What Is Contemporary Music?

Contemporary classical music is a type of classical music created recently. It was most often used to describe post-tonal compositions after the death of Anton Webern in the early 21st century.

Contemporary music is defined by the circumstances in which it is composed, performed, or made available to us for listening. It has become more accessible with the rise of technology and the availability of music on all media sources.

Many people have a hard time with the idea of contemporary music because it often breaks away from common musical conventions such as tonality and rhythm. This is typically demonstrated by atonal melodies or spastic percussion lines.

However, this is not always the case just like when a song could be in a major key with influences of jazz but still belong to the category of contemporary music. There are many different types of contemporary music that all come from different cultures around the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Definition: Contemporary classical music is modern compositions that often defy traditional norms like tonality.
  • Technology’s Role: Advances in technology have both made contemporary music more accessible and influenced its unconventional structure.
  • Diversity: This music genre is diverse, blending influences from various cultures and styles, including jazz and hip-hop.
  • Characteristics: It’s marked by complex rhythms, atonal melodies, and a mix of electronic and orchestral sounds.
  • Significance: Contemporary music mirrors current cultural trends, serving as a dynamic form of global expression.
  • Notable Composers: Figures like John Williams and Phillip Glass have shaped the genre, particularly through film scores.

What period is contemporary music?

Many musicians and listeners alike agree that contemporary music is heavily rooted in the 20th century. 

It was during this time that composers started delving into harmonic sounds rather than just relying on scales or chromatic compositions. They started experimenting with complex time signatures, complex rhythms, and complex melodies that didn’t always follow along with the tonic to the dominant axis.

It doesn’t just mean that it was composed after 1950 or so. It’s more than just jazz, hip-hop, or pop.

It’s the range of music that was written in this century that is still being composed today. It isn’t limited to any one genre either. Contemporary music proves itself to be an everlasting art form, and it won’t lose its popularity anytime soon.

What are some characteristics of contemporary music?

The characteristics of contemporary music include the following: Complex time signatures, Pitched percussion (triangle, maracas, etc.), Electronic Instruments, Orchestral instruments, Lack of lyrics, Lack of structure (pitches, rhythmic patterns), Harmonic chord progressions, Chromatic and atonal melodies, and harmonies, Reliance on scales other than the diatonic (major and harmonic minor), Variety in orchestration, Tonal, modal, and atonal music all included together.

And that’s what makes contemporary music so interesting. Instead of just having one or two different genres, there is such a large variety of sounds and styles coming from every corner of the world. This keeps contemporary music alive and relevant to this day. 

How is contemporary music different from other types of music

It varies according to the way people consider music. If someone considers classical music (after 1750) as another form of contemporary music, then they would say that there are many similarities between the two. Both forms incorporate complex harmonies and chord progressions. 

However, if someone considers classical music as a completely different form of music, then they would say that contemporary music is usually (not always) tonal and has complex melodies. It also relies heavily on rhythm and percussion instead of harmony and orchestration.

Importance of Contemporary Music 

Every generation has its own idea of what makes a song ‘contemporary’. Popularity is a big factor that can determine whether or not a piece of music belongs in the category of contemporary music.

In today’s society, music is arguably more important than it has been in any other generation. It’s a means of expression and reverie which can be easily consumed by the world’s citizens. 

Contemporary music is a large portion of the most popular songs in this time period and is an integral part of people’s lives. It represents emotions and ideas that connect the people of the world through a means of expression. Imagine a world without contemporary music. It would be a very plain and boring place indeed. 

Contemporary music is constantly evolving as each generation brings its own sound to this ever-growing genre known as contemporary music. By labeling music as contemporary, it is a way of saying it is still relevant and up-to-date in today’s ever-changing society.

It’s the kind of music that won’t go out of style or become old-fashioned anytime soon. Therefore, it is important to understand the types of music that are being made today in order for them to be recognized.

Contemporary Music Composers 

Some of the most popular composers in contemporary music are John Williams, Phillip Glass, and Ennio Morricone. 

These three composers have worked on some of the biggest movies in recent history with scores like Star Wars, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).

Many of these contemporary composers were born in the 20th century, but many are also still producing new music. This includes John Williams who was born in 1932 and Ennio Morricone, born in 1928. 

The music of Phillip Glass is more modern than that of John Williams or Ennio Morricone. Glass’ work includes the music for films like Notes on A Scandal (2006), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and The Truman Show (1998).

These contemporary music composers have many things in common. They are all popular, write music for films, and were born in the 20th century.

Contemporary Music Genres/Types

Some of the most popular genres or types of contemporary music are blues, hip-hop, R&B, and rap. 

Blues is a type of music that was popularized in America and has its roots in African-American folk music. Blues music can be categorized as having three major subgenres: Delta blues, Piedmont blues, and Chicago blues. 

Today, contemporary blues is one of the most popular and well-recognized genres and has its roots in genres like gospel and country. As blues grew more mainstream, it diverged into different types of music like rock and roll and early hip hop.

When it comes to hip hop, this genre of music can be traced back to the 1970s in New York City. Its roots are closely tied to blues and influence many contemporary musicians today. Many popular recording artists have incorporated elements of hip hop into their music including Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and Drake.

Contemporary music is also categorized by its influences from genres like R&B and rap. R&B singers like Chris Brown and Rihanna, many of whom have incorporated hip-hop into their music, are some of the most popular contemporary musicians today.

Many singers combine different styles of singing with elements of rap, which is another popular type of contemporary music. This includes artists like Outkast, Kanye West, and Eminem. The number of rappers that have been nominated for or won Grammy Awards in the last few decades shows how widely accepted rap music has become since its commercialization in the 1980s.


Many individuals find it difficult to accept contemporary music because it frequently departs from conventional musical norms such as tonality and rhythm. Contemporary music is a varied form of music that is made from many different cultures throughout the world. Some examples are jazz, rock, and a variety of other genres.

Contemporary music is the music that is currently popular or relevant in our society. It’s a way of labeling music that has been influenced by cultures and genres from the past while at the same time being molded into something new and interesting.

Contemporary music can be categorized as a genre all its own with lots of different styles and influences. Understanding the types of music that are being made today is important in order for it to be recognized as a type of music unique from other genres or types.