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Changes in Music in American History

    Beginnings of American Music

    • According to, American music was strongly associated with the music of the British Isles and other countries in Europe from 1607 until 1820. Much of this music was transmitted orally from generation to generation, and consisted mainly of folk songs from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany and Italy, as well as the more sophisticated concert music of each respective country. This music is heavily indebted to the harmonic and melodic traditions passed down from the forefathers of Western music, like Bach.

    American Folk Music

    • The colonization of America led to the development of unique American culture. While European music held influence over the first American styles, slight changes and idiosyncrasies surfaced due to the mixing of colonists with Native Americans and peoples of other cultures. As America became more populated and its inhabitants developed native dialects different from their European forebears, new versions of old folk songs developed and entirely new music was created by Americans.

      According to, early American folk music was melodically and harmonically indebted to its European roots, though the lyrical content dealt with American issues and culture rather than European. This sowed the seeds for later changes in music, such as the emergence of bluegrass and country music.

    The Blues

    • According to, the blues was the first entirely American style to emerge in the history of music. The blues differs from American folk music in that it derives its essence from the mixture of folk songs with elements of traditional African music. The blues combines the melodic nature of American folk music with the rhythmic styles of Africa. Blues also involves instruments that introduced new timbres to music as a whole, since slaves in America often created their own instruments out of household supplies to emulate the ones they knew from their homeland.


    • states that jazz emerged from further developments of the blues. As new instruments in America were proliferated, musicians experimented with new types of melodies and harmonies. This is primarily due to the mixture of cultures in America, since many inhabitants were not exposed to the traditions of Western European music. Therefore, American music continued to innovate, moving from the blues to more up-tempo styles like bluegrass and Dixieland. Musicians in these two styles began to improvise melodies and rhythms on the spot, birthing what is now known as jazz.

    Popular Music and Broadway

    • In the late 19th century, the blues, bluegrass, Dixieland and jazz all converged and began to homogenize into something cohesive that gave America its own definitive cultural identity. With the advent of recording technology, the population of the country could enjoy music created by other people without having to buy sheet music or attend concerts. This gave way to the rise of the notion of popular music made for the enjoyment of the masses, now simply referred to as "pop." Additionally, the aforementioned styles began to be common in musical theater, leading to the development of Broadway musicals in New York. According to the Muse's Muse website, that songwriting reached an explosion during this time, as people could begin to make money by writing and recording music, rather than doing it solely for recreation.

    Rock and Roll

    • The latest big invention America has concocted for the music world has been rock and roll. Rock and roll uses the driving rhythms of styles like blues, some of the improvisation of jazz and Dixieland and the lyrical qualities and melodies of folk and bluegrass music. Another large difference is that rock and roll generally is played with amplified instruments. As rock and roll gained massive popularity and supplanted other styles in popular culture, it became the primary form of popularly recorded music. Instruments like the electric guitar, bass and drum kit have become staples of rock and roll music, though each have roots in earlier American instruments.

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