Performing Arts Genres: Folk, Jazz & Rock

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

The U.S. has many different claims to fame, but did you know that it is the birthplace of three very popular forms of music? This lesson explores three home-grown performing arts genres: folk, jazz, and Rock.

Performing Arts Genres

If you've ever scanned through the stations of your radio, it's safe to assume that you've heard at least fragments of folk, jazz, and rock music. But how much do you really know about each of these musical forms? This lesson explains how each type of music got its start and what the genre is all about.

Feelin' Folksy

Folk music is a traditional form of community-based American music. In fact, the term 'folk' actually comes from the German word Volk. Translation: 'the people'. You can think of folk music as the people's music. From its earliest origins, folk music was a way for people and communities to connect with and share their experiences with the world around them. As a result, the genre is traditionally considered a bit rough around the edges. It's common music by common people that expresses common thoughts and ideas. Folk music often expresses hardship and is frequently used as a form of protest.

American folk music varies based on when, where, and who created it. Popular culture emphasizes the twangy, hillbilly nature of Appalachian folk music (imagine shoeless guys in overalls blowing into jugs on a decrepit front porch!). In reality, there are a number of different variants of the genre. Folk music typically includes acoustic instruments like banjos, fiddles, and guitars. It's not uncommon to hear other more unusual instruments incorporated in folk music like washboards, jugs, or exotic ones like sitars.

Early forms of folk music were not created for the mainstream. Thanks to mass distribution and the digital age, however, people across the country have had the chance to experience and embrace folk music, making it an increasingly popular genre. Through the 1930s, artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger shared the hardships of the Great Depression. Folk music evolved during the Vietnam Era with artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Dylan's use of electric instruments in his protest songs forever changed folk music. Contemporary artists like Mumford & Sons, Vance Joy, and The Lumineers continue to influence the genre.

Jazz It Up

Jazz music first got its start in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The term 'jazz' was first used by the San Francisco Bulletin in 1913 and comes from a Creole word for African dance. Traditionally an African American art form, jazz grew from a variety of genres including blues, spirituals, orchestra, and brass band music. Blues music had an especially important influence on jazz. Traditionally an African-American music form, the blues appeared just before jazz. The genre expresses the inherent hardships of life, including feelings like sadness and worry.

The earliest forms of jazz emerged in New Orleans, Louisiana. The city was the home to a people from all walks of life and backgrounds and this fact is reflected in the evolution of jazz. Beginning in the early 1900s, audiences made up of average, everyday folks demanded music that was less rigid than traditional music. They wanted to move, they wanted to dance, and they wanted to feel. Jazz gave them the chance to do all of these things.

One of the earliest forms of jazz was dixieland. Band members would play loud and lively music simultaneously with one another. The beats were often improvised and did not follow any set pattern or formula. As jazz spread across the United States, the genre began to evolve. Louie Armstrong, one of the most notable jazz musicians, influenced the development of hot jazz where band members played a backup rhythm as an artist soloed on their own. Duke Ellington helped make Big Band and swing music popular during the 1930s and 1940s with his large jazz orchestras. Jazz continued to change through the 1960s with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk's bebop jazz that relied on complex musical arrangements.

As a musical form, jazz has influenced countless other genres. Because of its improvisational nature, jazz lends itself to constant evolution and offers something for nearly every audience to enjoy.

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