The music history timeline below outlines the evolution of popular musical styles and genres from music’s early beginnings through to modern times.
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Music’s Early Beginning
Archaeologists discovered primitive flutes made out of ivory and bone dating as far back as 43,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of musical notation was found on a Sumerian clay tablet dating back 4,000 years. Many historians consider Hurrian Hymn No. 6 (ode to goddess Nikkal) the oldest melody ever composed.
Opera music began in Florence with a group of musicians, artists, statesmen and writers known as the Florentine Camerata who sought to recreate Greek drama storytelling through music. Many consider Jacopo Peri’s composition “Dafne” in 1597 to be the first opera.
1600 The Baroque Period (1600 – 1750)
Baroque music is characterized by stern musical forms and highly ornamental pieces. This style commenced in Europe around the early 1600s and continued until approximately 1750. Famous Baroque composers include Bach, Handel and Monteverdi.
1600s Gospel Music
Traced to the early 17th century, Gospel music is a genre of Christian music whose creation and performance in the form of sacred songs and hymns varies according to different cultures. Gospel music typically features dominant vocals including strong harmonies often repeated in a call and response fashion.
1750 The Classical Period (1750 – 1830)
Music of the Classical Period is characterized as being lighter and less strict than Baroque music. Highlights of the Classical era include the composing of symphonies, the piano sonata’s development and comic operas. Famous composers of the Classical period include Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn.
1830 The Romantic Period (1830 – 1900)
Music of the Romantic era is characterized by personal emotional expression with an emphasis on individuality and originality including the experimentation and freedom of form. Orchestras grew larger in size during this period. Famous Romantic period composers include Chopin, Schumann and Tchaikovsky.
1899 Ragtime (1899 – 1917)
Ragtime music is believed to have begun with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Time Rag.” This genre is largely characterized by its syncopated “ragged time” rhythms. Said to be a forerunner of jazz, this American music was heavily influenced by minstrel-show tunes, African American banjo playing plus aspects of European music.
Drawing from African spirituals and traditions, when exactly blues music began is not clear. The earliest references to blues music date back to the late 19th century. In 1912 bandleader W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues became a hit and drove the genre to new heights.
Jazz originated in New Orleans’ African-American communities in the late 19th century. It became more popular across the US and Europe in the early 1920s. Known as the “Roaring Twenties” with prohibition and speak easies, famous jazz artists include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
1920 Country Music
Country music’s roots date back to working-class Americans in the country’s south, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains. Early country musicians blended English ballads with Irish and Celtic songs. European immigrants who settled nearby contributed their influences as well. Famous country music artists include Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
1920 Folk Music
American folk music’s origins actually date back to the early 1920s. It gained popularity during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl (1930-36). These early folk songs talked focused on economic hardships including the struggles to find work. Famous folk musicians include Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
Rhythm & Blues Beginnings
1940 Ryhthm & Blues (R&B)
Rhythm & Blues began in the African-American communities in the 1940s. Strongly influenced by jazz, blues and black gospel music, R&B is also credited as a major contributor to the creation of rock and roll. Famous R&B artists include Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder.
Bluegrass music was named after Bill Monroe’s band The Blue Grass Boys who began performing in the 1940s. Originating in America’s Appalachian region, its roots are in traditional English, Irish and Scottish music combined with blues and jazz. Bluegrass is generally played on acoustic instruments.
Born of the Afro-American experience, soul music originated from the blues clubs, churches and US street corners. Soul’s major influences included R&B, gospel and doo-wop. In 1959 the Motown label was founded in Detroit and contributed significantly to soul music’s popularity among both blacks and whites. Famous soul artists include The Temptations, The Supremes and Aretha Franklin (The Queen of Soul).
1950s Rock Music
Rock (Rock ‘n Roll) music began in the early 1950s U.S. It was heavily influenced by various genres including blues, jazz, gospel and country music. The music became largely guitar-driven by the late 1950s and encouraged a growing youth culture. Famous rock artists include Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie.
Disco is a beat-driven form of popular dance music whose name originated from American dance-oriented nightclubs known as discotheques. Famous disco artists include Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer and the Bee Gees.
Rap & Hip-Hop Beginnings
1970s Rap & Hip-Hop
Rap music and hip-hop originated in New York City’s housing projects in the 1970s. Both musical genres were initially inspired by funk, soul and disco beats but soon evolved into new forms of expression. Early rap and hip-hop artists include DJ Kool, Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J.
1970s New Wave
New wave music emerged onto the US and UK music scenes in the late 1970s. This subset of rock music is largely characterized by quirky pop arrangements and electronic sounds. Famous new wave artists include The Talking Heads, Blondie and Elvis Costello.
1974 Punk Rock
Punk rock started in the 1970s and was largely the result of anti-establishment sentiment particularly in the US and Britain. Punk is characterized as having harsher sounds than typical rock, limited instrumentation, and shorter songs. Famous punk artists include The Clash, Ramones and Sex Pistols.
This decade experienced a further rise in social media’s influences on the types of music listeners listened to. Genres including synth-pop, house, pop-punk, nu-disco, nu skool breaks, indie rock, reggae fusion, heavy metal, hard rock, and others enjoyed mainstream attention largely due to social media.
2017 Bedroom Pop
Bedroom Pop began around 2017 but gained considerable momentum in the early 2020s due to Covid 19. The global pandemic resulted in live concert cancellations worldwide for two years. Bedroom Pop, a musical genre whereby young artists record (DIY) from their bedrooms and post their music online, became more popular due to musicians being restricted to their homes. Popular bedroom pop artists include Billie Eilish, Clairo, and Girl In Red.