The history of Music

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Lauren Wright

BTEC National Diploma – Music

The history of Music

  In this essay I will be identifying, explaining, and evaluating the history of Music whilst involving references to musical examples.  The four main sections I will be evaluating are;

  • The origins of popular music
  • The styles and characteristics of popular music since 1950
  • The role of at least four different leading artists/producers
  • The impact on instrument and recording, of the musical applications of technology.

  In the first section – The origins of popular music I will be concentrating on;

  • The music of the slaves
  • Gospel music
  • Negro Spirituals
  • Delta Blues
  • New Orleans Jazz
  • Ragtime
  • Folk and
  • Bluegrass

  I will then move onto the styles and characteristics of popular music since 1950 where I will be identifying such details as melody, rhythm, harmony, instrumentation, and structure.  I will be concentrating on Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country and Western, Mersey beat, British Invasion, R*B, Psychedelia, Folk, Soul music, Progressive Rock, Disco, Glam Rock, Heavy metal, Reggae, Punk, New wave, Rap, Hip-Hop, Dance and Grunge.  

  I will also look at how fashion and cultural influences such as James Dean, Teddy Boys, Flower Power, Free Love, Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, Ban the bomb, Punk, Rap and Hip-Hop, New Romantics, and drug culture have influenced musical development, as well as considering the political/economic environment of the birthplace of these styles.  

  The third section of my essay will be based on The leading Artists and Performers.  Although I will be bringing up the leading artists and producers in each generation I write about in this section I will go into great detail about my chosen artists/ producers and how they affected both music and fashion.  My chosen artists are;

  • Aretha Franklin
  • The Beatles
  • Blondie
  • Michael Jackson

  My chosen producers are;

  • Quincey Jones

In the final section I will be studying The Musical Applications of Technology.  My aim will be to identify, explain and evaluate, with reference to musical examples, the impact on instruments and recording of the musical applications of technology, commenting on the impact of electric guitar, Hammond organ, amplification, synthesisers, decks, samplers personal computers, software, mono, recordings, the 7’’ single, stereo, multi tracking, 12’’ single, remixing and digital recording.  

Part 1 – Origins

  Throughout time music has changed drastically, from one extreme to another.  Every origin of music has lead onto another from Gospel music to Soul, and Blues to Jazz.  In this section I will be looking at how some of these types of music started and how things changed with each origin.  A much summarised version of a time line below shows how music evolved throughout time in style with the use of instrumentation and meaning from 1600’s through to today.  

  • 1600’s – 1700’s  -  Musical Roots


        The roots of African sound

The Banjo – Based on a West African instrument, it was widely used in America

Five note scale – Closer to Asian music than European

        Complex Drumming – off beat rhythms and random time signatures

        Unison Singing – a way of chanting to be heard

  • Early 1800’s  -  Spiritual and workshops


        Jubilees and shouts – used leaders call and groups response to create musical sound

        Sorrow songs – combined African lullabies and European hymns




       Based on African tradition.  Workers in groups chanted and kept beat with tools.

       Prisoners sung work songs from their cells

  • Civil (1861 – 1865)  -  Minstrel shows and Ragtime


       Minstrel shows – Some talented black players rose above degrading ‘Black face shows’.

       Ragtime – ‘Ragging’ was about adding playful extra phrases and catchy, syncopated rhythm’s to serious songs.  Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple leaf Rag’ is one example of this style.

  • Late 1800’s – Blues and Dixieland

        Blues – It was born in Texas and its delta region of Mississippi spread to Memphis st. Louis.  The ‘Blue note’ that gave it that distinct sound was delivered from African music.

       Dixieland – Early form of jazz, it featured small dance bands with up-beat playing.  Started in New Orleans.

  • Early 1900’s  -  Jazz and Gospel

       ‘America’s classical music’.  Invented by inspired singers and musicians like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.  Composers such as Duke Ellington and count Basie, amongst others helped the jazz movement to evolve.  Innovations Jazz was constantly reinvented by artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.  

  • World War II to today  -  Rock and Rap

        These time showed Rock, Funk, Rhythm &Blues, and soul.  Black artists broke into commercial; rag time with international fame.

        Rap, Hip – Hop.  Rough urban dance and singing styles.  Lyrics grew out of old improvised poetry.  

  That is the basic synopsis of the evolution of music, and because many important aspects have just been brushed over I will now show a much more detailed account of each origin showing every style of music and exactly how it evolved.    


  The music of the slaves.  Afro American people have always used verbal or the oral tradition to convey history.  Back in the days of slavery when slaves were on the plantation singing spiritual songs they were using a form of rap music.  These salves had no instruments so they used beats from any objects they could get their hands on, usually using the tolls they had been working with as percussion.  Whatever was on the salves’ minds they sung about.  Sometimes they would sing about being free like a bird.  They would also sing about going back home.  While they were on the porch or in the back yard other slaves would join in much like the hip-hop/rap music of today.  

Often, whilst the slaves were working in groups they would use a method later named ‘call and response’, this is where one person would shout a line and the rest of the group would respond in unison.  Music for the slaves began as a bit of freedom for them to express their opinions and join together as one but as time went on they began to use it as a way of protest also.  Many slaves in town and in plantations tried to run a ‘free country’, which they called ‘my home’ or ‘sweet canaan, the promised land’.  This country was on the Northern side of Ohio River, that they called ‘Jordan’.

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 Some Negro Spirituals refer to the Underground Railroad, an organisation for helping slaves to run away.  During Slavery and afterwards, workers were allowed to sing songs during their working time.  This was the case when they had to coordinate their efforts for hauling a fallen tree or any heavy load.  For example, prisoners used to sing ‘chain gang’ songs, when they worked on the road or some construction.  But some ‘drivers’ also allowed slaves to sing quite songs as long as they were not apparently against slaveholders.  Such songs could be sung either by only one or by several ...

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