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So the original classical music comes from one fairly short era. The other great composers of Western music lived during other periods: Bach and Handel were Baroque era composers, for example; Brahms and Wagner, Romantic ; and Ravel and Debussy, Impressionist. But most people do not know which music is from which period. So all of the music of the great Western composers of the past (as well as modern art music that is part of the same tradition) is lumped together and called classical . The art music of other cultures is also often called classical; for example, people speak of the classical music of India.

The terms "folk music" and "pop music" also have more than one meaning. The folk music of a culture is the music that is passed down from one generation to the next, often without writing it down. It includes many different kinds of music: lullabies and children's singing games, tunes that everyone enjoys singing together or dancing to, songs for celebrations, ceremonies, and holidays. Folk music can gradually change as it gets passed along. Usually nobody remembers who originally wrote it, or who changed it, and there may be more than one version of any particular folk song. Since ancient times, folk music has been the music of ordinary people, not the ruling class or professional musicians. In every culture, children learned and remembered the music that everyone enjoyed the most, and the music that was important to their traditions.

The modern recording industry has changed things, though. In many cultures, pop music has largely replaced folk music as the music that everyone knows. Unlike folk music, it has usually been written recently and belongs to professional musicians, and new popular tunes quickly replace old ones. Even the types of music that are considered popular can change quickly. The term pop music can refer to a specific kind of popular music, as in "bubblegum pop". Popular music is also a general term for any type of music that is or has been a top seller. This includes most types of rock music and some kinds of jazz.

As the rise of recording pushed aside traditional music, some musicians made a point of recording traditional folk songs, so they would not be lost altogether. Some also wrote new songs in a "folk" style that enjoyed some popularity, particularly in the 1960's. Although these modern tunes do not fit the traditional definition, they are also called folk music .

Suggestions for listening and further study

It can be difficult to follow a discussion of music without hearing some examples. If you would like to hear some music in the categories above, or you are planning to present this lesson to a class, here are some easy-to-find suggestions. Some categories also include suggestions for where to start if you want more information.

Tonal, atonal, and modal music

  • To hear tonal music, turn on the radio and listen to just about any station, unless your Classical station is playing twentieth century music.
  • In the modal music category, medieval chant and the classical music of India are easiest to find.
  • Even in the category of twentieth century music, the shelves tend to be stocked with the work of composers who stayed with some sort of tonality (Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland, for example). For atonality look for John Cage, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, or Edgard Varese.

Western classical

  • From the actual classical period: listen to anything by Mozart or Haydn, or Beethoven's early works.
  • From other periods: listen to Bach or Vivaldi (Baroque), Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, or Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven's later works (Romantic), Ravel or Debussy (Impressionist), Stravinsky, Hindemith, or Schoenberg (Modern).
  • A History of Western Music by Donald Jay Grout is a scholarly source of information.
  • The Music Makers , edited by Clive Unger-Hamilton, is an easy-to-read combination of history and reference book.
  • Most standard music dictionaries and encyclopedias also focus almost exclusively on Western Classical music.
  • For children, there are many appropriate picture books and even videos on the lives and music of the most famous composers. Also, look for picture books that summarize the plot of a famous opera or ballet.
  • Any standard music theory book or course will introduce the basics of Western music.

Non-western classical

  • The only easy-to-find items in this category are Indian Classical music, for example the performances of Ravi Shankar.
  • A web search for classical music from a particular country may turn up some sound clips. At the time of this writing, for example, sound clips could be found of Chinese Opera and Tunisian classical music.

Western folk

  • For the sound of traditional Western folk music, look for collections of folk music from England or Australia, sea shanties, or American cowboy songs. For young students, Wee Sing's "Fun 'n' Folk" and "Sing-Alongs" book-and-tape sets are good sources.
  • To hear modern folk-style music, listen to Joan Baez, John Denver, Bob Dylan's protest music, Simon and Garfunkel, or Peter, Paul and Mary.
  • The Rough Guide series of books and recordings includes some that examine modern folk artists. This would be a good place to start learning more on the subject of modern folk music.

Non-western folk

  • If you live in a Western culture, it can be difficult to find recordings of non-Western folk music, since most Western listeners do not have a taste for it. For children, Wee Sing publishes an "Around the World" book and tape with children's songs from all over.
  • The Music for Little People catalogue also has some recordings that introduce children to music from other cultures.
  • For adults, Ellipsis Arts publishes traditional music from non-Western cultures. Check your local library's recording section for music from Africa or Asia, or for the music of native Americans or Australians.
  • Some of the Rough Guide series focus on specific folk or traditional musics.

Music that combines western and non-western traditions

  • For music that has been combining elements of both for long enough to have developed its own traditions, listen to any jazz, blues, gospel, Latin dance, or reggae. There are many books on these musics, particularly on jazz and reggae. For a comprehensive audiovisual overview of jazz, try Ken Burns' PBS documentary.
  • Almost all popular music is heavily influenced by both African and European traditions. Turn on the radio.
  • To hear what is going on in modern Non-Western cultures as their musicians are influenced by American and European pop, listen to "World" music. The Rough Guide series is a good place to start learning about this subject.

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Source:  OpenStax, Special subjects in music theory. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2005 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10220/1.5
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