Musical Styles of the Cylinder Era

The music of the cylinder era spanned a wide variety of genres. Comedy songs, hymns, marches, and opera were all popular styles of the time and there wasn't the distinction between high art and low art that there is today. Small ensembles of musicians or solo acts were best suited for the phonograph because of its frequency response and limited dynamic range and the need for all musicians to be in close proximity to the recording horn. Brass instruments, banjos, and xylophones were commonly recorded because their sound was more easily captured than the sound of a guitar, piano or violin. Drums were usually avoided because if played loudly they would cause the record to skip on playback. Military bands recorded well, and recordings of bands playing everything from opera to popular songs to marches had wide appeal. Vaudeville was also a popular style of live entertainment around the turn of the century, with vaudeville acts usually consisting of a variety show of song and dance. The "coon" song was a popular form that made fun of black stereotypes, and such songs were often performed by white performers who would paint their faces black. The short length of a typical vaudeville act was especially well suited for the two- or four-minute cylinder.