Types of Spanish Music and Latin American Music
What comes to mind when you think of Spanish music?
As the philosopher Plato once said: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
The beauty of music is the diversity it has in it, in fact, there are more than 2,500 music genres in the world!
In this blog post we explore the elements of Spanish music and how it contrasts with Latin American music. What’s more, we explore 8 genres of music unique to each region!
Differences Between Spanish Music and Latin American Music
First, it’s important to be clear that in this article, “Spanish music” refers to the music that comes from the country Spain, while “Latin American music” refers to music genres that originated in the countries of Latin America.
In the first section, we’ll discuss three main differences between Latin American and Spanish music according to where people listen to the genres, the instruments they use, and their general cultural significance.
Where People Listen to the Music
Spanish music is commonly a fixture at theatres, festivals, and squares. The perfect example for this is the 7-day long music festival Singular Fest that takes place in La Plaza España, in Seville, Spain. People from all Spain get together in Seville for this event and enjoy the sound of genres like flamenco. People enjoy Spanish music for its ability to represent Spain’s traditions, cultural wealth, and history.
Instead, traditional Latin American music is listened to mostly at competitions, events, or conventions, such as the World Latin Dance Cup, the Montreal Salsa Convention, the Canada Salsa & Bachata Congress, and the Salsódromos. In these kinds of events, people prepare special choreographies depending on the category they’re in, and show their talent on a stage to win prizes and recognition. Additionally, people listen to Latin American music at social events with special themes. That is, people use the genres of salsa, merengue, bachata, and even tango for celebrating birthdays, graduations, and friendly get-togethers.
Difference in Types of Instruments
A notable difference between these two inspiring music genres includes the instruments that each type uses. Spanish music tends to use more woodwind, percussion, and string instruments, such as:
- Maracas (maracas)
- Clarinet (clarinete)
- Guitar (guitarra)
- Castanets (castañuelas)
- Sticks (palos)
Also, the use of the body as an instrument is very characteristic of Spanish music, people use:
- Feet (stamp)
- Fingers (snap)
- Hands (clap)
On the other hand, Latin American instruments vary, but they include percussion, brass, string, and keyboard ones. These are:
- Drums (tambores)
- Guitars (guitarras)
- Violins (violines)
- Piano (piano)
- Trumpets (trompetas)
- Guiro (güiro)
- Maracas (maracas)
Note that Latin American music doesn’t use parts of the body to create melodies.
Want to learn more instrument-related vocabulary in Spanish? Check out these groovin’ instrument words in Spanish to immerse yourself even more in the world of music!
Cultural Significance of the Music
Another defining difference exists between these two different types of music: the core cultural message that they convey is different.
Spanish music emphasizes more in celebrations, traditions, and dances; which is why people listen to them at cultural events. In general, its message involves history and cultural significance, so it’s great for carnivals and important concerts, for example.
Also, Spanish traditional music has long been developed, maintained, and nurtured at all levels: local, regional and national levels:
- In the customs of the pueblos (the community villages and towns of the countryside) at the local level
- In each autonomous community (province) at the regional level, and
- In cities like Madrid, Barcelona,, València, Sevilla, and Málaga where the music begins to symbolise Spanish identity at a national level.
Latin American Music
In comparison, Latin American music tends to communicate people’s collective struggles and goals. This is, love, heartbreak, couples, hate, revenge, sorrow, grief, among others. This is why this music has become part of social and ballroom events and is varying social events or competitions, during which people participate in their cultural identity and symbolism while listening and dancing to it.
Now let’s investigate the different genres in Spanish music and Latin American music!
4 Popular Spanish Music Genres
Spanish music is as varied as Spain’s regions. Among the most important types of music, the following are essential genres of Spain’s musical culture:
Flamenco originates from the Andalusian Gypsies of southern Spain. Its main facets are singing, playing, and dancing; and is accompanied mainly by guitar music and palo seco (a stick that’s beat on the floor). It’s rhythm is strong and deep. A tip to illustrate this rhythm in your head is to imagine stamping your feet, clapping your hands, and snapping your fingers while dancing to this Spanish music.
Fandango was very popular in the 18th century, and now is considered a folk dance in Spain. It’s usually danced by couples and has a very similar rhythm to flamenco. It’s marked by castanets, a percussion instrument that consists of two hardwood pieces that are held in the hand and struck together. People also clap their hands, stamp their feet, and snap their fingers. The difference is that fandango starts slowly and the speed gradually increases as the music continues. In fact, while people dance it, the music suddenly pauses and everyone stands rigid until they hear it again.
The origin of this traditional Spanish music comes from Aragon, Spain and is a stage performance in which performers dance and sing with castanets while dressed in regional costumes. The melody includes guitars, bandurrias (like a banjo), accordions, and drums. As for the rhythm it isn’t too slow nor too fast (for those who know a little bit more about music, it’s usually in ¾ time).
This genre combines both music and melodies with a dance from Cataluña, all with several instruments. The instruments involved are a tenora (a wind instrument), drums, trumpets, and bass, among others. Also, many Sardanas do have lyrics, but when it comes to dancing, you’ll only listen to the instruments. The rhythm is calm and a little slow, so it’s easy to keep up with it. In order to perform the Sardana, the dancers need an 11-member band called a cobla, and the tambourine and bass help keep the beat for them.
4 Popular Latin American Music Genres
On the other hand, when you think of Latin America, the first thing that comes to mind is color, passion, vibrancy, and fun music. Here are some of the most popular music genres.
This Latin American music’s genre arose for the first time in Cuba in the 1920s. It was a mixture of Cuban son and rumba music, which combines bass guitar, piano, bongo and conga drums, maracas, and even a guiro (a type of hollow gourd with lines cut into it that can be scraped with a stick to make a scratchy, rhythmic sound). Salsa dancing is world-famous now, loved for its combining elements of the Spanish-guitar and the rhythmic voices. Also, its rhythm structure wherein the bass line precedes the downbeat by a half-beat, creates a distinctive pulse that millions of people enjoy every single time.
Merengue originated in the Dominican Republic during the 19th century, and became popular during the 1960’s, thanks to the foundation of regional orchestras and merengue academies, influenced by that time’s president: Hector Trujillo. It’s rhythm is very fast, especially for beginners, although the main instruments are only drums and a guiro. In fact, the music is in 4/4 time with three sections: paseo (a step in 3/4 time), merengue, and jaleo. People dance it with a partner, and it’s danced with a limping step, the weight always on the same foot.
Bachata is another Dominican sensation that’s popular worldwide. It’s a very slick dance with two partners dancing close, requiring lots of hip wiggling and foot-pop flourishes. In fact, it’s considered one of the most empowering genres of all Latin music, requiring a lot of magic moves to dance it properly, such as loosen hips and coordinated feet. The rhythm has a marked beat which includes trumpets, maracas, drums, and even guitars.
Originating in the Rio de la Plata between Argentina and Uruguay, tango evolved and grew in Buenos Aires during the 19th century. Tango is an intense genre of music that is one of the most popular in dance halls across the globe. It includes piano, violins, bass, and guitar. In tango, there is no such permanent rhythmic pattern, there are continuous changes of different types of rhythm: the 4 beats of a measure sound, sometimes only 3, other times two or only one, there are pauses of different lengths, different types of syncopation, rhythmic variations in melody, etc. Therefore, given the continuous changes of rhythm that tango music has, dancing it is not easy at all. However, with whichever beat tango partners are dancing, they do two basic things: change their weight by moving from over one foot to over the other foot; and pivot, meaning that with their weight over one or the other foot, they twist the body, pivoting their standing foot to point in a new direction.
Music to Your Ears
Isn’t music great? As you saw, each type of music has its own cultural wealth. After reviewing some of the main differences between these two extraordinary genres of music, let us know in the comments which type of Latin American and Spanish music is your favorite!
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