Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Song Styles

We love to demonstrate our versatility and our "we didn't rehearse this, honest" thing by asking the audience for a style of music before launching in to a song. When we play Song in the Style Of here in Brisbane, we get 10 or 15 styles from the audience, and pick 6 or so to perform.

Most of the time, the audience picks fall in to a bucket of pretty common styles. Sometimes they'll pull out something really obscure or interesting that we haven't had before, presenting a real challenge for the players and the musician.

This post is on the eve of me being joined by my friend Ben Craven for an Impro Gladiators show. This will be Ben's first time performing impro; his usual gig is writer (nay, composer) and performer of great prog rock songs. Ben is a talented songwriter and a stellar musician; you can get details on Ben and his music from his website, or visit iTunes to download his album Two False Idols.

Ben is joining me on guitar, using his uber-flexible Variax. The Variax gives him the sort of flexibility on guitar that a keyboard player has with a keyboard: access to different sounds/patches at the touch of a button. (Or footpedal.) This gives him tremendous flexibility for performing in different styles. One of his first questions was around the sorts of styles that are suggested by the audience. It was fun to put together a list of the styles that have come up over the last few years in Song in the Style Of - thanks to Adam and Tamzin for helping me with it.

I've grouped the styles by their frequency. The common ones are just that; if we get 10 styles from an audience on a night, at least six of them will probably come from the common list. Uncommon show up occasionally, and the rare ones only show up once or twice.

A big thank you to Robbie Ellis for contributing to this list as well, nominating styles that make appearances in his hometown of Wellington, New Zealand. It's interesting to see styles that come up frequently there, but less frequently in Brisbane, and vice versa. I imagine any city or country is going to have their own slant on things.

Out-of-town readers: Are there styles you get frequently at your shows that are different from ours? Let us know in the comments.

Boy Band
Childrens Band
Death Metal
Eastern European Folk
Gangsta Rap
Heavy Metal
Hip Hop
Irish Folk Song
Lounge Music
A Capella
British Pop
Christmas Carol
Comedy Duo
Dance Music
Decade (eg 50's, 60's, 80's)
French Cabaret
Gilbert & Sullivan
Gregorian Chant
Japanese Pop
Light Opera
National Anthem
Porn Groove
Power Ballad
Rock & Roll
Sea Shanty
Show Tune
Spoken Word
Thrash Metal
Torch Song
Acid Jazz
Bossa Nova
German Cabaret
Glam Rock
Middle Eastern
Prog Rock
Red Army Choir

A special "thanks" to my good friend Scott in Denver, who on realising I had no idea what zydeco was, proceeded to shout it out at every Headgames show he attended. It's come up once here in Brisbane, and thanks to my months of torture at Scott's hands (and the Buckwheat's Zydeco Party CD he eventually gave me) I was able to handle those forty seconds of zydeco admirably. ;)
Photo by albany tim


Scott said...

Ah Zydeco. No quite music, not quite noise.

Good times tho'.

Jill said...

For our team I put together a library of musical styles with descriptions and examples. I didn't try to be scholarly; I have tried to be vague and generic, and think of what an audience would be thinking of. (Thanks to Tim Hellendrung for writing the Hip Hop and Heavy Metal entries and John Mechalas for the Techno entry.)


A type of classical music known for having lots of flourishes and harpsichord.
Examples: Bach, Pachelbel (Pachelbel Canon in D Major)

A sub-genre of country music. Uses banjo & tight harmonies & is typically very fast.
Examples: The movie soundtrack "O Brother Where Art Thou" (Del McCoury Band "High On A Mountain")

Sad music that uses a lot of call and response.
Examples: BB King, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon (Louis Armstrong 8 "St. Louis Blues")

Emotional pop music performed by cute boys doing choreography.
Examples: Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, New Kids on the Block (Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way")

Broadway musicals use lavish sets and costumes and musical numbers to tell stories, usually romantic.
Old: South Pacific, Guys & Dolls, the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady
New: RENT, Wicked, Les Miserables (Lion King on Rosie O'Donnell)

A mix of French and Country music from Louisiana, features accordian and often sung in Creole.
Examples: Buckwheat Zydeco, the song "Iko Iko" (John Delafose)

Irish folk music featuring fiddle & pennywhistle. Pogues is a bit hard-core and Riverdance is a bit pop.
Examples: The Chieftans (Boys of the Lough "La Grande Chaine Medley")

Sing-songy numbers that teach a lesson or tell a fairy-tale. Often involve audience participation.
Examples: Raffi, Barney, the Wiggles (Sesame Street "People In Your Neighborhood")

A really broad category of older European music.
Examples: Beethoven, Motzart ("Great Classical Music Composers Pt. 2")

Southern music with a lot of twang and heartbreak.
Examples: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson (Waylon Jennings "Mommas Don`t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys")

More pop-influenced than old country.
Examples: Travis Tritt, Keith Urban, Shania Twain (Sugarland "Stay")

Dance music from the seventies. Flashy clothes and flashy moves
Examples: Donna Summer, the BeeGees, Gloria Gaynor, Lipps Inc. (Earth Wind and Fire - "Boogie Wonderland")

Boy bands of the 50's, called Doo Wap because they actually said that a lot
Examples: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, the Drifters, the Coasters (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers "Why Do Fools Fall In Love")

from "2003 saw the success of singer-songwriters such as Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional), who himself was seen to be at the forefront of a new movement of artists with (supposedly) overtly emotional music. MTV had to come up with a tag to market this movement at adolescents in a catchy manner, so the tag 'emo ' was chosen."
Examples: Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional (Senses Fail "Calling All Cars")

The traditional music of any country is called folk music. In America, folk music was popularized in the 60's by the peace movement. The movie "A Mighty Wind" is a solid parody.
Examples: Peter Paul & Mary, Pete Seegar, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie (The New Christy Minstrels "Michael Row The Boat Ashore")

From wikipedia: "Funk is an American musical style that originated in the mid- to late-1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, soul jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music. Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Unlike R&B and soul songs, which had many chord changes, funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord." Features outrageous costumes & stage theatrics.
Examples: James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, the song "Brick House" (George Clinton & The P Funk All Stars "Flashlight")

Spiritual songs from the Baptist church, often featuring huge choirs in robes.
Examples: Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson (The Edwin Hawkins Singers "O Happy Day")

Music sung by monks in Latin. Actually became popular when set to dance beats a while back.
Examples: Gregorian Masters Of Chant (Gregorian Chant "Benedictinos")

A sub-genre of rock that came out of Seattle. Wikipedia: "grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics." Flannel shirts, greasy hair, ripped jeans.
Examples: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden (Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit")


Heavy metal or simply, metal, is a sub-genre of rock. It is characterized by amplified distortion and an overall loud volume. Metal usually has a dense bass and drum rhythm and intense vocals, not excluding screaming. The popularity of heavy metal peaked in the 1980s when glam metal (a subgenre of heavy metal) made metal commercially viable. Examples: Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Pantera, Marilyn Manson.
Motörhead – “Ace of Spades” -


Culture and music style originating out of Bronx, New York in the 1970s. Wikipedia: “A style typically consisting of a rhythmic vocal style called rap which is accompanied with backing beats.” Hip Hop lifestyle also incorporates breakdancing, DJing, and graffiti artwork. EXAMPLES: Run DMC, Kanye West, Tupac, OutKast, Beastie Boys.
Warren G – “Regulate” -

As the Blues travelled up the Mississippi it became smoother and cooler and turned into Jazz. There are lots of styles.
Examples: Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Fitzgerald "One note Samba")

From Wikipedia: "In the 1960s, Motown and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as "The Motown Sound", a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence."
Examples: Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Jackson 5 (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles "You Really Got A Hold On Me")

Developed as a term to define music that wasn't punk but also wasn't mainstream in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Examples: Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Men Without Hats (Thomas Dolby - "She Blinded Me With Science")

Epic stories told through classical music and singing.
Examples: Puccini, Verdi, Wagner ("Opera Song Types")

A lively German/Eastern European dance.
Examples: Lawrence Welk "Pennsylvania Polka", Frank Yankovic "Who Stole the Kishka", Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out The Barrel)" (Polonaise Folk Dancers "Wally's Polka")

An abbreviation of "popular" music that has come to describe light-weight fun rock.
Examples: Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson, Elton John (Hilary Duff & Haylie Duff "Our Lips Are Sealed")

Wikipedia: "Fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics."
Examples: Sex Pistols, Misfits, NOFX, Ramones, Dead Kennedys (The Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop Live in London 1977")

R & B
R & B stands for "Rhythm & Blues" and has been used to mean a lot of things, sort've an umbrella category that captured African American music in the mid-twentieth century. Currently it refers to "urban contemporary" smooth vocal music with slick production.
Examples: Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Beyoncé, Usher (Brandy "Long Distance")

RAP - "A form of popular music developed especially in African-American urban communities and characterized by spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics with a strong rhythmic accompaniment." Differentiated from hip hop by the absence of singing interludes.
Examples: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Jay-Z (Mos Def, Talib Kweli & Common - "Respiration")

Jamaican music with beats on the off beat. Subject matter includes religion, love, sex, peace, poverty, injustice and other political issues. From the Rastafarians who wore dreadlocks and smoked ganja.
Examples: Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Shaggy (Bob Marley "Get Up Stand Up")

ROCK BALLAD "A 'Ballad' is a slow to medium, romantic, sentimental or narrative song usually relating a single, dramatic event." Featuring heavy guitar and strained emotional vocals.
Examples: "Somebody To Love" - Queen, "Wanted Dead Or Alive" - Bon Jovi, "Faithfully" - Journey (REO Speedwagon "Keep On Loving You")

Rhythmic Latin dance music. Lots of horns!
Examples: Ruben Blades, Tito Puente

The Jamaican musical style that came before reggae but our audiences are thinking of the 90s revival. A Reggae beat goes bum-da-da but a ska beat is faster and goes bum-da bum-da.
Examples: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, The Skatalites (Reel Big Fish "Take On Me")

SOUL - "A merger of gospel-charged singing, secular subject matter, and funk rhythms, soul grew out of Fifties rhythm & blues, spurred by Ray Charles' electic, decidedly secular late-Fifties hits."
Examples: Ray Charles, Ben E King, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin (Jackie Wilson "Higher & Higher")

Poetry or prose spoken aloud often with music underneath.
Examples: Laurie Anderson, GG Allin, Henry Rollins (Ken Nordine on Night Music)

Dance music from the 1930s and 1940s. Swing dancing involves lots of lifts and throws. Big bands featured large brass sections and a singer - Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and Doris Day all sang with big bands.
Examples: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Cab Calloway (Glenn Miller "In The Mood")

Actually a sub-genre, but our audience is generally thinking electronic dance music as a whole. Drum machines and electronic instruments with a fast, 4/4 beat. Often times sample loops in lieu of actual lyrics, or no vocals/lyrics at all.
Examples: Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk, Christopher Lawrence, Armin van Buuren. (Paul Oakenfold "Southern Sun - DJ Tiesto Remix")

A form of singing that involves one long note drastically changing pitch, popular in Germany and Switzerland and in cowboy tradition.
Examples: Ricola commercials, apparently Jewel yodels too. (from "America's Got Talent")

Kris said...

Jill! Thank you for leaving such a wonderful comment. I imagine you would have had to hunt through quite a lot of YouTube goodness to get to the bestest clips.

How did we ever learn this stuff before YouTube? ;)

Kris said...

Hello again Jill - would you mind if I reposted your comment as a full post on the site? I've had a few people request it as a post, and I think it would be great. Could you drop me a comment or an email?

Thanks :)

Alastair Tomkins said...

Hi mate, I love your website and having you at Impro' Glads. I wanted to add "Charlie Chaplin" to the song in the style of category...probably in the "rare" section as I had never even thought of it. I ended up with a bit of gaffa tape under my nose whilst Tom read out each line of the lyrics...I think the song was "Its raining men"...and I reacted Chaplinesque to each line. First and probably last time ever to be requested, but funny nonetheless. See you at a gig soon.

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