High School Research Project: Music From Latin America

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


This high school research project explores the various types of music from Latin America and how they have influenced the world.


Whether it’s the infectious beat of salsa, the sensual rhythms of tango, or the high-energy sounds of merengue, music from Latin America is sure to get your feet moving.

From Mexico to Chile, Latin American countries have produced a wide variety of musical styles that have been popular both at home and abroad. In this research project, you will explore the rich history and diversity of Latin American music. You will choose one specific style of music to focus on and research its origin, evolution, and influence on popular culture.

This project will require you to use a variety of resources, including books, articles, websites, and interviews with experts. By the end of this project, you will have a better understanding not only of Latin American music, but also of the culture and history that has shaped it.

History of Latin American Music

Pre-Columbian music

Pre-Columbian music refers to the music of Latin America produced in the geographical area prior to the arrival of Europeans. This includes music from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean islands. The indigenous peoples of these areas had their own unique musical traditions, which were shaped by their local climate, geography, and culture.

The first people to settle in Latin America were the Indigenous peoples. They brought with them their own musical traditions, which were shaped by their local climate, geography, and culture. The Indigenous peoples’ music was mostly monophonic, exile styles that featured repetitive chanting or singing. Instruments used by the Indigenous peoples included drums, flutes, and rattles.

The first Europeans to settle in Latin America were the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. They brought with them European musical traditions, which were quickly assimilated into the local cultures. The Spanish and Portuguese colonists also introduced African slaves to Latin America, who brought with them their own musical traditions. African music was mostly polyphonic and featured complex rhythms. Instruments used by the Africans included drums, guitars, and maracas.

During the Colonial period, Latin American music began to fuse European and African influences together to create new styles of music. This process continued during the post-colonial period as different immigrant groups arrived in Latin America from Asia and Europe. As a result of this process of cultural fusion, Latin American music is highly diverse and includes a wide variety of genres such as Mariachi music from Mexico, Reggaeton from Puerto Rico, Samba from Brazil, Salsa from Cuba, Merengue from Dominican Republic, Cumbia from Colombia etc

Colonial music

Latin American music consists of songs and instrumentals of Mexican and Central American origin. The music originates from a mix of indigenous ( Native American), European, and African cultures. Instruments typically used are guitars, mariachi, trumpets, violins, and drums. There is also a strong influence of West African Rhythm in the music.

During the Colonial period (1521-1810), Spain and Portugal controlled most of Latin America. The two countries had a big influence on the music of Latin America. European instruments were introduced to the region, and African slaves were brought over to work on the plantations. Consequently, the music of Latin America has a unique blend of these three cultures.

One of the earliest genres of Latin American music was Hacienda Songs (1550-1800). These songs were originally sung by peasants who worked on large estates (haciendas). The songs were about everyday life, love, work, religion, and nature. Another early genre was Salsa Songs (1600-1750). These songs were originally sung by soldiers in Spain’s military stationed in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The lyrics often talked about women, love, and drinking.

As time went on, other genres developed in different parts of Latin America. In Mexico, folk music evolved into Mariachi music. Mariachi bands typically consist of trumpets, violins, guitars, and drums. They play at festivals and celebrations throughout Mexico. In Argentina and Uruguay, Tango music became popular in the 1800s. Tango is a couples’ dance that is typically performed to fast-paced music. In Brazil, Samba emerged in the early 1900s as a result of the blending of African rhythms with European instruments such as guitars and violins

Post-Independence music

During the 19th century, Latin American countries began to gain their independence from European powers. This led to a new wave of music, influenced by both European and local traditions. In Brazil, for example, Portuguese colonists had brought over the instrument known as the berimbau, which was then incorporated into the music of the new nation.

As Latin American countries continued to develop their own unique musical styles, composers began to draw on folk traditions. This can be seen in the works of Mexican composer Manuel

There are many popular genres of Latin American music, such as salsa, cumbia, and reggaeton. Latin American music is very diverse and there is something for everyone. In this research project, you will be able to learn about the different genres of Latin American music and how they are enjoyed by people all over the world.


Salsa is a popular genre of Latin American music that originated in the Caribbean. It is a blend of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican styles, with influences from other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. The style is characterized by fast-paced rhythms and catchy melodies, and it is often danced to in nightclubs and at parties.

Salsa has become popular all over the world, and there are many different schools of thought on how to dance it. Some people believe that it should be danced in a “slot” (a space between two dancers), while others believe that couples should move around the dance floor. There are also many different types of salsa steps, so dancers can choose which ones they want to learn depending on their level of expertise.


Reggaeton is a popular genre of Latin American music that originated in Puerto Rico in the late 1990s. It is a mix of reggae, hip hop, and Latin American styles. The lyrics are typically in Spanish and are often about love, parties, and nightlife. The music is often danceable and has a strongly infectious beat. Reggaeton is popular in many Latin American countries, as well as among Latino communities in the United States.


Bachata is a genre of music that originated in the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s. It is typically played with guitar, bongos, and drums, and its lyrics are often about love, heartbreak, and loss. Bachata has become one of the most popular genres of Latin American music, and its popularity has spread to many other countries around the world.


After researching and listening to music from Latin America, I have come to appreciate the variety and richness of the musical traditions from this region. I have also learned that there is a lot of variation within Latin American music, with different styles being popular in different countries.

Overall, I believe that Latin American music is extremely diverse and interesting, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about it to explore the different genres and artists from this region.

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