How Would You Describe Rock And Roll Music?Posted by Mike Schuck
Today, rock music has become increasingly commercialized and manufactured. A lot of artists seem to be trying too hard to sound like the next Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande.
Music that was once described as “rock” is now mostly referred to as “alternative.” Artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and The Chainsmokers have no qualms about incorporating huge synth beats into their songs.
This is not authentic rock music! To truly describe what it is, we must look back at its origins.
Rock comes from the word “rock and roll.” This term was first used in the 1950s when African American musicians would play rhythm and blues (R&B) songs with large guitar chords.
These musicians would use this style of playing for songs that had strong drum rhythms and bass lines. These were typically sung by male vocalists.
In the 1960s, white musicians began copying this type of music. Some added electric guitars and keyboards to make the songs more complex.
However, these new versions lacked the raw energy of the original R&B styles. They became known as “pop-rock.”
Many people believe that punk music started the transition away from pop-rock. Punk focused on having an intense listening experience that was emotionally engaging.
Some say that heavy metal made another big shift towards becoming less mainstreamed.
History of rock and roll
What is rock music? Is it about having a good time, chasing your dreams, or exploring other styles and genres? All of these things contribute to defining what rock music is, so let’s take a closer look at all three!
First, let's consider how to define “rock”. Many people refer to anything with heavy bass as "rock" music, but this isn't quite right.
Rock has always been associated with something called rhythm and rhyme — which lyrics are not. That means songs like The Ballad Of Billy Rose, where there aren't any, can be considered rock music. (For more information read our article: What Makes A Song Rhyming And Why Are Some Called Rhythm Songs?)
Furthermore, some experts say that if a song uses an irregular meter (not a regular pattern of short and long beats) then it's considered rock. For example, a song could have one very long beat and then two shorter ones, creating an odd number of beats per measure. This creates a feeling of instability, making the listener feel relaxed.
This effect was important in the development of early blues and jazz musicians, who used similar meters to create music that felt natural and almost fluid. (More on those types of music here: Does Jazz Use Meter? )
Music theory also defines rock as being in a sequence of ascending and descending phrases or sections.
The impact of rock and roll
What is rock music? Is it to do with guitars, drums and lyrics about love? Or are there other defining features like rhythm or vocals?
Rock music comes in many forms and has influenced culture around the world. It’s hard to describe how big an influence it has been because it doesn’t fit into any specific genre.
It’s not heavy metal nor does it have techno-style bass drops. It's too fundamental for those styles and it wouldn’t work if either of them were removed.
What makes it rock though? Let us take a look at some of the characteristics of what defines rock.
What makes rock and roll music unique
A lot of people describe what makes rock music different as its lyrics, but that is only part of it. The other part is how rhythmically and thematically complex the songs are.
Some would say that classic rock is just about individualistic musicians expressing themselves through their music, but we know this isn’t entirely true.
Rock has always had an underlying theme or narrative. It's not only about what genre you add onto the end of the song, it's also about how well you can tell your story with your songs.
Music is a powerful tool to convey messages, and artists use it for both positive and negative ones. Sometimes they're clearly influenced by something (Guns N' Roses, anyone?), while others totally invent new styles and genres within them (Radiohead!).
Classic rock is definitely full of strong melodies and rhythms, but beyond that, there are some themes that stand out over time.
The signature elements of rock and roll
What are the defining characteristics of rock music?
What are the song structures, instruments, lyrics, and overall style that make up the genre?
Many attribute the origins of rock to be the use of rhythm as a form of expression. Blues musicians used rhythms to emphasize emotions such as sadness or anger, while classical composers used rhythmic patterns to create beautiful melodies.
In the early twentieth century, African American artists began incorporating drums into their songs to express emotion and convey messages. These musics would combine these rhythmical styles with new instrumentations, like guitar and bass, which could also play various chords using harmonic progressions.
This combination of musical features is what defines rock music today.
Popular rock and roll songs
Many people describe music as “pop” or “dance-able,” but what does that really mean?
Most people are not very specific when talking about how to classify music. They may use terms like “rhythm” or “beat”, but they usually don't refer to any formal definitions of those concepts.
In this article we will take a closer look at what it means to say that something is rhythmical, and what it means to call a song with a strong beat. We will also discuss some examples of popular rock and roll songs and determine if they fit the description for either term!
A rhythmic element can be anything from a bass line to an instrument such as drums or guitars. It doesn't have to consist only of sound waves, you could count your footsteps while walking in time with the rhythm too.
Some types of rhythms are called metric (or timing) patterns. These patterns always contain ABA structure, where A stands for the accent or stressed part and B for the unstressed one.
For example, the classic Beatles song I Will Never Let You Down contains two instances of this pattern. The first instance is between 1 and 2 minutes into the song, and the second instance is around 4 and 5 minutes in. Both of these instances feature short notes (accented parts) followed by a long note (unstressed part).
The artists that changed rock and roll
Some people describe music as a form of expression, but I think it is much more than that. For me, music is a tool to take you away, create emotional responses, and influence how you feel about life. It is powerful!
I believe this power comes from two things: rhythm and melody. Artists use these two components to convey messages and emotions.
Rhythm can be in beats or silence- something that most anyone can relate to. Melodic songs with lyrics that tell stories are also very popular. All three elements combine into one thing: music.
Many consider Elvis to be the first real rock star because he made an impression on both his audience and media by performing for large groups in concerts while singing engaging songs. He influenced other musicians to add drums, guitar, and bass to their sets.
We could also say that David Bowie inspired many artists to experiment with fashion, makeup, and overall self-expression. His look was unique and memorable!
Artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift, and One Direction have us all at eye level as singers. Their vocals bring us down every time they open their mouths, making them stand out among others who may not always pay attention to detail.
The classic albums that define rock and roll
Many consider the 1970s to be the golden era of music, during which time artists such as Pink Floyd, Queen, and Led Zeppelin ruled the roost with their powerful sound and influence. These bands are often referred to as being in the heavy metal genre, but they do not fit into any other category.
Rock is defined by its use of rhythm and energy. Artists who play this style of music emphasize strong rhythms made up of notes that drop down or up an octave (think about how many songs have a bass line!), catchy melodies, and lyrics that relate to everyday life.
Music from the 1980s is sometimes described as “dance-rock” due to its frequent usage of synthesizers and drum machines. This type of music typically has very poppy beats and melodies, and frequently features lyrics about love and romance.
Some say that grunge was the last true run of the guitar as a force to be reckoned with.
The iconic images of rock and roll
What is it about music that makes it rock? Is it the lyrics, or are the lyrics fun to listen to? Is it the guitar licks, or what type of chords they use? Is it the drum beats, or do you have to work on timing them?
It’s all of these things! Having some or even many of these components does not make a piece of rock music, but without any one of them, none of the rest of them matter.
A song cannot be considered truly rock if it doesn’t contain at least one element of any of these. Take “Happy Birthday” for example; it’s clearly got a lot going on with the bass line, the drums, and the chorus, but what is it without the melody or the verse?
A simple tune like this can easily be forgotten, especially since there are so many other songs out there just like it.
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.
If you have any questions or concerns or just want to drop us a line, don't hesitate to contact us! We always appreciate the feedback.