The Knowledge: Classification

The devolved nations of the UK each have their own music curricula, which have to be interpreted and taught by non-specialists at primary level. In this blog series, we aim to support teachers’ knowledge of the key musical terminology which appears in these curricula. In this edition of The Knowledge, we look at terminology associated with musical classification.  


A genre is a broad umbrella term which may encompass music from a wide range of styles, traditions and periods. For example ‘Film Music’ is a genre which would include music from both Hollywood and Bollywood, and every other place where films are created, from the very first time music was set to film, right up to the present day.


A style is music which has specific characteristics and recognisable features. For example, within the overall genre of ‘Jazz Music’ sit a range of individual styles such as Bebop, Swing, Dixieland, and Smooth Jazz.


A musical tradition can be described as a type of music which contributes to national identity, or comes from a particular culture. Musical traditions are often bundled together under the genre of ‘Folk Music’ and like musical styles they have their own identifying characteristics and features, but with the added dimension of being sited within a particular cultural context. In England, Morris Dance, and Sea Shanties, would be considered two of our ‘musical traditions.’


Period in music is a word that has multiple meanings! However, in the context of classification, a musical ‘period’ is a point in time during which composers adopted similar rules, structures, effects and instrumentation in their work. It is most often used in association with the Western Classical tradition, where we have:
  • Medieval (1150-1400)
  • Renaissance (1400-1600)
  • Baroque (1600-1750)
  • Classical (1750-1830)
  • Romantic (1830-1920)
  • Modern (1920 to present day)