Country Music 101: Country Music Glossary

Everything you need to know about country music

Kenny Chesney - 49th Annual CMA Awards - Show. Terry Wyatt / GettyImages

Country music has continued to evolve ever since its inception in the early 20th century, proving that the genre is much more than a couple of guitars and some twang. Over the years country music has constantly reinvented itself, further establishing the genre as a mainstay in American music. Today country music seems to be more popular than ever before, thanks to contemporary artists who incorporate many of the subgenres and styles that are found on this list.

The following glossary defines terms commonly used in the world of country music:

A-Team: The group of studio musicians that played on virtually every hit record during the Nashville sound era in the 1960s and '70s.

ACM: Acronym for the Academy of Country Music, a country music organization founded in 1964 and host of the annual ACM Awards.

Alt country: A type of country music typically produced outside of Nashville that isn't played on commercial country radio. Alt country artists include Sun Volt, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang, Steve Earle and the Jayhawks. Also known as "alternative country" and "Americana."

Bakersfield sound: Style of country music influenced by rock and roll and traditional country. Created in contrast to the Nashville sound that filled country airwaves in the '50s and '60s. Famous Bakersfield sound artists include Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam.

Bluegrass: A type of country music influenced by the genre's Appalachian roots and categorized by the quick, precise playing style of the mandolin, fiddle, dobro and banjo.

Cajun: Style of country music that originated amongst French-speaking Acadians in the bayou region of Southwest Louisiana characterized by the accordion and fiddle.

CCMA: Canadian Country Music Association. Organization for Canadians working in the country music industry.

CMA: Country Music Association. Founded in 1958 as the first trade organization to promote a genre of music.

CMA Music Festival: Four-day music festival held every June and hosted by the Country Music Association. Known as "Fan Fair" until 2004.

Conjunto: Style of music that originated in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas in the late 1800s that blends polka and waltz introduced by German settlers with Mexican folk music. Famous Conjunto performers include Flaco Jiménez and the Texas Tornadoes.

Country music: Genre of music that originated in the Southern United States in the 1920s and is influenced by American folk music and Western music.

Country Music Hall of Fame: Founded by the Country Music Association in 1961. Dedicated the the recognition of noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to country music.

Country rock: An offshoot of country music rooted in rock, but categorized by a twang. Country rock artists include the Eagles, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Doug Sahm and Linda Ronstadt. Also known as "hard country."

Cowboy country: Originated during the 1930s and distinguished by harmonies, storytelling and swing and waltz rhythms.

Popularized by singing cowboys in films starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Other cowboy country singers include The Sons of the Pioneers, Riders in the Sky, and Michael Martin Murphey.

Early country: Earliest form of country music that descended from the ballads and folk songs brought by immigrants from the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries. Early country acts include The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

Grand Ole Opry: A weekly country music stage concert held in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in 1925 as the "WSM Barn Dance." Membership with the Opry is one of country music's most consummate achievements, and is the genre's oldest "hall of fame."

Honky Tonk: The most recognizable, classic type of country music characterized by rhythmic guitar, steel guitar and a wailing vocal style.

Well known honky tonk artists include Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb.

Nashville: Nashville, Tennessee. The capital of country music. Home of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry and several country labels. Also known as "Music City" and "Nashvegas."

Nashville sound: Type of country music that emerged in the late 1950s, characterized by piano, strings, background vocals and an overall more polished sound, instead of the traditional gritty sound of country music. Also known as "The Golden Age of Nashville" and "countrypolitan."

Neotraditional countryA type of country music that originated in the 1980s as a throwback to when country music valued integrity more than image. Draws influence from traditional country music. Famous neotraditional acts include Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, George Strait, Alan Jackson, The Judds and Keith Whitley.

New country: A slick, highly produced, pop-orientated style of country music played on commercial country radio that is noted for producing crossover success. Popular new country artists include Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Also known as "country pop" and "poptry."

Outlaw country: Genre established in opposition to the Nashville sound that came into bloom during the mid-1970s. Outlaw country was a direct rebellion to the production system and marked a return to main line country. Famous artists include Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Jessi Colter and Tompal Glaser.

Rockabilly: Style of country music noted for rock influences popularized by Elvis Presley and Sun Records guru Sam Phillips that eventually led to the creation of rock and roll. Rockabilly bands consist of a guitar, drums and an upright bass. Famous artists include Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Ryman Auditorium: Nashville church-turned-performance-venue that first opened its doors in 1982 and served as home of the Grand Ole Opry form 1943-1974. Also known as the "Mother Church of Country Music."

Tejano: Style of country music based on traditional Mexican music and distinguished by upbeat lyrics and danceable tempos. Popular Tejano artists include Emilio Navaira and John Arthur Martinez. 

Western swing: Type of country music that originated in the 1930s and incorporates traditional string bands and a Big Band sound. Prominent acts include Bob Wills, Tex Williams and Milton Brown, and contemporary Western Swing acts include Asleep at the Wheel.

Zydeco: Emerged during the early 1900s from the Cajun and Creole cultures of the Louisiana bayou. Music is sung in French and is steeped with blues and African influences, and often features a washboard. Famous zydeco acts include C.J. Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco.

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Fabian, Shelly. "Country Music 101: Country Music Glossary." ThoughtCo, Mar. 5, 2016, Fabian, Shelly. (2016, March 5). Country Music 101: Country Music Glossary. Retrieved from Fabian, Shelly. "Country Music 101: Country Music Glossary." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).