Welcome to the next lesson in our free English class series about Music in America! Go find your boots and cowboy hats because we’re going to explore the origins of country music!
Approximately 15 minutes
Country Music: Then and Now
Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.
Many outside of America associate country music as a Western style of music, but it’s actually known as the music of the South. The style originated in the folk music of working class or blue collar Americans. They mixed old Irish, Celtic, and English song styles with American blues songs created by African American workers in the Deep South.
From those origins, a musical revolution began and became a label for the farm and ranch communities of the Southern and Western United states.
The structure of a country music song is simple in nature but incorporates a variety of instruments and vocal harmonies. Country bands use both acoustic and electric guitars and drums accompanied by classic country instruments like a fiddle, steel guitar, banjo, or a harmonica. Most songs are traditionally played on a blues musical scale.
Though country music had been popular for over 20 years, the term didn’t become popular until the 1940’s when it replaced hillbilly music. Even then, it was called Country and Western music because of the Western musical influences. Performers often wore cowboy hats, boots, jeans, and Western style shirts, and song lyrics generally reflect the values associated with the American South and frontier West. Many of these performance traditions are still honored.
Beginning in the 1950’s, country music mixed with rock and popular music stylings and formed many musical blends that made it onto mainstream radio stations. Through the 60’s and 70’s, musicians blended other styles with country music to create a large number of country subgenres like country rock, pop country, neocountry, and alt-country. Many are still popular today.
However, the biggest boost to the popularity of country music came in the 1980’s when the US government expanded the number of FM Radio stations allowed to transmit. Traditionally, country music was played on lower quality AM Radio stations in rural and suburban areas. But with the expansion, the masses could hear high quality productions.
Today, country music continues to draw millions of listeners and inspires musicians from all walks of life and within many genres.
Watch this video for an example of a classic American folk song played on the fiddle:
Now, watch this video to see ALL of the country instruments in action, and let us know which ones you can spot in the comments below!
Grammar Center: Compound Nouns
In these music lessons, and especially in the above passage, you may have noticed a number of compound nouns.
While the basic concept of compound nouns may be a lesson geared towards beginner and lower-intermediate level learners, it’s important to understand that compound nouns become more complex as you advance your learning.
As an American, I’ll be the first to say it, we LOVE to make compound nouns. It’s so easy to throw two words together to give something a label.
For example, here are a few compound nouns from the lengthy list in the passage above:
Compound nouns are two or more words that come together to form a single unit or noun. Typically they’re formed by combining a noun with another noun (cowboy hat) or an adjective with another noun (pop country). However, there are other forms:
Compound nouns come in three forms:
Don’t forget! Compound nouns can also be plural.
Lastly, because compound nouns act as a single noun, they can be modified by an adjective or another noun.
As an advanced learner, you probably know the basic ones like breakfast. But as you expand your vocabulary, it’s important to notice when writers (even academics) use two distinct words to create a new one.
The best tool you have for identifying compound nouns is a strong vocabulary, so be sure and build it up every day and utilize tools like the free Magoosh TOEFL Flashcards.
Next, don’t be afraid to play with compound nouns in your own conversations. It’s fun to explore the language and see what you can come up with between friends. This is a great tool that helps you learn and remember words. After all, you can always confirm the correct usage with a native speaker.