European settlers and African slaves brought their respective folk music and instruments with them when they made their ways to the Southern part of what is today the United States, from as early as European settlements existed there in the 1600’s. In the 18th Century, a distinct style of music emerged in the Appalachian mountains, appropriately referred to as “Appalachian music”. As Westward expansion of European settlements continued, the descendants of these mountain men reached what is today Louisiana state, and the Mississippi River. There, the distinct music style further evolved, closer to what is now known as country music.
Country music is one of the first genres that reached the US mass market. As soon as audio recording technology allowed it, in the 1920’s, Americans bought records of this genre. In fact, country music has an official birthplace and birth year, recognized by the US Congress. The place is Bristol, Tennessee, where the so-called “Bristol Recording sessions” took place in 1927. Between July 25th and August 5th of that year, the Victor Talking Machine Company recorded 76 country songs by 19 different artists, including two of the earliest country music stars, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
Country music heavily features string instruments, most notably the acoustic guitar, the fiddle, and the banjo. The instrumental is prominently featured, but not as prominently as the vocals.
The male vocals tend to be baritone, lower than in pop music, where most of them are tenor. Female voices tend to be mezzo soprano, just like in pop. Duets and group singing are typical for the genre, although lately, solo artists have been more popular. Singers like to sing with a so-called “twang”, which is a technique of singing with very high resonance, giving the artist’s a high pitched, nasally, loud singing voice.
Country music tends to be slower than other popular genres, such as pop or rock. The average beat per minute for a country song is between 80 and 90. As for their structure, they usually have 2 verses, 3 choruses, and a short bridge. As for their typical chords, they tend to follow classic European tonality, using major pentatonic scales, most commonly C, F, and G major.
Just like in every genre, love and relationship are common themes in country music. However, so are love of alcohol, the hardship of rural Southern life, work, and family. Outlaw country was a popular subgenre in the 1970’s and 80’s, in which lone criminals were singing about their hard lives. Typically, country song lyrics tend to focus on telling a narrative, more than just convey feelings or show off clever rhymes.
Garth Brooks is one of the most famous country music artists of our time. He won country music’s most coveted title, the Association's Entertainer of the Year Award, a record 7 times. His biggest hits to date are “The Thunder Rolls” (1990), “Friends in Low Places” (also 1990), and “To Make You Feel My Love” (1998). He’s also sold tens of millions of copies of his songs and albums.
Carrie Underwood is from a younger generation, her best known songs are “Before He Cheats” (2005), and “Just a Dream” (2007). Kenny Rogers, on the other hand, had the peak of his career in the 1970’s and 1980’s, with such hits as “The Gambler” (1978), and “Islands in the Stream” (1983), a duet with Dolly Parton. However, he’s still around and quite popular.
Other contemporary American country music stars include Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, and Kenny Chesney. Taylor Swift started as a country singer, but transitioned to pop, adding to her success. Australia is the only other nation where this genre has some level of popularity. Keith Urban is originally from down under, however, he too produced his best selling records while working in the US.