The 20th century was an era of incredible change in music. Without exaggeration, these decades have introduced more innovations in global music than the previous 20 centuries, combined.
We have non-musical circumstances to thank for these changes. The advent of electricity and the internet, combined with greater wealth, manufacturing, and technology practices, as well as the ability to communicate and travel widely and cheaply, have all turned culture into a rock tumbler of musical ideas.
If you are looking to get started with playing music, or you are just curious about trends in music, check out the article below to learn about the music that defined decades of music listeners.
Blues music is built around a simple harmonic framework. In 12 bars (“measures,” to any readers who studied classically), the player explores chords I, IV, and V, with characteristic chromaticism (or “blues notes”) thrown into the mix. That’s it. What’s so revolutionary about that?
The Blues may not be complex unto itself, but it’s a foundation upon which endless variations can be created. From the blues came jazz, which is simply a more complex harmonic iteration of the blues framework. From the blues came rock, which started as the blues with noisier guitars and wilder performances. From rock came metal and punk and indie. From jazz came funk and hip-hop and trap. But it all goes back to the blues, which itself ties back to traditions from Africa.
All of these innovations are thanks to black American musical tradition and innovation. One could argue that there has been no more significant musical revolution in the past century, certainly none that has gone on to define the tastes, styles, and cultures of so many listeners.
Synthesizers and drum machines are arguably the most important instruments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The synthesizer was independently invented during the 1960s by Donald Buchla and Robert Moog, both using wildly different techniques to create analog electronic sounds that could be used in music. Earlier electronic musical instruments, such as a theremin and Ondes Martinot, existed before the analog synthesizer. Still, the instruments of choice for electronic music as we know it today were a creation of the 60s and 70s.
Synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic studio effects were used by revolutionary artists such as King Tubby, Joe Meek, Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, and Giorgio Moroder. Artists like these gave way to Disco, Techno, New Wave, and Synth Pop, which in turn gave us more recent chart-topping genres as EDM and bass music in their many forms.
Today, electronic music is most popular in club and festival music, and almost all Top 40 music on the radio is electronic in its composition and recording. Synthesizer and computer recording techniques also define the modern era of film and TV scoring. If we consider the “4 to the floor” dance beat that has been ubiquitous since the Disco era, this wave of music could be considered the most popular music genre in the world today.
Of course, “The Blues” and “The Beat” have come together in many ways in 2020. It’s hard to say if radio hip-hop is more closely related to the blues or electronic music traditions, as it draws from the lyrical and rhythmic standards of the former and the production and timbral standards of the latter.
Whatever the case, no one can argue that blues and beat music haven’t been defining trends in the past century, especially in the decades following the 1950s. Our music today may not sound very much like these original styles. Still, the sonic character and cultural attitude of both continue to define listeners at the forefront of their respective cultures.