What Is Genre

by Jungreis

One of the comments made early in the class is that referring to every piece of music we cover as a “song” is like remarking that War and Peace is a great poem. A symphony is not a song! Our teacher remarked to me that the reason for this sort of classification system is because you know about what you’re getting what you’re told that something is a character piece like the particular piece about which I was asking.

This class is using “song” as a genre.

This is a song.

This is a song.

Imagine my poor mother being told to listen to a song and expecting to hear something like Taylor Swift, only to hear Hetfield and Hammett crash in with that opening E powerchord. Even worse, imagine me expecting to hear some awesome Metallica song, only being tricked into having to listen to…

Conclusion: Taylor Swift and Metallica play rather different styles of songs.

I would call the genre of the former song “Pop” and the latter “Metal”. I suspect that I’ve not caused controversy with this stance. In fact, by modern conventions, I’m right, and incontestably so. Swift is a pop/country performer, and while Metallica didn’t quite invent metal, they were among the pioneers of thrash.

There is a clear disconnect between the ways contemporary music fans use “genre” and how musicologists use it. If the distinction is just an issue of terminology, then I think that it would be fine to use “genre” to describe one of these two facets of the music.

I don’t think that the two uses are completely unrelated, however, but I definitely don’t see how “Master of Puppets” and whatever Taylor Swift song I posted can be related as “songs” with the justification being that you know what to expect from a song.

Does anyone see some common element in symphonies, for example, that goes beyond the structure we discussed in class, something that would allow me to write a rock symphony by my four man band (the arrangement is basically Megadeth with a better singer) that sounds nothing like a symphony written for an orchestra, yet is still accurately described as a symphony rather than just an epic rock song? (Ignore for now my inability to write such a piece of music.)