How Is Rock Music Defined?

Posted by Mike Schuck

What is rock music? That seems like an easy question to answer, but it’s not! Technically speaking, there is no formal definition of what constitutes “rock music.” However, most people agree that if you are listening to mostly songs with large drums, guitar riffs, and/or strong vocals, then you have definable the genre as “rock."

Many other defining characteristics relate to the songwriting or lyrics, or both. For example, when a musician writes a catchy melody, they will include that in their songs, which makes them want to sing along and repeat parts of the song. This effect creates a sense of intimacy between listener and artist, and is another important part of rock music.

Furthermore, artists who produce their own sound for their instruments are considered masters of their craft, while others may learn from their techniques. Developing your talent as a musician can be hard work, so having a mentor or someone you look up to is very helpful. You can find many such people via social media channels, YouTube videos, and blogs.

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Early rock music definitions

how is rock music defined

The term “rock” first appeared in print in an article published by Time magazine in March 1952. According to writer Robert Palmer, the word was used as a descriptor for what would later be called rhythm and blues. He wrote that this type of music had roots in Western classical music forms like ballads and folk songs with strong rhythms.

Early artists included musicians such as Elvis Presley, who performed his own version of this style known as country-pop, and Jimi Hendrix, whose experimental use of guitar tones earned him the title of guitarist extraordinaire.

Since then, many other styles have been categorized as rock, including alternative, hard rock, glam metal, heavy metal, punk, ska, and so forth. Some people even include Broadway show tunes and Italian opera within the genre!

Music genres are always changing and blending together, which is one of the things that makes them interesting.

Modern definitions of rock music

how is rock music defined

Recent interpretations of what constitutes “rock” music are very diverse. Some define it as any music with lyrics, or that uses instrumentation consisting of at least two instruments (keyboard, guitar, bass, drums). Others include songs that use distorted or funky guitars, frequent call-and-response vocals, and/or samples (sound effects such as clapping, rain drops, etc.). Many people refer to anything after the mid-2000s as being part of the “post-Rock” era.

Some examples of newer genres that many consider to be part of the rock genre are described as neo-rock, alternative rock, power punk, indie rock, emo, gothic metal, heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock, folk music, psychedelic rock, new wave, synthpop, and others.

These styles all contain certain characteristics that make them seem like they belong in the same category. These similarities have led to their inclusion into the larger umbrella term of “rock.” An example is using an acoustic guitar and singing about love and relationships; this type of song is typically classified as soft rock, but some musicians may describe themselves as having an acoustic side because they play these types of songs frequently.

Songs written by vocalists who provide strong narrative expressionist qualities and emphasize naturalistic sound production are usually called story songs, and their writers are often referred to as lyricists.

Popular rock music definitions

how is rock music defined

What is popular rock music?

That is a very good question! Technically, anything that is being listened to by most people is considered pop or mainstream music. If your office has a radio station playing songs you like, then it is part of the mainstream music genre.

However, not every song in the mainstream category is made equally well. Some are totally empty and have no lyrics at all, while others may be too repetitive or catchy. In fact, some are just plain annoying!

Music with little to no substance aside, there is another reason why many consider rock as a less legitimate form of music. This theory says that because rock was once defined as something vague, anyone can claim to make this type of music and get credit for it.

As we know, creating true rock music takes time and effort to produce quality material. Without these things, what comes out of the musician doesn't quite fit the definition of rock.

Elements of rock music

how is rock music defined

What makes something rock is not just its genre, but also the elements that make up the song or piece. There are five major components to consider- rhythm, melody, lyrics, vocals and instrumentation.

Rhythm can be described as the timing pattern of the notes used in a song. A simple way to think about it is how quickly the note is sung/played. The faster the tempo, the more “rock” the song!

A song with no rhythm will feel very empty for some silence and silence is never fun.

Music has a rhythmic structure at a minimum of one beat per measure and a maximum of four beats per phrase (sequence of repeated sounds). Some songs have much longer sequences of 4 or even 6 beats depending on the meter being played.

The fastest popular rhythms usually contain three groups of four beats each which creates a sense of flow or momentum. These rhythms are typically referred to as either swing, r&b, funk, disco or hip hop beats. All of these genres include types of drums such as the bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, cymbal and tom drum.

Songs with a strong rhythm element are often considered to be part of the rock genre.

Songwriting in rock music

What is songwriting?

Songwriting is creating or writing lyrics, melody, and/or rhythm for a piece of music. The lyrics are typically the second to last thing writers do after music, because it can be difficult to find the right balance between making them sound good and having people understand what you want to say.

Music usually has an underlying structure that includes verse, chorus, and bridge. A verse-chorus format is very common in most songs with some variation (like no verse, just a continuous stream of music).

A bridge comes right before the chorus and sometimes contains part of the same lyric as the chorus, but not always. Some bridges have nothing special happening, like a repeated phrase or word. A lot of bands use symbolism in their songs, which could include using colors, nature, etc. For example, one popular band uses references to space and infinity throughout their songs.

After the music, the composer writes the lyrics and then puts together the final product – the song. Sometimes the musicians offer ideas and input into the lyrics, but mostly it is left up to the writer alone. In fact, there are cases where someone else’s idea was adapted and included in the finished song.

Marketing in rock music

how is rock music defined

With all types of musicians, what kind of music they play is very important to how well they do their job. As mentioned before, being a musician means performing or writing songs, so how you market yourself depends on whether you are a performer or a songwriter.

If you are a performer, then your marketing strategies will focus more on showing up at places where people is likely to be (concerts, theaters, etc.). If you are a writer, then you can advertise online sites that need new material or ways to promote themselves about you and your skills.

Both types of musicians may also benefit from doing some form of social media marketing. This could be creating an account on Facebook, Twitter, or other websites to spread their name and/or message!

What is not related to being a musician is having a business for yourself. Running your own show requires additional equipment such as guitars, pianos, drum sets, and lots of stage clothes and backdrops. All of these things cost money which most musicians does not have access to.

Being self-employed comes with its share of stress, but if you are willing to put in the effort it can be worth it.

Live performance in rock music

how is rock music defined

Another important part of rock music is live performance. Artists such as The Beatles, Metallica, and Red Hot Chili Peppers have made their careers by performing frequently and for large audiences. They spent their lives touring to promote their songs and themselves as artists!

Music artists who prefer to stay at home spend most of their time writing new songs or practicing for upcoming performances.

Some may also choose to take breaks or even retire from performing if they feel that their personal life or health are not ready for it yet.

Record labels in rock music

how is rock music defined

As we have seen, one of the defining characteristics of rock is its use of instruments such as guitars, pianos, basses, drums, and/or vocals. However, while most bands at some point needed to find someone to pay musicians for their talent, not all bands keep those musicians on as staff members after they are hired.

Some bands will just kindle a friendship with their musician that helps them fulfill an urge to create songs, or need help producing their album, so they ask their friend to be part of what they’re working on next. This is typically referred to as having a collaborator.

Other bands will eventually offer these freelancers compensation for their work, which is when things get tricky. What defines “compensation” varies depending on if you're talking about performing art or anything else. For example, recording equipment and studio time are usually considered expenses to be paid for by the record label, but artistic license is never guaranteed.

What is always guaranteed though is that whoever gets paid more is going to feel very good about themselves and the other person is going to feel really bad. Artists can suffer from feelings of jealousy and resentment towards each other sometimes, even within their own band.

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