When country music began in America, there were no professional musicians. The typical musician sang only to entertain himself, his family or at local events. There is evidence of square dance-like events as far back as the 1830s (with origins in European country dancing). At first, most country music was either sung by itself or played on a lone fiddle or banjo. A good fiddler was a very popular person and was often asked to perform at events ranging from weddings to cattle drives. There was no concerted effort to preserve the songs played, but the songs that people loved lasted as they were passed from town to town or generation to generation. Songs traveled with wandering minstrels and soldiers as well as those who moved across the country for the Gold Rush or in search of a new home. Often people didn't even understand the origins or meaning of the songs, they just liked the tune. The music of this time has been given several names, including old-time music and mountain music.
When people hear country music, they think of "Rednecks" or "Hillbillies" out on the country side singing songs about losing their wife, dog, best friend or any other sad subject. This is not true and it showed by becoming one of the most popular music forms of the 20th century. Country music is one of the best-selling genres after rock and pop.
To help understand country music, it's useful to look at the musical instruments. The fiddle/violin was the most common instrument since it was easy and inexpensive to make and light in weight. It was the sole lead instrument, but later it was popular to add more accompanying instruments. The banjo was brought to the American South by slaves and became popular in the mid-1800s. The guitar didn't come along until the early 1900s when they became mass-produced and affordable for the everyday person. The guitar was used as a rhythmic instrument, but also became popular and used more often.
Contemporary country music often uses the...