Ambient music is a form of instrumental music that accentuates texture, tone, mood, and atmosphere. It does not contain the formal melodies or steady rhythms found in most popular music, opting instead to craft ambience from waves of aural textures.\n\nSome ambient albums also qualify as electronic music because their soundscapes are built on synthesizer pads. Ambient musicians often augment these synths with acoustic instruments and ambient sounds from nature. The aural quality of ambient music often overlaps with that of minimalism, drone rock, and new age music.\n\nAmbient music came of age in the twentieth century in the era of electronic synthesizers, but its origins trace back decades before the first synths.\n\n- __Furniture music roots__: Ambient follows in the tradition of *musique d’ameublement* (furniture music), a genre French classical music composer Erik Satie pioneered in 1917. Satie intentionally composed a series of five pieces that he viewed as background music. Satie's compositions sat unplayed for many years after his death, but the avant-garde composer John Cage revived them in the mid-twentieth century. Cage had been exploring minimalism and musical [timbres](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-timbre-in-music) at the time.\n- __Continued classical music embrace__: In the middle of the twentieth century, composers experimented with the avant-garde in classical music. Some composers from this era—particularly minimalists—embraced the concept of ambiance via drones (sustained sounds) and tape loops. La Monte Young, who is often deemed the original classical minimalist, along with Harold Budd, Gavin Bryars, and John Cage all contributed to these experiments.\n- __The rise of synthesizers__: In the 1970s, analog synthesizers became available on the retail market. This innovation sparked a generation of ambient music artists who did not come from the world of classical music. The Krautrock scene in Germany, led by Kraftwerk, gave way to a number of ambient or semi-ambient acts such as Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh.\n- __Brian Eno__: English musician and producer Brian Eno amplified ambient music to new heights. Famous among pop music audiences for his work in Roxy Music and his late-seventies collaborations with David Bowie, Eno also created the pioneering Ambient Series of albums on the Polydor record label. Famous among these was *Ambient 1: Music for Airports* and *Ambient 4: On Land*. Although not formally part of the Ambient Series, Eno's 1975 record, *Discreet Music*, also pioneered textured soundscapes via synthesizers and tape loops.\n- __Merge with electronica__: In addition to ambient music, the emergence of synthesizers also gave rise to the electronic dance music (EDM) genre. In the late 1980s, the merge of EDM's propulsive rhythms with the textures of ambient music created a subgenre that some critics dub ambient house or ambient techno. Ambient albums in this style include Aphex Twin's *Selected Ambient Works*, The KLF's *Chill Out*, and Autechre's *Incunabula*. You can hear such music at raves and on EDM playlists.\n- __Indie ambient__: As ambient music became more mainstream, it inspired a legion of indie and alternative ambient artists. Many of these groups embrace the drone sound of 1960s ambient music and intentionally forego the synthesizers of ambient house. Beginning in the 1990s and early 2000s, artists like William Basinski, Stars Of The Lid, and Labradford have brought ambient music to a more iconoclastic audience.\nA few key elements provide a throughline for different subgenres of ambient music.\n\n1. __Emphasis on atmosphere and texture__: From the new age-adjacent ambient style of Brian Eno to the psychedelic sounds of ambient dub music, the genre seeks to build atmosphere above all else.\n2. __Gradual exploration of timbre__: Ambient music lingers on notes and chords for a long period of time. Artists create variation by shifting the timbre of the sounds, either by introducing new instruments or by applying filters to electronic sounds.\n3. __Minimal harmonic progression__: Ambient music does not cycle through chords the way that pop music, jazz, and classical music do. It luxuriates on simple chords or even single notes as it builds out an overall atmosphere.\n4. __De-emphasized melodies__: Ambient music is not known for its melodies as much as it is known for moods and soundscapes. This makes it different from Muzak, which is a smooth-sounding rendition of melody-driven songs.\n5. __Space for improvisation__: Live ambient music has an improvisational aspect to it when producers and DJs experiment with sonic textures. Their improvisations are somewhat limited by the fact that most ambient music does not have distinct melodies or consistent chord changes.\nThe contemporary ambient music scene has spawned many distinct genres, most of which are variations on ambient electronica.\n\n1. __Ambient house__: Ambient house music is a close cousin to [classic Chicago house](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/house-music-guide) and acid house music, which are characterized by four-on-the-floor bass drum beats and analog synthesizers. The "ambient" component to ambient house involves layered sonic textures without a tonal center.\n2. __Ambient techno__: Ambient techno is a more melodically active ambient electronic genre. Some of the biggest names in ambient EDM—including Autechre and Aphex Twin—are considered ambient techno.\n3. __Ambient dub__: Inspired by the Jamaican dub music tradition, ambient dub offers an edgy, psychedelic take on ambient music. It is highly associated with the 1990s English record label Beyond Records and nineties acts like the Orb and Higher Intelligence Agency.\n4. __Dark ambient__: Dark ambient artists craft atmospheres that evoke fear and dread. This music—by groups like Nurse with Wound and Scorn—borders on industrial music and even avant-garde noise.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Questlove, St. Vincent, Sheila E., Timbaland, Itzhak Perlman, Herbie Hancock, Tom Morello, and more.\nAmbient music emphasizes mood and texture over the traditional melodies and rhythms found in pop music or classical music.