifying the sound.
  2. Woodwinds: The player blows air across a reed or opening, causing the air inside the instrument to vibrate. This creates a sound wave.
  3. Brass: The player buzzes their lips against a cup-shaped mouthpiece. This vibration travels through the instrument, creating sound.
  4. Percussion: The player strikes, shakes, or scrapes the instrument. This action creates vibrations that are transmitted as sound waves.
  5. Keyboard: When a key is pressed, it causes a mechanism inside the instrument to create sound. In a piano, a hammer strikes a string; in an organ, it opens an air passage; in a synthesizer, it generates an electronic signal.

The Answer for Requirement Number 3b

Completing this task is a beautiful opportunity to connect with an adult family member and understand their musical preferences, as well as share your own. Here’s a step-by-step guide to conducting this musical interview:

  1. Prepare for the Interview: Before you start, prepare a few questions related to their favorite music when they were your age, their current favorite music, and any specific songs they particularly enjoy.
  2. Conduct the Interview: Begin the conversation by asking about popular music during their youth. What genre was it? Who were the popular artists? What made that music special for them? Transition then to what they enjoy listening to now, and ask them to share three of their favorite songs.
  3. Listen Together: Take the time to listen to the three songs they’ve chosen. As you listen, observe not just the music, but also your family member’s reactions. Are they singing along, tapping their feet, or reminiscing about past times?
  4. Reflect on Their Music: After listening, share your thoughts on their favorite songs. Were they familiar to you? How did they make you feel? What did you like or not like about them?
  5. Share Your Music: Now, it’s your turn to share three of your favorite songs. As the music plays, explain why these songs are special to you. It could be the lyrics, the melody, the artist’s voice, or even memories associated with the song.
  6. Ask for Their Opinion: After listening to your favorites, ask for their thoughts. Did they enjoy them? Why or why not?

Remember, the objective of this activity is to gain insights into their musical world, share your own, and perhaps find common ground. It’s about appreciation and understanding, not critique. Make sure to approach it with openness and respect for each other’s preferences.

The Answer for Requirement Number 3d

Music has been an integral part of American history and culture. Many individuals have left an indelible mark on its evolution. Here are five notable figures who played significant roles in different capacities and continue to influence music today:

  1. Composer – Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Known as “the Dean of American Composers,” Copland significantly influenced 20th-century music with his incorporation of folk and jazz elements into classical music. His works like “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man” are American classics. Copland’s ability to create music that resonates with the American spirit ensures his lasting influence.
  2. Performer – Elvis Presley (1935-1977): Often dubbed “the King of Rock and Roll,” Presley transformed American music with his unique blend of pop, country, gospel, and rhythm and blues. His energetic performance style and charismatic persona made him a cultural icon. Presley paved the way for future rock and pop artists and continues to inspire performers today.
  3. Innovator – Ray Charles (1930-2004): A pioneer in soul music, Charles combined blues, gospel, and jazz to create a new sound that left a lasting impact on American music. He broke down racial barriers in the music industry and influenced a generation of artists across various genres. His innovation continues to inspire modern soul, R&B, and pop musicians.
  4. Person Born More Than 100 Years Ago – Louis Armstrong (1901-1971): Known as “Satchmo,” Armstrong was a jazz trumpeter, singer, and one of the pivotal figures in jazz history. His innovative skills as an instrumentalist and distinctive gravelly voice have influenced countless musicians. Armstrong’s improvisation techniques and charismatic stage presence continue to shape jazz music.
  5. Crossover – Bob Dylan (1941-present): Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has influenced American music and culture for over five decades. His songs of the 1960s, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. Dylan’s profound lyrics and unique blend of folk, rock, country, gospel, and blues have significantly influenced numerous artists across various genres.

These individuals, through their innovative compositions, performances, and unique styles, continue to shape and inspire the future of American music.

The Answer for Requirement Number 4b

Composing a piece of music can be an enriching experience, allowing you to express yourself through sounds and rhythms. However, I’m unable to compose music directly or play an instrument.

Nevertheless, I can certainly guide you through the process of composing a 12-measure piece of music:

  1. Choose Your Instrument: Select an instrument that you’re comfortable with. Your familiarity with the instrument will aid you in the composition process.
  2. Define the Key and Time Signature: The key of a piece determines the home note or chord. The time signature defines how many beats are in each measure. A common time signature is 4/4, which means there are four beats in each measure.
  3. Compose a Melody: Start by composing a simple melody. It could be anything from a sequence of long, held-out notes, to a more complex line of quicker notes. Keep it within the 12 measures.
  4. Add Harmony: Once you have your melody, consider the chords or other notes that can go with each part of your melody. This step might not apply if you’re writing for a single-line instrument, like a flute or a trumpet.
  5. Consider Rhythm: Rhythm is a crucial aspect of music. Make sure your composition isn’t just a string of quarter notes. Add variety with half notes, eighth notes rests, and so on.
  6. Write Your Score: Now that you’ve composed your piece, you’ll need to write it down. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are many online resources and software (like MuseScore, which is free) that can help you create a professional-looking score.
  7. Play Your Piece: Finally, play your composed music on your instrument. This is your chance to hear your creation and make any final tweaks to your composition.

The Answer for Requirement Number 5

Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols, names and images used in commerce. It’s protected by law under patents, copyright, and trademarks, enabling people to earn recognition or financial benefit from their inventions or creations.

When it comes to music, IP largely deals with copyright laws. Copyright in music protects the rights of composers, lyricists, performers, and producers, allowing them to control how their work is used and earn revenue from their work. This includes the right to perform, record, broadcast, and make adaptations or translations of the work.

Obtaining and sharing recorded music while respecting IP involves several steps:

  1. Buy from Authorized Sources: Always purchase music from a legitimate source, such as an online music store or a physical CD shop. Buying from authorized sources ensures that the artists and music companies are fairly compensated for their work.
  2. Respect Copyright Laws: When you purchase a piece of music, you don’t own the copyright to that music; you simply have the right to listen to it privately. Any reproduction, public performance, or distribution of the music without explicit permission from the copyright owner is generally illegal.
  3. Legal Sharing: If you wish to share music with others, consider services that have licensing agreements with the music industry, such as Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube. You can share songs with friends via playlists, or share links to the music hosted on these platforms.
  4. Obtain Proper Licenses for Public Use: If you want to use the music for a public event, in a commercial, or for some other non-personal use, you generally need to obtain a license from the copyright owner or a collective rights management organization. This often involves paying a fee, which helps support the artists who created the music.

Understanding and respecting IP is crucial in ensuring the creators of music can continue to make a living from their work, fostering a healthy and vibrant music industry.

Prepare Before Play

Prepare Before Play

Be sure to choose an instrument you will enjoy. You should like its sound, and the action of playing it-fingers on keys, strings-should appeal to you.

Maybe you see yourself playing trombone in a marching band, playing guitar in a rock band, or trying out new pieces by yourself on the piano.

1. Buying an Instrument

Buying an Instrument Music

Before buying an instrument, ask the advice of your music instructor or a friend who is an accomplished musician. They should know about the quality, cost, and the most reliable places to buy musical instruments.

Expert advice can save you time, money, and disappointment. Some instruments, such as a new piano, are costly, but music dealers also offer rentals and payment plans.

Secondhand and “school” instruments (instruments designed for beginners) also will cost less. If you are shopping for a used instrument, ask if the dealer offers a guarantee.

Many schools lend instruments and provide instruction for beginning students. You might be able to start your lessons at school. Later, if you like the instrument, you could find a private teacher for individual lessons.

You will get more satisfaction and longer use from a reconditioned instrument of good make than from a new instrument of inferior quality. Whatever instrument you buy, insure it against loss or damage.

2. Choosing a Teacher

Choosing a Teacher Music

A smaller community might have only one or two music teachers. In a larger city, you will find a bewildering array of instructors and music schools.

Ask the advice of someone knowledgeable, and be sure to check with friends at school or in your troop who take lessons. A professional musician experienced in performance might also be a good instructor.

If no one nearby teaches the instrument you want to play, you might try a self-instruction course temporarily.

Have someone who knows music help you with the basics: note values, counting time, clef, and note placement, as well as holding fingering, and caring for the instrument.

A reliable instruction book will be helpful. Ask your music teacher or merit badge counselor for recommendations. Check your local music store, school, or public library.

Signs and Terms

Signs and Terms

Whether you sing. play an instrument, or whistle to fulfill requirement 1, it will help if you know how to read music. You and your counselor can review the meanings of the instructions and symbols on the piece you plan to play.

Practice until you can perform the piece using good technique, and phrasing. tone, rhythm, tempo, and dynamics.

Let’s look at these terms.

TechniqueThe way a musician handles the technical details of playing an instrument or singing.
PhrasingGrouping notes to form distinct musical phrases. A phrase is a short musical thought, typically two to four measures (bars) long.
ToneSound quality.
RhythmA steady pattern of beats or time units in a piece of music. Some beats in the pattern are accented.
TempoThe speed at which a piece of music is played. A slow tempo s calm and soothing, while a quick tempo can be exciting. When practicing difficult pieces of music, performers often play at a slow tempo while they leam the tough spots.
DynamicsDegrees of sound volume and the ways to change the volume.

Sound and Music

scout marching band play music

To create sound, something must vibrate (move rapidly back and forth). Your vocal cords vibrate when you speak, shout, or sing. Put your hand on your throat as you speak and you will feel the vibrations. The string of a guitar vibrates when plucked.

A drum’s surface vibrates when tapped with a drum stick. The vibrations, or sound waves, travel through the air to your ears.

The sound waves reach your eardrum, causing it o vibrate so that you hear the sound.

Different sounds have different-shaped sound waves according to each sound’s loudness (the force of the vibration) and frequency (the number of times per second that the sound wave vibrates).

A high note on the violin has a fast vibration; the sound waves are close together, creating a high frequency. The tuba’s low-pitched notes indicate a slower vibration; sound the waves are farther apart, creating a low frequency.

Also Read: Bugling Merit Badge Guide

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments usually are grouped according to how they produce sound. The five main groups, or families, are percussion, wind, strings, keyboard, and electronic.

1. Percussion Instruments

Percussion means striking together to produce noise. All percussion instruments are struck-some with sticks or hand mallets, some by hand, and some by one part of the instrument hitting another, as with cymbals or castanets.

Some have a definite pitch, such as the timpani, chimes, xylophone, and glockenspiel. Some have an indefinite pitch, such as the tambourine, drum, and castanets.

The most common drums are the snare drum and bass drum. The snare drum has snares (cords) stretched across its lower head.

It has two forms: a smaller, shallower model called the concert snare drum; and a larger, deeper model called the field drum. Both are played with regular drumsticks.

The bass drum is the large drum used to mark the beats in music. The drummer strikes it with large mallets that are handheld or mounted on a foot pedal.

Attached to the bass drum, or ready nearby, maybe several accessories: cymbals, tom-toms, triangle, tambourine, maracas, whistles, cowbells, gongs, and other instruments that produce exciting and unusual sounds.

In jazz. and rock music, the drummer is the driving force of the rhythm. The jazz or rock drum kit usually consists of a snare drum, a bottom drum (bass or kick drum), crash cymbals, a ride cymbal, and tom-toms.

There is also a high hat (often spelled hi-hat), which is a pair of cymbals the drummer opens and closes with a foot pedal while playing on the upper cymbal with a drumstick or brush.

2. Wind Instruments

Wind Instruments music

The wind instruments include the woodwinds (flute, piccolo, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon) and the brass instruments (trumpet, French horn, tuba, and trombone).

All wind instruments are played by making the air vibrate within a hollow tube. The longer the tube, the longer: the column of vibrating air inside the instrument, the slower the vibration, and the lower the pitch.

Each wind instrument has a way for the player to change the length of the ait column to produce different notes.

A. Woodwind instruments

The flute and piccolo are edge-blown instruments. They are played by blowing air across a hole in the hollow tube of the instrument. The other woodwind instruments are called reed instruments.

Sound is made when a reed-a thin piece of cane, wood, or plastic-vibrates against a mouthpiece. The clarinet and saxophone have a single-reed mouthpiece. The oboe and bassoon have two reeds bound together.

These vibrate against each other when air is blown through them. A woodwind has holes along its length. The player shortens or lengthens the column of vibrating air in the instrument by opening and closing these holes.

Vibrations occur only in the air between the mouthpiece and the first open hole. If all the holes are closed, the air column is at its longest and the lowest possible note is made.

B. Brass instruments

A brass instrument is played by blowing air into a cup-shaped or funnel-shaped mouthpiece, which makes the air inside the instrument vibrate.

Except for the trombone and bugle, all brass instruments use finger-operated valves to open sections of tubing to make different notes.

The trombonist lengthens the tube by moving the slice. The bugle is a simple tube with no mechanical control.

3. Stringed Instruments

Stringed Instruments music

Stringed instruments fall into two groups: those that are bowed, such as the violin, viola, and cello, and those that are plucked, such as the guitar, banjo, lute, and harp.

The weight, length, and tension of each string vary the pitch. A short, thin, tight string makes rapid vibrations and a higher pitch.

A thicker, longer, looser string makes slower vibrations and a lower pitch. Pressing a string changes its length and tightness.

A. Bowed instruments

While these instruments can also be plucked, they mainly are played by drawing a bow back and forth across the strings.

The pitch is varied by pressing the strings with the fingers of the other hand. The vibrations travel into the body of the instrument, the soundbox, where they resonate.

B. Plucked instruments

Harp strings are plucked with the fingers. Other plucked instruments, also called fretted instruments, have a series of frets, or ridges, that mark where the strings should be pressed to vary the tones (The fingers are placed between the frets.)

Guitars, ukuleles, and banjos are stringed instruments that are plucked with the fingers or with a small pick.

4. Keyboard Instruments

Keyboard instruments music

Keyboard instruments combine many of the features of instruments from other groups. For example, the piano is both a percussion and a stringed instrument-it makes a sound when a felt-covered hammer strikes a metal string.

When you press a key on a harpsichord, a string is plucked. The organ uses air forced through reeds or hollow tubes that are much like whistles, or electric vibrations.

5. Electronic Instruments

Electronic instruments fall into two groups: traditional instruments whose normal sound is altered electronically, such as the electric guitar, and instruments that produce sound electronically (such as the synthesizer).

An electric guitar uses an electric pickup to Sense vibrations in a plucked string.

The pickup converts the vibrations to electric signals, which are sent to an amplifier and then converted back into vibrations by a speaker. Then the speaker produces the sound.

Synthesizers are computerized machines that can imitate the sounds of many instruments and produce a great variety of other sounds.

They generate electric signals or replay pre-recorded signals (called “sampled sounds”). These signals are sent to an amplifier and converted to vibrations by a speaker system.


 musical instrument digital interface (MIDI)

The musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) lets you use a computer to record, edit, and playback music using MIDI-compatible electronic instruments-usually keyboard synthesizers.

With MIDI, you can compose and edit your own music, learn about music theory, or turn a home computer into doing it yourself music mixing studio.

Many composers today write music on a computer that has MIDI instruments attached to it. Using special software, a composer tells a MIDI synthesizer what notes to play, and at what tempo and volume.

The composer can “cut and paste” to rearrange music sequences and fix mistakes by editing individual notes.

The composer selects what musical instrument the synthesizer should sound like-a piano, for example, or maybe a violin, guitar, flute, trumpet, or drum.

Using MIDI instruments, a composer working alone can play all the parts in a musical composition, and all of the various instruments.

With a MIDI-equipped computer and synthesizer, a composer can create a virtual orchestra at home and listen to compositions at any time.

Music Appreciation

Music Appreciation

Attending live performances is the best way to experience music. Look for concerts by popular artists, bands, community orchestras and choruses, and at colleges and universities. Some recitals by college students are open to the public for free.

If there are no live performances in your area, you can listen to recordings-CDs, tapes, and records. Check radio and public television schedules, too. Internet radio offers music from all genres (types) at your demand.

Videos and DVDs of concerts and operas are available at libraries and video rental stores. Also, many artists and record labels offer free samples of their music online.

Whenever you download music from the Internet, be sure you have your parent’s permission and that you are not infringing upon copyright laws.

If you choose the requirements music merit badge on 3a or 3b, you might find yourself listening to music more intently than ever before.

Take notes so you can recall your impressions of each piece of music when you talk with your counselor.

Also note such information as composers or songwriters, orchestras or performers, conductors, and solo artists. Save the program from any performance you attend.

Classical Music

Classical Music

Classical music is written mostly for concerts, operas, ballets, and religious services. Classical music is also called “art music.” Here are some types of classical music and performances to which you might listen.

1. Symphony

A major musical work played by an orchestra. Most symphonies have four movements or parts. Famous symphonies include Beethoven’s Fifth (“da-da-da-DUM”) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (nicknamed the Jupiter Symphony).

2. Opera

A drama that is sung rather than spoken, usually accompanied by a full orchestra. Operas combine music, art, and drama.

They often are staged with impressive costumes, scenery, and lighting. The term grand opera describes operas with serious or tragic plots, in which every word is sung. Some of the best-known operas are:

  • Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)
  • Aida and Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
  • Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-75)
  • Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

3. Operetta

A shorter, less serious form of operatic art, with spoken dialogue and humorous romantic plots. Some of the best-known operettas are:

  • The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado by composer William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and librettist Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
  • Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert (1859-1924)
  • The Student Prince by Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)
  • Rose Marie and The Vagabond King by Rudolf Friml (1879-1972)

4. Oratorio

A serious composition sung by a chorus and soloists accompanied by a full orchestra. It usually is religious and based on the Bible. There are no costumes, scenery, or action. Some of the great orators are:

  • Saint Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  • Messiah by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
  • The Creation and The Seasons by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
  • Saint Paul and Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47)

5. Ballet

Great music has been created for classical ballet. Igo: Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed music for The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) created the music for Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. The music has often been performed and recorded apart from the ballet performances.

6. Program music

Program music describes something or tells a story. Examples are Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé (1892 1972), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas (1865-1935), and Peter and the Wolf by Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953).

The composer creates the piece to inspire certain images, thoughts, and feelings in the listener. Sometimes the description is barely suggested, or the title indicates the meaning. Sometimes the entire story behind the music is printed in the program.

Popular Music

The many different styles of popular music include bluegrass, blues, country, folk, gospel, jazz, rap, rock, and soul. Some popular music loses its appeal quickly, but many pop songs have lasted for decades, even centuries.

Whatever style of today’s music you like, you can be sure it has a history. The music sounds the way it does today because it has been shaped along the way by songwriters and performers.

Pop, jazz, folk, blues, country, bluegrass, gospel, rock, and rap have borrowed from one another, and many artists work in several genres.

1. Pop

Pop covers a wide territory of romantic songs, novelty tunes, songs with messages, movie themes, and more. Radio “crooners” with soft, almost whispering styles were popular in the late 1920s.

In the 1940s, big-band singers like Frank Sinatra became sensations. After World War 11, a stronger economy meant teenagers had money to buy records. New music was written to appeal to young consumers.

2. Country

Country music developed from British ballads and folk songs that were preserved in the South.

In the mid-1920s, radio shows such as the National Bam Dance in Chicago and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville began to broadcast this “hillbilly music” to a wider audience. But the music was already changing.

Jimmie Rodgers combined the Southern mountain ballad with the blues and a vocal embellishment called the yodel to produce a new style of country. Rodgers’ songs were among the first to attract a national audience to rural Southern music.

Country music turned to the West with the success of cowboy movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Honky-tonk music followed and dealt with subjects like love and loss. Later, a new relaxed style with an easy beat, known as “the Nashville Sound,” developed.

3. Bluegrass

Country music gave birth to a new style called bluegrass, pioneered by Bill Monroe and his band, the Blue Grass Boys, beginning in 1939.

Bluegrass is characterized by complicated vocal and instrumental solos and distinctive vocal harmonies including duet, trio, and quartet harmony singing.

A typical bluegrass band has a guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bass.

Bands sometimes feature a kind of steel guitar called a reso phonic guitar Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were important bluegrass performers from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Among the major bluegrass groups of recent years are the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Hot Rize, and Alison Krauss with her group Union Station.

4. Gospel

The father of gospel music, most experts agree, is Thomas A. Dorsey, composer of such well-known songs as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord, and There Will Be Peace in the Valley.”

As a young blues pianist, Dorsey accompanied blues singers Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Then he began to write religious music that had jazz rhythms and blues flavor.

Gospel emerged from the African American church to reach an ever-widening audience.

The golden age of the gospel was from 1945 to 1965, but the tradition and the music thrive today. The gospel style is vigorous, fervent, and intensely spiritual.

Famous gospel performers include Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Mississippi Mass Choir, James Cleveland, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Five Blind Bove of Alabama.

5. Folk

Folk music in the 20th century has often featured songs of protest against the conditions of the day.

Woody Guthrie wrote protest songs as the nation struggled with the poverty brought on by the dust storms and economic troubles of the 1930s. You might know his song This Land Is Your Land.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, folk singing became especially popular. Folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary rose to fame.

6. Rock

Teenagers claimed rock ‘n’ roll, the new music that emerged in the mid-1950s, as their own music.

Today’s rock music evolved from early rock ‘n’ roll to cover a wide variety of vocal styles and instrumentation.

Rock music has roots in rhythm and blues (R & B), which combines blues, jazz, and gospel styles. R & B has a powerful beat and loud, intense music and vocals. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were prominent R&B artists.

Rock also drew from country music. A typical rock song has a driving beat, lots of volume, and simple repetitive phrases.

The first rock ‘n’ roll hit was Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets in 1954. In the late 1950s, Elvis Presley launched his career and was on his way to becoming the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

In the 1960s, James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and others sang rock music called soul.

Detroit became a center for black singers, and the “Motown” sound developed there. Well-known Motown singers include the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Some famous names in rock are the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, U2, and Stevie Wonder.

7. Heavy Metal

Heavy metal is loud, theatrical, aggressive, wild and raw, and often controversial. Metal music has been criticized for its themes of death and destruction. Many heavy metal songs express anger or desperation and intense feelings of alienation.

Metal music takes advantage of the modern electric guitar’s abilities to make unusual sounds through effects such as feedback, distortion, and reverb (an electronically produced echo effect).

Metal borrows from rock ‘n’ roll and the blues, with influences from classical music.

8. Rap

Rap, with its rhythmic spoken lyrics, is a kind of street poetry set to music. Rap speaks openly about tough topics.

Rap artists often talk about the hardships and violence experienced by many young African Americans in big cities.

The lyrics of some rap songs have caused controversy for their emphasis on racism and violence. Rap grew out of African American street culture in New York City during the 1970s.

It culture in New York City during the 1970s. It became the most popular new music to emerge in the late 20th century.

Early rap groups included Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. Performers such as Salt-N-Pepa and MC Hammer brought rap to a mainstream audience.

Other influential rap performers have included Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and Arrested Development.

A Mixture of Music

Musicians today often blur the line between classical and popular music. Josh Groban sings pop, rock, opera, and classical. Rock star Paul McCartney writes classical music.

Jazz singer Bobby McFerrin and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed together. Opera star Kathleen Battle sang with pop star Janet Jackson.

Rock composer Prince wrote the score for the Joffrey Ballet’s Billboards. The Kronos Quartet (a string quartet) performed works by Ornette Coleman, Charles Ives, and Jimi Hendrix.

Christopher Rouse composed work influenced by Beethoven, Indian raga music, and Elvis Presley.

The music of America developed out of international musical traditions and forms. But jazz, blues, and musical theater are America’s unique contributions to the world.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!