Music Definitions



Bluegrass music grew out of traditional string band music that formed the roots of country music. In the '40s, country music began to splinter into different directions, as honky tonk and country-pop became genres of their own. A certain segment of country musicians continued playing traditional string music. Led by Bill Monroe, these musicians adhered to the songs, structures, and conventions of string bands, but they made the music faster, harder, and more technically demanding. The result was bluegrass; the genre was named after Bill Monroe's backing band, the Blue Grass Boys. After its inception in the mid-'40s, bluegrass didn't change for nearly 20 years. In the late '60s, a number of bluegrass groups began expanding the possibilities of the genre, much to the chagrin of many of the music's most popular artists and dedicated fans. Consequently, the new breed of bluegrass groups were dubbed progressive bluegrass while those that adhered to the music's heritage were tagged traditional bluegrass. Over the next three decades, progressive bluegrass changed frequently, while the sound of traditional bluegrass never varied.

Oldtime, Old-time, Oldtimey

Oldtimey (or old-time) refers to the oldest form of country music ever recorded. Country music was first recorded in the early '20s, and its style and sound had remained consistent since the 1800s. Though it encompassed a number of different influences, the music's roots lay in British folk songs, which were played on stringed instruments, such as the fiddle. By the late 1800s, rural Americans had begun playing the folk songs on Spanish guitars and African banjos as well, adding other instruments dobro, bass, washboards to the mix. During the early 1900s, this country folk music added some contemporary influences, particularly the blues and vaudeville comedy. This rurally eclectic amalgamation was the sound of country music during the '20s, and it would forever be identified as "old-time" country, because it was the music that evoked country's roots. Though the music began to evolve in the '30s, as Jimmy Rodgers brought country into the industrial age, there were groups that performed old-time into the end of the century, frequently without changing the conventions of the genre at all. One major style within old-time was bluegrass, which developed in the late '40s as a reaction to the increasing modernization of country music.


This refers to a mixture of folk, pop, country, jazz an other material often played on a mixture of basically simple instruments such as the guitar, harmonica, jug, kazoo, washboard and tea chest bass. Although the term Skiffle was originally used in the U.S. in the 1930s to describe mixtures of blues, boogie woogie, and other popular black music, the skiffle revival of the 1950s as typified by Lonnie Donegan's recording of "Rock Island Line" was most pronounced in Great Britain, where it remained popular until the style was replaced by rock & roll at the end of the decade. Major skiffle artists include Chris Barber and Ken Colyer.

Traditional Country

Traditional Country is a nebulous term it can refer to anything from Roy Acuff's simple songs to the electrified honky tonk of Johnny Paycheck but the name does evoke a specific sound, namely the long-standing tradition of simple country songs delivered with simple instrumentation and a distinct twang. The era of Traditional Country didn't begin until the early '30s, when Jimmy Rodgers became the first national country music star. Rodgers brought the formerly rural music into the industrial era by making streamlining the music and lyrics; in the process, he made the genre a viable commercial property. Following Rodgers' success, Old-Time music faded in popularity and Traditional Country was born. For the next 40 years, most country music fell under the Traditional Country umbrella, regardless if it was the big-band dance music of Western Swing or driving roadhouse honky tonk. The majority of the popular artists from the '30s and '40s Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams became the foundation of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly radio broadcast that became the definitive word of country music. This generation of musicians inspired all the artists that emerged in the following two decades, who put their own spin on Traditional Country. Following the emergence of rock & roll, country music began to incorporate more pop production techniques, and although this Nashville Sound was smoother than the music of the '40s and early '50s, it still conformed to the conventions of Traditional Country. During the '60s, mainstream country became progressively more pop-influenced, yet Traditional Country held strong until the early '70s, when country-pop became the dominant form of country music. Many fans of hard country turned toward the tougher sounds of progressive country and outlaw country, yet most of the country audience continued to listen to country-pop, especially since Traditional Country singers like George Jones, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn had turned toward that sub-genre. By the late '70s, most new country singers were either raised on country-pop or pop/rock, and consequently, the reign of Traditional Country came to an end. During the mid-'80s, a wave of New Traditionalist singers such as George Strait emerged, but their music tended to be influenced by contemporaries as well, making the movement as much an evolution as a revival.

Fiddle Tunes

This term is usually applied to dance tunes, mostly with no lyrics, or if lyrics do exist they are rarely sung. They can be of various origins but American, Irish and English are the most popular. It is assumed that most of these tunes where originally written for fiddle due to their structure so ideally suiting that instrument although it is quite likely that many have other origins.

Folk Revival

In the late '50s, folk music experienced an upswing in popularity on college campuses across America. This Folk Revival brought many old stars back into the spotlight and it increased the audience for folk substantially. Pop arrangements of folk songs became hit singles and the folk aesthetic provided the groundwork for the counterculture rock movement of the '60s. Ironically, the folk revival's popularity dipped sharply in the mid-'60s, after the British Invasion took over America, but the folk revival remains a pivotal moment in 20th century pop music.