How To Understand Rock MusicPosted by Mike Schuck
What is rock music? That is one of the most asked questions in all of music theory! Technically, any piece that has lyrics and sounds like guitar is considered rock music, but typically we use that as our defining feature.
Rock is a genre of music that was born in America during the 1960s. It grew out of earlier genres such as blues, jazz, and folk. Some say it replaced punk as the new top dog genre of music.
Regardless, it’s still popular today and will always be around at least for another couple decades. Many artists can’t seem to get enough of its catchy melodies and rhythm. Others write their own songs inspired by those tunes.
Knowing how to understand rock music helps you recognize the parts of the songs, identify key songwriters, and even learn some interesting tidbits about the musicians.
Watch videos of artists perform
When listening to music, there are three main components that make up what people refer to as an album. These parts all work together to tell a story! The song or songs alone do not make up the whole album.
The first part is the intro. This can be anything from one minute long to twenty minutes long depending on how much time the artist needs to convey their message. Intros usually set the stage for the rest of the album and lead into the next part-the title track.
After the title track comes the verse/latin riff (this is when the lyrics come with the melody). Then the chorus, then the outro (which most musicians skip over unless it really needed to emphasize something important like “And I” or “Here we go!”).
Now that you have some basic understanding of how albums work, get out there and listen! There are plenty of sites where you can find free music so no need to buy expensive apps or software to enjoy your new favorite band.
Watch videos of concerts
One of the most important things you can do as a music lover is to watch concert videos! This is very helpful in giving you an understanding of how musicians play songs, what styles they use, and how they are influenced by other artists.
Concerts have usually start with the band members introducing themselves and telling the crowd who they are and why people should know them. Then, they perform some songs for everyone to enjoy. The audience typically gives lots of applause at the end of the show because it enjoyed their visit.
If there’s a song that really stands out, then the singer will often shout or call out “That was my favorite song!” You can learn a lot from this- sometimes even about the lyrics!
By watching these performances, you’ll get a sense of how the artist uses rhythm, style, and voice to influence his or her sound. You may also be able to tell which songs they like and why. These insights can help you pick up new songs or find new artists you might like.
Read about different genres of rock music
Many people get stuck defining what kind of rock songs there are because they use vague terms that don’t clearly describe all of the elements of a rock song. When you understand how genre works, it can help you identify which songs belong to which category, and also give you an understanding of why some types of songs are more popular than others.
Rock is a very general term that describes a wide range of musical styles. Some examples of other rock genres are power punk, alternative rock, grunge, southern rock, heavy metal, glam rock, ska, and new wave. All of these groups share several similarities, such as having lyrics that discuss relationships, emotions, or experiences that relate to the listener, but none of them are really like “rock” in its pure form.
The word “rock” comes from the British slang phrase ‘roke-in',’ which means ‘to have sex.'” This gives us the meaning of the word “rock” as “something that stimulates sexual desire" (Levenson, pg. 47). Since this definition includes concepts such as rhythm and rhyme, and uses the prefix re-, which means "back", then we know that a rock song has to do both of those things to be considered one.
Look at their lyrical content
As we've discussed, music is mostly made up of lyrics and melodies, as well as rhythms and sounds. The lyrics are what people typically focus on when discussing music, but they're only part of the picture. The other important piece is the song's lyricism or lack thereof.
Whether a song is considered rock, pop, hip hop, R&B, etc., comes down more to its lyrics than anything else. If the lyrics feature strong metaphors, themes, and imagery that relate to the environment around you then it’s rated higher on the scale of rock. Conversely, if the lyrics seem bland and clichéd then it’s categorized lower on the scale of rock.
A good example of this is Taylor Swift's popular hit "I Knew You Were Trouble". While the song doesn't say much beyond "I knew you were trouble", its overall effect is very powerful. In fact, many refer to this as the "trouble theme" of the song because it implies that the narrator has sensed something was off about the person she loves, and it makes them feel uncomfortable.
This feeling is definitely extended onto the audience by the listener, which is why the song is so successful. It taps into our internal struggles with love and relationships, making for an interesting listening experience.
Pay attention to the instruments
As we mentioned before, music is made up of notes that are separated by breaks (silence). These breaks can be done for any number of reasons, but typically there is a theme or mood associated with each one. For example, a short break after a note or chord means something like “stop”, so it creates an empty space or pause in the song. A long break usually adds flow or momentum to the song, moving forward at a faster pace.
When listening to rock songs, you will often see drums, guitars, bass guitar, and some type of keyboard/piano used as instrumental pieces. All these instruments play notes, and they all contribute different styles and elements to the music!
Interpretation of what each instrument contributes to the song depends on who is playing them and how they use them. There is no universal definition of what every musician considers their main instrument, nor is there one best way to classify which ones are important to a genre. But, most people agree that the drum set is very significant because it gives the song its start and end, as well as creating a steady rhythm. The piano is also helpful for this, since it allows for more fluid melodies and accompaniment.
Keyboards have become increasingly popular due to their rich sound quality and ability to add new layers to the music. Artists frequently use both simultaneously to create interesting sounds and experiment with harmonic structure.
Pay attention to the singer
As we noted before, what kind of music you like is influenced heavily by who your favorite singers are. If you listen to a lot of rock songs with lyrics about life, love, and heartbreak, then your top choice would be for someone who writes passionate, emotional lyrics.
If you listened to a lot of music with catchy melodies and rhythms, then your next choice would be for someone with strong rhythm and melody skills. Technically speaking, musicians are divided into two main groups: vocalists and instrumentalists.
As you can probably guess, the first group — vocalists — play very important roles in most song settings. They take up the vast majority of the song, and their voices are the primary element that listeners notice when listening to the song.
So how do they get those amazing vocals? By practicing! And there’s no better place to practice than YouTube. You can search under “how to sing a song” or something similar to see all of the different techniques vocalists use in singing.
And once you find one that looks interesting, give it a try! No matter if you’re trying to improve your own voice or just want to learn more about the art of singing, this is definitely worth looking into.
Listen to some of the songs to identify the singer and the instruments
As we already mentioned, music is like language — it comes in different styles that tell you something about the artist and what they want to say.
Music can be categorized into many genres, but one of the most popular is called rock.
Rock artists use lyrics, melody, rhythm, and instrumental parts to communicate their messages. When listening to a song, you should be able to understand the vocals or lyrics alone, but being aware of the instrumentation will also help you get the full picture of what the musician wants you to know.
Try to identify any themes that arise in the songs
The lyrics of most rock music address some underlying theme or concepts. When you understand this theme, it can help you connect with the song more than just for entertainment purposes.
Many musicians add little metaphors and references to the theme in their lyrics to draw additional connections with the audience.
By understanding the core concept of the song, you will be able to relate to them better. A few examples of this include “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Daughtry, “Love Like Hell” by Metallica, and “Give And Take” by Nickelback.
In these songs, the main topic is breaking up, but the artists make reference to other things such as love, giving yourself to someone, etc., which are interesting ways to look at the topic.
If you listen to enough rock music, then there’s sure to be one song that speaks to you. Once you find that song, try studying it, especially the lyrics. Then, compare those lyrics to the ones in this article to see if there are any similar ideas being expressed.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
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