3 Basic Genres of Country Music Revealed: A Full Guide

by Patria
Carrie Underwood

Country music, with its roots deeply embedded in the American South, has evolved into a diverse genre encompassing various styles and subgenres. The 3 basic genres of country music traditional country, outlaw country, and contemporary country – represent distinct eras and styles within the genre, each contributing uniquely to its rich tapestry. This article explores these 3 basic genres, detailing their origins, characteristics, and notable artists, providing a comprehensive understanding of country music’s evolution and enduring appeal.

1. Traditional Country

Origins and Influences

Traditional country music, often referred to simply as “country,” has its origins in the folk music of the rural Southern United States, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains. It emerged in the early 20th century, drawing influences from various musical traditions, including folk, gospel, and blues. The genre was initially shaped by the music of the early settlers, which included ballads and dance tunes brought over from Europe.

The advent of radio in the 1920s played a pivotal role in popularizing traditional country music. Programs like the Grand Ole Opry, which began broadcasting in 1925, brought country music to a wider audience. The Opry, based in Nashville, Tennessee, soon became synonymous with the genre, earning Nashville the nickname “Music City.”


Traditional country music is characterized by its simple melodies, straightforward lyrics, and prominent use of acoustic instruments such as the guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. The songs often tell stories of everyday life, love, heartache, and the struggles of rural existence. The vocal style is typically clear and unadorned, emphasizing the narrative quality of the lyrics.

Common themes in traditional country music include:

Love and Heartache: Many songs revolve around romantic relationships, often depicting the highs and lows of love.

Family and Home: The importance of family, home, and roots is a recurring theme.

Hardship and Resilience: Songs frequently address the challenges of rural life and the resilience of those who live it.

Notable Artists

Several artists have left an indelible mark on traditional country music. Some of the most influential figures include:

Jimmie Rodgers: Known as the “Father of Country Music,” Rodgers was one of the genre’s first major stars. His blend of folk, blues, and yodeling set the template for future country music.

The Carter Family: Often called the “First Family of Country Music,” their harmonies and songs about family and faith became foundational to the genre.

Hank Williams: With his emotive voice and songwriting prowess, Williams became one of the most influential country artists of all time, penning classics like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

2. Outlaw Country

Origins and Influences

Outlaw country emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s as a reaction against the polished production and commercialism of Nashville’s country music scene, often referred to as the “Nashville sound.” Artists in this subgenre sought to return to the raw, unfiltered roots of country music, drawing inspiration from folk, rock, and blues.

The movement was also a response to the stringent control that Nashville’s record labels exerted over artists. Outlaw country musicians wanted more artistic freedom and the ability to write and perform music that reflected their own experiences and viewpoints. This rebellious spirit is encapsulated in the name “outlaw country.”


Outlaw country is characterized by its rough, edgy sound and its embrace of themes that were often considered controversial or taboo. The music features a mix of traditional country instruments with electric guitars and rock-influenced arrangements. Lyrics are typically more personal, addressing issues such as individualism, rebellion, and social commentary.

Key characteristics of outlaw country include:

Rebellion and Individualism: Songs often celebrate the outlaw lifestyle, emphasizing personal freedom and resistance to authority.

Authenticity: There is a strong emphasis on authenticity and honesty in both the music and lyrics, with artists often drawing from their own life experiences.

Diverse Influences: Outlaw country incorporates elements from other genres, including rock, blues, and folk, creating a more eclectic sound.

Notable Artists

Several iconic artists are associated with the outlaw country movement, including:

Willie Nelson: One of the most recognizable figures in outlaw country, Nelson’s distinctive voice and eclectic style helped define the genre. His album “Red Headed Stranger” is considered a landmark in country music.

Waylon Jennings: A key figure in the movement, Jennings’ deep, resonant voice and rebellious persona made him a symbol of the outlaw spirit. His hits include “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Luckenbach, Texas.”

Johnny Cash: Although he predated the official outlaw country movement, Cash’s music and persona embodied the rebellious, independent spirit that would come to define the genre. Songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Man in Black” capture this ethos.

3. Contemporary Country

Origins and Influences

Contemporary country music, sometimes referred to as modern country, began to take shape in the 1980s and has continued to evolve into the present day. This genre represents a fusion of traditional country elements with influences from pop, rock, and other popular music styles. The result is a more polished, radio-friendly sound that appeals to a broader audience.

The shift towards contemporary country was driven in part by the desire to reach younger listeners and expand the genre’s appeal beyond its traditional fan base. This era saw the rise of music videos and the increased importance of visual media, further influencing the sound and style of contemporary country artists.


Contemporary country music is characterized by its blend of traditional country instrumentation with modern production techniques. This genre often features electric guitars, synthesizers, and drum machines, alongside the more traditional acoustic instruments. The lyrics are typically accessible and relatable, often focusing on themes of love, relationships, and everyday life.

Key characteristics of contemporary country include:

Pop Influences: The genre often incorporates elements of pop music, including catchy hooks, polished production, and a focus on radio-friendly singles.

Diverse Subject Matter: While traditional themes like love and heartbreak remain prevalent, contemporary country also explores a wide range of topics, including partying, small-town life, and personal empowerment.

Cross-Genre Collaborations: Contemporary country artists frequently collaborate with musicians from other genres, resulting in crossover hits that appeal to fans of both country and pop music.

Notable Artists

Many contemporary country artists have achieved significant mainstream success, helping to shape the modern sound of the genre. Some of the most prominent figures include:

Garth Brooks: One of the best-selling artists of all time, Brooks’ energetic performances and crossover appeal have made him a defining figure in contemporary country music. Hits like “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance” are emblematic of his style.

Shania Twain: Known as the “Queen of Country Pop,” Twain’s blend of country and pop elements has garnered her a massive following. Her album “Come On Over” remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Carrie Underwood: Rising to fame as the winner of “American Idol,” Underwood has become one of contemporary country’s most successful artists. Her powerful voice and crossover appeal have earned her numerous awards and chart-topping hits like “Before He Cheats” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”

See Also: Why was Did Garth Brooks Kicked Out of Country Music? 6 Reasons


Country music’s rich history and diverse subgenres have contributed to its enduring popularity and cultural significance. Traditional country, with its roots in the folk traditions of the American South, laid the foundation for the genre with its storytelling and acoustic instrumentation. Outlaw country brought a rebellious edge and artistic freedom, challenging the commercialism of Nashville’s music scene. Contemporary country, blending traditional elements with modern influences, has expanded the genre’s appeal to a global audience.

Each of these three basic genres of country music – traditional country, outlaw country, and contemporary country – offers a unique perspective and sound, reflecting the evolving landscape of American music. Understanding these genres provides a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of country music and its continued influence on popular culture. Whether through the heartfelt ballads of traditional country, the rebellious anthems of outlaw country, or the polished hits of contemporary country, the genre continues to resonate with listeners across generations, maintaining its place as a cornerstone of American music.

related articles

Dive into the enchanting world of music at OurMusicWorld.com, your ultimate destination for discovering new and diverse sounds. From emerging artists to timeless classics, embark on a musical journey that transcends genres and captivates your senses.

Copyright © 2023 ourmusicworld.com