Magoosh English Class: Introduction to Music in America

Welcome to the first of many free English classes from Magoosh! We’re starting with a series on Music in America! Join along as we teach you a little about American music, complete with a reading passage, vocab and grammar guide, and quiz to test your understanding.


  • Understand some of the cultural influences and history of music in America
  • Learn basic English terms used around musical topics
  • Explore a literary device used in English


Difficulty Level: C2 Learners

Time: Approximately 15 minutes

Music in America

Click below to listen to a recording of this reading passage.

Music in America is as diverse as the melting pot that makes up American culture. It is composed of a variety of different genres, many of which are internationally renowned. The cultural influences of American music are limitless, as are the historical influences that created this musical mixture. Though there are some more notable than others.

The original musicians in America were the Native Americans. It was an essential part of their lives and served a variety of purposes including ceremonies, expression, and even healing. And as settlers moved on to the continent, many of their musical styles combined with European styles. You can find their influences in blues, jazz, rock, and even country music.

However, African Americans had the most influence on modern American music. The emergence of blues and gospel music in the late 19th and early 20th century set the stage for a musical revolution across the country. The combination of native and European styles with African roots helped shape popular music as we know it today.

America has a number of cities with music scenes heavily integrated with the character of the city. New Orleans is known as “the birthplace of Jazz”.

The origins of Blues and Rock and Roll are both attributed to the city of Memphis, Tennessee. Also from the state of Tennessee, Nashville sound started in the 1950’s and now dominates country music.

The city of Seattle helped popularize both the alternative rock and grunge genres. Atlanta, Oakland, Houston, New York, and Los Angeles all have vibrant rap music cultures.

No matter where you go in America, you’ll find a diverse music culture to explore and live bands playing in a bar or concert hall somewhere. So next time you’re going out in the U.S., try to catch a concert and experience the styles, characteristics, and melodies of American Music.

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage.

  1. Melting Pot – (noun) – A place where different cultural ideas, people, theories, etc… mix together. I went to the global market yesterday, and it was a real melting pot of food styles.
  2. Genre – (noun) – A category of style, form, or subject attributed to an artistic composition. What genre would you put that song into?
  3. Jazz – (noun) – A style of music with African American origins that began in the early 20th century. Jazz bands typically have brass and woodwind instruments and a piano. Many of the melodies are improvised. Jazz music is very popular in America and has its origins in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.
  4. Music Scene – (noun) – A term used to describe the musical community within a given area. I love Austin, Texas because the music scene there is so vibrant!
  5. Melody – (noun) – A sequence of single musical notes that is pleasing to hear. The melody from this song is so catchy—I can’t get it out of my head!


Grammar Center

English is full of many literary devices that writers and speakers use to express topics or ideas. Sometimes, the purpose is humor, and other times, to have a message or deeper meaning. Writers also use them to make things sound more pleasing.

The writer used a literary device in the passage above. Did you notice? Take a look at this sentence:

It is composed of a variety of different genres.

This sentence is an example of a pun.

A pun is a way of playing with words that have two definitions. They exploit the meanings and/or the sounds of words as a means of humoring a reader or listener.

In the example above, the writer used the word compose as a pun because it can mean the elements that make up something. As in:

This material is composed of zinc and iron.

But compose can also mean to create a work of art, typically music. In this case, the writer was referring to the topic of music in the passage.

A pun isn’t interesting if you have to explain it, and I’m guilty of that. But if you want in on the joke when you’re reading, you’ll need to expand your vocabulary even further!

Here are a few more examples:

  • A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
  • A hospital was recently sued by seven foot doctors.
  • Every time he saw lightning, he bolted away.



  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage? (Note: More than one statement might be true, but which one best summarizes the whole article?)A. American music is diverse but hasn’t impacted American culture in a very profound way.B. Native American music had a lasting effect on American musical styles.C. American music is an eclectic mix of styles and genres that has influenced many aspects of culture and history.D. The music scenes in American cities are part of their cultural identity.
  2. Which word best describes European styles as it relates to American music?A. DistinctB. SupportiveC. IntegratedD. Inconsequential
  3. Based on your understanding of the word genre, which word best describes its meaning?A. TeamB. CategoryC. QualityD. Brand
  4. Select the sentence that doesn’t belong in this group.A. Though not typically thought of in this way, Brazil represents the definition of a melting pot of cultures.B. I went to the veterinarian yesterday and saw a melting pot of animals.C. We put everyone’s plans in the melting pot of options for the project.D. But over time, other people’s values were drawn into the melting pot.
  5. The writer uses the adverb “however” to begin this sentence from the passage: However, African Americans had the most influence on modern American music. Based on your reading of the passage, what other adverb (or adverb phrase) could have been used to begin the sentence?A. NeverthelessB. NotwithstandingC. YetD. All the same
  6. Which sentence changes this sentence from the passage from passive to active voice? em>The origins of Blues and Rock and Roll are both attributed to the city of Memphis.A. Historians attribute the origins of Rock and Roll to the city of Memphis.B. The city of Memphis is attributed as being the originator of Rock and Roll and Blues music.C. Memphis, the origin city of Rock and Roll and Blues, was attributed as such by historians.D. The origins of Blues and Rock and Roll are located in the city of Memphis.
Correct Answers:
  1. C
  2. C
  3. B
  4. B
  5. C
  6. A
Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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