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People often say that opposites attract. The same rings true for music. It’s all too easy to get stuck listening to the same old songs and styles. Taking time away from your “anchor genre” to explore other realms of music will not only make you a better, well rounded musician, but also help you bring new and exciting ideas and approaches into your favorite style of music. 

So for this new year of 2021, seek out the opposites! Here I’ve outlined 4 great genre pairings which might sound weird on the surface but actually share many deep similarities.

  1. Metal and Bluegrass

Metal and Bluegrass might seem as far apart on the musical spectrum as one can get, but you only have to look beyond the instrumentation to see the roots below. I’m probably going to step on a lot of toes when I say this, but most Metal and Bluegrass songs are in the same keys. Almost every metal song written is in either E minor, A minor, or D minor (coincidentally the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings of the guitar).

Likewise almost every Bluegrass song is either in G major, C major, or D major (the keys easiest for accompanying banjos, fiddles, and mandolins to solo over). Furthermore, they are both genres that value virtuosity. Most successful metal guitarists are highly proficient, if not technical masters of their instruments. Bluegrass is the same. You cannot fake bluegrass. 

Both genres are also played at lightning fast speeds, often reaching or exceeding 200 BPM. This speed is fundamental to the sound and feel of both genres, and listening to a banjo shred Cripple Creek can be just as exhilarating as listening to Marty Friedman play Tornado of Souls. If you’re looking for a great crossover artist who started in metal and moved into bluegrass, look no further than Billy Strings’ “Dust in a Baggie.”

2. Country and Reggae

Country and Reggae are both charismatic in terms of their geography. Country was born more or less in the lowlands of the south and Reggae got its start in Jamaica. Quite different places right? On the surface it looks like they could never work together.

But I challenge you to take your favorite country songs and play them with a choppy, off beat rhythm and sing them with a more laid back voice. You’ll be surprised just how good it can sound. 

Don’t believe me? Check out the Toots and the Maytals version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” With a few different words here and there and a Reggae inflected rhythm, the entire feel of the song shifts but the spirit stays the same. 

Reggae and Country are both emotive genres. They’re happy and sad at the same time. They focus on the drama of daily life in their respective regions. By blending these two approaches together, you’ll catch a glimpse of commonalities between all human experience. THAT will make you a better musician, more than anything else.

3. Rock and Jazz

It’s no secret that Jazz is not nearly as popular as it used to be sixty years ago. The terms “elevator music” and “easy listening” have banished away the thought that Jazz can be as exciting or even as intense as Rock can be.

Spoiler Alert: it can be. 

The loud, outrageous drum fills we so often characterize with Rock got their start with drummers like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Buddy Rich. The electric guitar and the idea of distortion came about in part as an answer to the coarse tones of the saxophone in terms of its presence and intensity. The walking bass line pioneered by Jazz bassists made a natural translation into Rock through players ranging from Paul McCartney to Geddy Lee.

Because Jazz and Rock both share the Blues as their template, their approaches to soloing often overlap.

If you can solo over the twelve bar blues, you’re off to a great start in feeling comfortable in both genres. Want some help? Check out the JamPlay video lesson to help you dive deeper into improvisation.



Soloing Over the 12 Bar Blues

Jazz and Rock were also both reviled by the majority of the public when they made their debut on the world, but then eventually came into vogue as dominant genres. Jazz might seem smooth and clean on the outside, but don’t judge a genre by its cover.

If you want to hear Jazz be as groovy and as powerful as Rock, go listen to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and imagine the saxophone is instead a guitar being played by David Gilmour.

4. Funk and Hip Hop

Out of everything we’ve covered here today, Funk and Hip Hop have the most in common, and they should. Hip Hop is a direct descendant of Funk. Hip Hop began in house parties in Harlem in the early 70’s where the first DJ’s played James Brown records and “rapped” over the beats while everybody danced.

People might complain that Hip Hop has strayed too far away from its roots in physical instrumentation (i.e. too many drum tracks, programmed sounds) but one doesn’t have to look far to hear great artists like Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and The Roots blend the flow of Hip Hop with the rhythm of Funk. It’s a match made in heaven.Guitar has a place in both genres. But it’s a challenging place, because for once the guitar usually doesn’t take a lead role. If you want to be brave and experience an overlooked option with your instrument, learning funk rhythms on guitar will set you well on the road of Funk and Hip Hop.

There’s no time like the present to listen to as much music as you can, as much as you can. The genre pairings I’ve talked about here today are only a few of the many different options out there. You can learn a little from everything because, at its core, music is music. Genre is only a matter of application.

Make 2021 the year you learn to play guitar FOR REAL. We have 7,000+ guitar lessons and over 100 artists and instructors who can help you on your learning path. Explore content to help you get started and join JamPlay today. 

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