Music by continent: how has it influenced the wider world?

The world is a musical melting pot filled with inspiration and influence. In fact, some musical genres can be traced around the world and back again, and it can often be difficult to pinpoint where exactly a particular piece of music has originated. Passed from tribe to tribe, shared by immigrants and travellers, or simply inspiring those who have heard it by more modern means, music is created to share.

Italy was once considered the most musically influential country in Europe, and its musical heritage can still be found across the world today. Soaring choral pieces and Gregorian chants have formed an integral part of Italy’s musical history, while opera is still so popular today, percolating the music of many other continents. Indeed, musicians everywhere still refer to the original Italian terminology when playing music; a reminder of the dominance Italy once held.

Considered the home of classical music, Europe boasts some instantly recognisable instruments, from the bagpipes of Scotland to the grand piano, accordion, and fiddle. While it may not always have been the first continent to use such instruments and sounds, Europe is often considered the pioneer. The ocarina, for example, gained prominence in 19th century Europe. Previously embraced by the Mayans and Aztecs, it went on to inspire the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda computer game; just one example of music permeating the cultural gap. The songs of this most simple of instruments can now be heard the world over as new generations learn how to play the ocarina, using an infographic to share the music no matter what their language or cultural background.

The Americas

While the music of North America was itself inspired by sources from across the globe, including the folk music of Europe and songs of the African slaves, it has also become a massive influence on the world in its own right. Rock‘n’roll, which emerged in the 1950s and 60s, was especially influential, casting its power across the world. These days, genres such as hip hop, R&B, and rap are dominating the charts across the world and inspiring cultural shifts.

South of the border, the ethereal music of native mountain communities, the drama of Latin America, and the frenzy of the guitars played by Mexican Mariachi bands have long been making headway across the world; the passion and diversity inherently obvious in South American music can be found in the charts of Europe and North America and on dance floors every time a Tango or Salsa is played.


Africa is home to a truly diverse and rich musical heritage, which has in turn inspired and influenced music across the world. Traditionally used to tell a story, send a message, or during ritualistic ceremonies, the music of Africa has passed many traditions on to world music, including the juxtaposition of music and theatre, the use of instruments to tell a tale, and the importance of rhythm and tune. The sounds of Africa have been particularly influential in North America, as the music of the slaves was developed into the jazz, blues, and soul music that still exists today. Typically African instruments, including drums, rattles, xylophones, and wind instruments are now used the world over to popular effect.

While some musical influences have proved more powerful and popular than others, all have their merits in the history of music.