Russian music went through a long history, beginning from ritual folk song and the sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church. The 19th century saw the rise of highly acclaimed Russian classical music, and in 20th century the modern styles of Russian popular music developed, including Russian rock and Russian pop.

The first great Russian composer to exploit native Russian music traditions into the realm of secular music was Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857), who composed the early Russian language operas Ivan Susanin and Ruslan and Lyudmila. They were neither the first operas in the Russian language nor the first by a Russian, but they gained fame for relying on distinctively Russian tunes and themes and being in the vernacular.

Russian folk music became the primary source for the younger generation composers. A group that called itself "The Mighty Five", headed by Balakirev (1837–1910) and including Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), Mussorgsky (1839–81), Borodin (1833–87) and César Cui(1835–1918), proclaimed its purpose to compose and popularize Russian national traditions in classical music. Among the Mighty Five's most notable compositions were the operas The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), Sadko, Boris Godunov, Prince Igor, Khovanshchina, and symphonic suite Scheherazade. Many of the works by Glinka and the Mighty Five were based on Russian history, folk tales and literature, and are regarded as masterpieces of romantic nationalism in music.

This period also saw the foundation of the Russian Musical Society (RMS) in 1859, led by composer-pianists Anton (1829–94) and Nikolay Rubinstein (1835–81). The RMS founded Russia's first Conservatories in St.Petersburg and in Moscow: the former trained the great Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840–93), best known for ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. He remains Russia's best-known composer outside Russia. Easily the most famous successor in his style is Sergey Rakhmaninov (1873–1943), who studied at the Moscow Conservatory (where Tchaikovsky himself taught).

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the third wave of Russian classics: Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). They were experimental in style and musical language.

In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the so-called "romance songs" became very popular. The greatest and most popular singers of the "romances" usually sang in operas at the same time as Fyodor Shalyapin did.

Jazz was introduced to Soviet audiences by Valentin Parnakh in the 1920s. Singer Leonid Uteosov and film score composer Isaak Dunayevsky helped its popularity. Film soundtracks produced a significant part of popular Soviet/Russian songs of the time, as well as of orchestral and experimental music. The 1930s saw Prokofiev's scores for Sergei Eisenstein's epic movies, and also soundtracks by Isaak Dunayevsky that ranged from classical pieces to popular jazz.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the beginning of modern Russian pop and rock music. The "golden age" of Russian rock is widely considered to have been the 1980s. Russian pop music is well developed, and enjoys mainstream success via pop music media such as MTV Russia, Muz TV and various radio stations.