Spotlight on the Country song genre

The aim of our spotlights on different song genres is to make it easy for Music teachers to bring to life the different contemporary music styles.  In addition, for English teachers to have the knowledge and a great instrumental track for pupils to write song lyrics in a style of music they choose.

There could be some difficulties to distinguish Country and Folk music as they share a lot in common. The difference is that Country is a music genre within the big family of Folk music but a folk song is not necessarily a country song.
Country music originated from Blues, Church music and several forms of American folk music in the 1920s. It continued to evolve until nowadays with influences from other traditional genres music but also more commercial styles like Pop since the 2000s.

We’ve looked at some of the key features of instrumentation, rhythm & beat and chords & harmonies in Country songs.  Plus we’ve selected some Country songs to have a listen to.  Pupils can use our demonstration instrumental track to write their lyrics & melodies over.

Instrumentation
In the 1920s, there were no electric instruments and the drum kit was just about to be developed. That’s why the first country musicians mostly used acoustic instruments to accompany their singing like the guitar, the banjo or the accordion and other European instruments like the harmonica and the violin. Drums was at the beginning described as being “too loud” and “not pure” and musicians started to have a drummer only from the 1950s while Electric guitar was used in country music for the first time in 1938. Although it continued to be influenced by other modern genres, the authentic sound of country remains with acoustic instruments.

Rhythm and Beat
Although many country songs tends to be ballads, it’s difficult to say what it the typical rhythm for country. Through time since 1920s it evolved a lot, influenced by many other genres, but mainly by Blues, Rock and Pop music. Some country songs have a shuffle feeling like in Rock”n”roll while others like in contemporary country music sounds similar to Pop music.

Chords and Harmonies
Country took a lot from Blues’ harmonies and scales but like most music, it also uses the normal chord progressions of European diatonic scales.

Demonstration instrumental track
You can use our demonstration instrumental track below to have a go at putting your lyrics and melodies over a Country style instrumental.   The Demo has a 4/4 feel groove with typical country slide electric but also acoustic guitars.  The song structure of this instrumental track is:

Refrain – 4 bars
Verse 1 – 8 bars
Pre Chorus – 8 bars
Chorus – 8 bars
Refrain – 4 bars
Verse 2 – 8 bars
Pre Chorus – 8 bars
Chorus – 8 bars
Refrain – 4 bars
Bridge – 16 bars
Double Chorus – 16 Bars
Refrain – 4 bars

SONG REFERENCES

The following references are here to give you an idea of country music from different period of time. From traditional country to a more commercial one.

JOLENE – DOLLY PARTON

A very well known country song released in 1974 with a typical country sound by an artist still active today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixrje2rXLMA

FOLSOM PRISON – JOHNNY CASH

Around the same time as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash was one of the most influential country singer and songwriter of all time. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeZRYhLDLeU

HUMBLE AND KIND – TIM MCGRAW

Tim McGraw is a very successful country artist since 1994 with his blending of traditional and Rock music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awzNHuGqoMc

I HOPE – GABBY BARRETT

This was the most listened country song of 2020 but you can already hear that it sounds very far away from the authentic sound. It’s more a blend of pop music with guitars that reminds you of the traditional country genre. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCH6JpcK5w

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