How do you tell the difference between music genres?

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Edit: Totally redone since people seem to think I’m completely stupid or something.

How do you tell the difference between closely related genres? For example, I saw an artist listed as “pop, bubblegum pop, indie pop, pop punk, electropop” and I don’t understand how those are all different genres. Or you have rock, punk rock, grunge rock, and alternative rock. Like what themes or instruments or whatever defines these genres and makes them not the same as all the others?

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to elaborate, you can’t tell the difference between Taylor Swift and Necro Cannibalistic Vomitorium? In my opinion you just lack listening and you train it by listening🤙.

To be clear. Subtle difference of music genre are mostly about the intervals used in the arrangment. From public perspective listening is more than enough to start recognising.

You legitimately can’t tell the difference between hip hop, trance, and jazz?

Ok so you edited it. For that I’d say it doesn’t matter unless you listen to it a lot. You’ll then be able to tell the difference and it’s mostly important if you’re talking about it with people who are into it.

Timing also matters. In the 90s Grunge was grunge. Nirvana for example. A lot of bands coming out of Seattle. It would have been played on an alternative radio station along with bands like Garbage and The Smashing Pumpkins. It was alternative to what our parents were listening to. Today when I listen to an alternative radio station it might have Taylor Swift on it. It’s not really the same thing anymore.

Punk has a sound and depending on who you’re talking to also a track length. If you hear a super fast song that’s over in like 60 seconds it’s probably punk. You really should be able to tell the difference though between punk and rock. They’re drastically different. Don’t do it by artist. Do it by track or album since artists change. Green Day for example.

Music has structure but unless you’ve studied a bit to formalize your knowledge of musical structures and instrumentation, you will have trouble with it other than as a casual listener.

So for the instrumentation part I’d honestly just Google the various genres and see but for any genre its usually it has something to do with how the music was generated, the instruments used, the general speed and mood of the lyrics, the note structure, the percussion choice and a few others. It’s really very subjective for some bands as well.

Go here and just experiment for a better understanding https://everynoise.com/

First of all, the most fundamental classification – and in fact the only distinction that matters – is between (a) music you like, and (b) music you don’t like. All the rest is just details.

Secondly, you will notice that there are pieces of music which have something in common – like it’s all played by a big orchestra with violins and cellos versus the other one has heavily distorted electric guitars and a drummer on steroids… it makes sense to put them into different categories and give those categories names (in that case, “classical music” and “heavy metal”).

But sometimes the differences are a lot more subtle: there are bands (and fans) who like to combine their guitars and drums with a rather operatic singing style, and others who think growling is the only way to go. Some like straight 4/4 beats, others think their message comes across best in 17/20 time, etc.

This led to a helluva lot of different, often very specific style names. But tell you what: if you don’t recognise them immediately, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is: do you like the song or not.

At a very high level, the larger genres (classical, rock, jazz, rap, etc) are all pretty easy to tell apart based on the traits they have – the instruments used, the rhythms, vocal styles and so on.

When you start subdividing the genres, you are just being more specific about how you classify them, and are typically referencing elements of the music that are perhaps less obvious to casual listeners but clearer to devoted fans. So a metalhead will quite quickly be able to listen to a band and tell you whether they are thrash metal or black metal based on the differences in things like the guitar playing or vocal styles, while to an outsider they basically sound the same as they are not so attuned to the general style or differences between them.

The trick is in realising that ultimately there are no rules or guidelines to genre classification, other than what is haphazardly mutually agreed by the masses. The band you may consider as garage rock, someone else may classify slightly differently based on their own ideals of what each genre should sound like. So while the bigger overarching genres are pretty set through common consensus over the years, the deeper you go into subgenres the more disagreement you will find.

I have this same thing. My favourite band… Could not tell you what genre they are. Wikipedia says psych pop, whatever that means. I just know I like it.

Mike Falzone has a joke about this that cracks me up
[Music Genres joke](https://youtu.be/kX_OfypXeik)
Skip to 2:40 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing.

The same way you tell the difference between English dialects (Southern US, British, Canadian, NewFound Land, etc.)

They are all English but they each have their idioms that make them unique.

Instead of words, accents and patterns of speech the differences found are in patterns in the melody/harmony/instruments/rhythm/etc.