Classical Music vs. Popular Music: Similarities

With our condensed history lesson in Classical Music vs. Popular Music: Where Music Parted Ways we discussed how and why Popular Music and Classical Music parted ways. Popular Music began to venture itself away from Classical Music in many forms including culture, notation, instrumentation, etc. However, in many ways these two entities are still actually very close and only have but a few things separating them. To expose the similarities we must also look into the differences.

One of the prominent factors that drives the wedge is the instruments or tools used to create each style of music. Classical Music primarily uses instruments that have been relatively unchanged for hundreds of years whereas Popular has electricity running through a majority of their instruments if it’s not synthesized already. What if you took Bach and played it on the Electric Guitar with some distortion on it? It could easily be mistaken as a 1980’s hair metal guitar riff if one didn’t know better.

On the flip side what if you took Popular Music to Classical Instruments?

Above all it’s interesting how much instrumentation effects the sound of a piece. But with these two basic examples it puts done one more thing that divides Popular Music and Classical Music.

Another factor is the notation of music itself. Most Classical Music is written out onto sheet music with details given tot he performer including mood, tempo, accents, etc. For Popular Music Notation usually just the chords are written out underneath the melody (typically the lead vocals). There tends to be a lot more flexibility given to the performer as well. Now obviously this seems to be a difference rather than a similarity. But let’s go back 400 years or more to the Baroque Era.

A form of notation used most often during the Baroque Era is called Figured Bass. As defined by Harnsberger’s Essential Dictionary of Music figured bass is “a bass part with numbers that indicate the intervals of harmony that are to be played above the bass note…” Which essentially translates to the Chord Progression being laid out; similar to Popular Sheet Music.