Characteristics of American Music

By Dan Seitz
Rock 'n' roll is a distinctly American type of music.

American music has an incredible diversity of styles, genres and techniques. America has even created several new genres of music, such as jazz, blues and country. Despite this incredible variety and diversity, there are some consistent characteristics in American music that make it distinct from the music of other countries.

Syncopation

Syncopation is defined as stressing a beat that is normally not emphasized in the course of the song. To hear an example of syncopation, simply turn on the radio and tune it to any pop music station; the backbeat of most pop music is syncopated to stand out from the rest of the song. This is especially true of "dance" tunes, as the syncopation provides a consistent beat for dancers to keep time to.

Irregular Melodies

The melody of a song is usually a repeated motif or series of notes played consistently throughout the song. While the melodies in European music are often consistent and precise, American music uses many unusual melodies. They may be very long, very short or continually change throughout the song. Listen to a jazz version of a song from a different genre: jazz musicians improvise on the original melody, turning it into something entirely different.

The Swung Note

Changing the time value of a note (called a "swung note") is very common in American music. For example, two notes may be written down as the same duration, but a musician might play the first note very quickly and hold the second note for much longer. A common technique is to alternate short and long durations to create an entirely different rhythm for the song. This was uncommon in European music, which placed strict emphasis on note duration.

About the Author

Dan Seitz has been writing professionally since 2008. He has been published on Cracked.com, Spike.com, AMOG.com, OverthinkingIt.com, Zug.com, TheDeadbeat.com and Gunaxin.com. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater and is currently earning his Master of Arts in film at Emerson College.