Guitar: It’s Not Just for Rock and Roll

In the American mind, guitar is often equated with genres that originated or developed here. We also tend to think of classical guitar being used solely for traditional classical music. While these guitar-based genres are prevalent in our society, the world offers many variations and original genres featuring the six-string and its associated instruments. Here are a few you may not have experienced.

Brazilian Jazz

Playing Brazilian bossa nova jazz guitar
Playing Brazilian jazz guitar

Probably the best-known subgenre of Brazilian jazz is Bossa Nova, a fusion of samba music and jazz. Bossa Nova literally means “new trend.” It is typically performed on a classical six-string guitar, and is very percussive. Antonio Carlos Jobim was one of the best-known performers of this style. It became popular in the US in the 1960s, and is still used as a major element of smooth jazz.

Hawaiian Slack Key

Slack-key guitar originated in Hawaii. The term comes from the open tuning standard in the genre, as many of the strings are loosened or “slackened” to form an open chord. According to many historians, it developed in the late 19th century, as the natives were taught the rudiments of guitar playing from Mexican cowboys. It was mostly a home-played style, taking a back seat to ukulele and steel guitar in terms of popularity, and wasn’t even recorded until the 1940s. It has since become a musical symbol of Hawaiian pride, and is now much more popular. In fact, the first four Grammys for Best Hawaiian Music Album were awarded to slack-key guitar recordings.


Although Flamenco is most accurately described as a genre of dance, it is intertwined in most people’s minds as a genre of guitar music. As you may guess, the name comes from the word “flamingo,” and the dance is based on the mating dance of these birds. Initially not used as an accompaniment (it was vocals-only at its onset), over time the flamenco guitar became the lead instrument accompanying the dance, and is now generally the only musical accompaniment. It is wildly popular around the world, and some of the leading flamenco guitarists over the years include Paco de Lucia, Carlos Montoya, and Charo.

Irish Folk

Although guitar was not initially used in Irish folk music, in modern times it is frequently used for both recording and live performance. A plectrum is normally used, and alternate tunings are common. The guitar is never used as a primary instrument in this genre, but rather as an accompaniment to the other instruments or the singer.

Progressive Bluegrass

Also known as “Newgrass,” progressive bluegrass takes the traditional form and mixes in elements of music from other genres, particularly rock and roll. Jazz and rock inflections are common, as are non-traditional chord progressions. As the name of the genre implies, electric guitars are frequently added to the traditional acoustic guitar and banjo. Also unlike the traditional form, long jams are frequent.

These are just a few of the many genres that you can look into. You may find yourself incorporating them into your playing style, or simply enjoy listening to them. Check these and other genres out at your local music store or library – or browse Youtube for some fine examples.

Glenn Sutton
Ozzie’s Music
12222 Poway Road,
Suite #27
California 92064

Phone 619-306-3664


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