What Defines Electronic Music?

what defines electronic music

Electronic music offers something for every taste imaginable – from driving beats and melodies, to soothing textures. Let’s delve into its fascinating history and examine its multiple facets!

Sampling and manipulation are integral to electronic music, enabling artists to reinterpret existing recordings by manipulating samples or remixing sounds in creative ways that emphasize its experimental nature.


Electronic music encompasses a diverse selection of musical genres that employ electronic instruments and technology. As opposed to using traditional acoustic instruments, electronic musicians use synthesizers, drum machines, samplers and other electronic tools such as synthesizers to manipulate sounds that they create from synthesizers or drum machines and samplers in order to produce unique textures unattainable with traditional instruments alone. Furthermore, producers often add digital effects like distortion, echo and modulation to their electronic productions for an additional punch of creativity!

Thaddeus Cahill pioneered electrically producing musical sound in the late 19th century with his telharmonium, an instrument comprised of multiple rotary generators and telephone receivers which converted electrical signals into audio. Although Cahill’s invention failed, his experiments laid the groundwork for modern electronic music synthesizers.

In the 1930s, innovations in record players led to electrical recordings and sound-on-film technology that pioneered electronic music composition; composers began combining natural and synthetic sounds into instrumental compositions. This enabled composers to experiment with creating sounds using electronic techniques.

Throughout the 1980s, electronic music evolved into new subgenres such as industrial music and electro dance music. Artists such as Kitaro and Vangelis combined classical instruments with electronic music for an immersive, relaxing soundscape.

Electronic music has quickly become a global phenomenon that spans multiple genres and subgenres. From ambient to glitch and downtempo, electronic music stands out with its distinct soundscapes and intricate productions that transcend traditional musical styles; therefore it has become one of the most beloved genres of contemporary music.


While electrical instruments were first created as early as 1748, electronic music as a genre may have first surfaced during the 20th century. At that time, composers began exploring ways to break free from classical-romantic tonality through innovative technical means; and new genres like musique concrete and electroacoustic were created as a result.

These genres relied heavily on sound recordings played back through loudspeakers to manipulate and transform sounds produced by other instruments, including the theremin (a hand-held device which produces musical tones when operated via antenna or finger) or mellotron, both dating back to the 1930s. Other developments included practical audio tape recorders being introduced, as well as Dr. Robert Moog’s creation of an acoustic synthesizer in 1955 that allowed musicians to compose their own sounds with oscillators and other devices.

In the 1960s, influential musicians such as the Beatles and Beach Boys began incorporating electric sounds into their performances. Other pioneering acts such as Silver Apples and White Noise of Japan also utilized electronic sounds in their psychedelic style; leading to genres such as electronic rock and electronica being created.

In the 1980s, personal computers gave rise to a new wave of electronic music with access to software designed for creating and manipulating electronic sounds as well as more compact synthesizers than previous models. This generational shift can be divided into sub-styles such as industrial, acid house and techno music genres.

Recent years have witnessed many artists combining electronic music with other genres of music such as rock, jazz and alternative country – leading to genres such as big room house, trance and electroclash.


Electronic music stands out among genres for its flexibility and ability to blend with others. You might hear elements from rock, jazz, hip-hop or classical music in electronic tracks. This musical fusion allows artists to craft truly innovative compositions that defy conventional stylistic boundaries.

One of the key characteristics of electronic music is its use of sampling, in which short pieces from existing recordings are sampled to compose new compositions. This practice of artistic appropriation has played a critical role in its development and has enabled composers to challenge copyright and intellectual property norms through creative work.

Electronic music’s hallmark features are its use of synthesizers, drum machines and effects pedals – devices which allow musicians to create complex sounds unattainable with traditional instruments while manipulating sound waves to produce various moods and textures.

Rhythm and beat are fundamental elements of many electronic music genres, including breakbeat, jungle and dubstep. Breakbeat is a dance music style which combines drum loops with samples from original vocal or instrumental tracks to produce the popular breakbeat genre – many artists such as The Prodigy, Skrillex and Deadmau5 produce songs in this category.

Jungle music combines elements from hip-hop and reggae into one dance music genre called jungle. It consists of fast drum beats accompanied by basslines produced by synthesizers; many artists such as Richie Hawtin and Nicole Moudaber produce songs within this genre.

Other genres of electronic music include ambient and downtempo genres. These styles use synthesizers to produce lush soundscapes with intricate textures designed to promote contemplation and relaxation – these genres can often be heard playing in the background of movies and advertisements.


Electronic music’s inception can be traced back to technological developments of the 1920s. Mechanical acoustical recordings were converted to electrical recordings, and by 1930 sound speed adjustment along with oscillators creating sine waves, sawtooth waves, square waves and other pure tones were developed allowing composers to use both their own sounds as well as those found naturally or industrial sources in their compositions.

In the 1960s, keyboard synthesizers became more affordable and accessible to a wider variety of musicians, prompting many rock bands to incorporate keyboard synthesizers into their songs and giving rise to genres such as electronic rock and electronica – something Dusseldorf band Kraftwerk pioneered through using electronics to symbolize feelings of isolation in an ever-evolving technological society.

Sampling is another technique employed in electronic music that utilizes short recordings from earlier albums to incorporate into new compositions, honoring past musical influences while creating unique styles that resist categorisation.

By the 1990s, thanks to computer music technology and software being more accessible to musicians at home, recording and producing electronic music became possible for them to do themselves at home. This style quickly gained in popularity resulting in genres such as acid techno, hardcore, bleep techno as more musicians participated. Many artists weren’t trained musicians either but rather learned through experimentation using new software/hardware; many even created instruments of their own like the Electribe or Pro-One which combined an analogue synth with digital effects in one unit!


Composers began using electronic musical instruments (or electrophones) in the 1950s to compose, such as pipe organs that amplified sound electronically or drums that generated sounds mechanically but could also be modified using electrical signals to produce sounds electronically amplified through pipe organs or drums and modified using electrical signals for playback and modification; recording sounds both electronic and mic-recorded; manipulating them individually or in montages through modulation, reverberation and filtering operations before re-recording them into increasingly complex patterns before recording again for subsequent playback.

Synthesizers are one of the primary instruments used for creating electronic music, so-named for their ability to artificially produce sound through various techniques. Early synthesizers employed circuit-based sound synthesis that used oscillators, voltage controlled amplifiers and filters; modular synthesizers were first developed by engineers Peter Mauzey and Raymond Scott at RCA in 1957 before Robert Moog developed modular ones later on in 1960s.

In the 1950s, electronic keyboards such as Clavivox and Solovox emerged. Intended to complement piano or organ performance rather than serve as replacements, they primarily relied on vacuum tubes; later designs made use of solid-state transistors instead.

Since the 1980s, digital computers and advanced music production software have made creating electronic music much simpler. Musicians typically utilize software alongside sequencers and synthesizers. Sequencers act like tape recorders but store note data instead of sound; sequencers allow musicians to edit this with music software for editing purposes; synthesizers serve as actual musical instruments that produce sounds; these include hard hardware like the classic Moog Model D as well as softsynths that run on computers.