Classical vs Popular Music – What are the Differences?

When it comes to listening to music, classical vs popular music is at the forefront of the choices.

Nowadays, most people prefer popular music because it arouses an emotional response quickly. Hence, it attracts a great portion of the general public.

Pop CDs and downloads outsell classical recordings by about twenty to one. On the other hand, classical music is still a powerful force. Around the world, music conservatories teach classical music. Thus, generation after generation enjoys timeless classical music.

In this post, we are reviewing a high-level comparison of classical vs popular music.

What is Classical Music?

classical music

What we called Classical Music refers to the “old” music, thought to be having timeless-quality and worthy of repeated hearing. Thus, by a broad definition, classical music is the traditional music of any culture, usually requiring long years of training. However, classical music is commonly regarded as Western classical music.

Among the most prominent genres of classical music are dramatic works staged in opera houses and large theaters. On the other hand, most classical genres, are purely instrumental, performed in small chamber music lounges to large concert halls with several thousand listeners.

Genre in musical terminology is simply a fancy word for “type of music.”

Like pop music, you hear different genres in different places, for instance, in a bar, a jazz club, an arena, etc. Different types of classical music are performed at different venues as the below chart indicates.

Opera Houses and Theaters

  • Opera
  • Ballet

Concert Halls

  • Symphony
  • Concerto
  • Oratorio

Chamber Halls

  • Art song
  • String quartet
  • Piano sonata

What is Popular Music?

popular music

Popular music is often referred to as pop music. As the name indicates, it is music appealing to a large population. Every nation has its own popular music that all people know and love.

When discussing popular vs classical music, for the most part, popular music is simple and direct, and one needs little or no formal training to enjoy it.

People respond more to popular music. More likely it has to do with beat and rhythm. A regular beat evokes a synchronized motor response in the brain, hence people easily move in rhythm to the music with a good beat.

Many American popular musical traditions reflect the country’s diverse culture and ethnicity, therefore, American popular music’s richness and diversity have gained prominence throughout the world. From the American manifold traditions, the genres include folk ballads, fiddle tunes, Native American songs, country songs, blues, gospel hymns, Broadway show tunes, jazz, swing, film music, hip hop, and rap to name a few.

As of today, American-influenced popular music continues to dominate the airwaves around the globe.

Classical vs Popular Music

pop music vs classical music

Now we have the basic knowledge of classical vs pop music. But what are the basic differences between popular and classical music? Let’s do a side-by-side comparison.

   Classical Popular
Electrical Enhancement Mostly uses acoustic instruments that produce sounds traditional way by vibration or percussion. Often used not only to amplify and transform sounds but also to generate sounds, for instance, the synthesizers.
Lyrics More often is purely instrumental which grants listeners more interpretive freedom. Primarily involves lyrics that tell listeners what the music is about.
Beat vs Melody Is more melodic and harmonic. Has a strong beat that stimulates listeners to move along.
Length of the Music Piece Much longer duration with various repetitions. Short with repetitive patterns.
Written Score Normally is performed from a written score, even if it is played by memory. Mostly is performed by memory and the performer can interpret the work more freely.
Concert Format Normally it is at an indoor concert hall, with people in more formal attire. The audience listens quietly and claps respectfully. It could be in an outdoor stadium or arena with tens of thousands of people. Attire is more casual and the audience is free to move or dance to the music.

Digital Instruments

Regarding electrical enhancement, digital instruments are popular in both popular and classical music worlds. Usually, digital instrument manufacturers make the instruments closely mimic the respective acoustic instruments while providing additional technology-enabled functionalities.

For example, we can use a digital piano as an acoustic piano for practice and performance.

In addition, we can leverage the digital functions, to

  • enhance our practicing by using the recording and playback features, or built-in drum rhythms
  • transport the instrument easier to perform anywhere with many portable models of digital pianos

To Wrap Up…

In general, classical music requires years of technical training on an instrument and knowledge of sometimes complicated music theories. Contrary, popular music is simple and short. It tends to be easily accepted by the mass population.

It is worth mentioning that some musicians are equally at home in the worlds of classical and popular music. For instance, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis can record a classical trumpet concerto while creating an album of Jazz music.

Most importantly, music is an individual choice. Hence, what musical instrument you want to learn to play or what music genres you prefer, is truly a personal option.

In any case, understanding the basics of music enhances your music listening experiences.

Related: Listening to Music Series

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