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What is Rock Music?

Rock music is a dynamic genre that pulses with a strong, steady beat, often featuring electric guitars, bass, and drums. It emerged in the 1950s, evolving from blues and country, and has since branched into numerous subgenres. Its rebellious spirit and emotive lyrics resonate with fans worldwide. Discover how rock became the soundtrack to generations—what's your favorite rock anthem?
Kathy Hawkins
Kathy Hawkins

Rock music, sometimes also known as "rock and roll," is a style of music that became popular in the 1950s in America and Europe. It is primarily based on older musical styles, such as the rhythm and blues music originated by African American performers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard, with a heavy focus on guitar, drums, and powerful vocals.

One of the earliest and most famous performers in the early days of rock was Elvis Presley, who shocked the world with his suggestive dancing and powerful music. He became an instant phenomenon, and led the way for many other performers over the decades to come. In the 1960s, the Beatles were another hugely successful and popular rock music group, also inspired by rhythm and blues songs and by the work of other early British rock performers, such as Cliff Richard.

Guitarist playing an acoustic guitar.
Guitarist playing an acoustic guitar.

Over the years, rock music has branched out into a wide variety of styles. Folk rock, such as that made popular by Bob Dylan in the 1960s, often featured acoustic guitars and socially conscious lyrics, many with anti-war sentiments. Psychedelic rock, such as that played by the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Doors, featured often dissonant music that was heavily influenced by the use of drugs such as LSD. Progressive rock bands, such as the Moody Blues, Rush, and Yes, experimented with a wide range of instruments, and often included improvisational musical solos that could last for 10 or even 20 minutes.

Fans at a rock concert.
Fans at a rock concert.

Rock has also led the way for other music forms, such as heavy metal, which features extreme guitar sound and heavy distortion. Some of the earliest bands that could be classified as heavy metal are Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Both bands started out in the mid-1970s. Their heavy form of music has paved the way for other heavy metal bands, including Metallica and Megadeth.

The development of the electric guitar in the mid-20th Century directly led to the creation of the "classic" rock sound.
The development of the electric guitar in the mid-20th Century directly led to the creation of the "classic" rock sound.

Today, the term "rock music" is used to refer to a wide range of musical forms, including anything from soft pop to heavy metal. The name has essentially become a default term for any style of music that does not automatically fit into another category, such as R&B, country, or classical. The form has changed significantly since the days of Elvis Presley, but the term can still refer to his songs as easily as they can refer to more recent bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines rock music as a genre?

Rock guitars are typically played through an amplifier.
Rock guitars are typically played through an amplifier.

Rock music is characterized by a strong beat, simple chord structures, and often revolves around the electric guitar, both in rhythm and lead roles. It emerged from rock and roll and rhythm and blues in the 1950s and has since diversified into numerous subgenres. Vocals are also a key component, often with a focus on themes like love, rebellion, and social issues. The genre is known for its live performances, featuring bands with a typical setup of drums, bass, and one or more guitars.

How has rock music evolved over the years?

Rock music refers to a wide range of musical forms.
Rock music refers to a wide range of musical forms.

Since its inception in the 1950s, rock music has undergone significant evolution, branching into various subgenres such as punk, metal, alternative, and indie rock. Each subgenre carries its own distinct characteristics, from the aggressive and fast-paced nature of punk rock to the heavy and powerful sound of metal. The 1960s and 1970s saw a creative explosion in rock, with bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin pushing musical boundaries. The MTV era of the 1980s brought visual elements to the forefront, while the 1990s saw the rise of grunge and alternative rock, with bands like Nirvana reshaping the rock landscape.

Who are some of the most influential rock bands or artists?

In the 1980s, the New Wave trend brought popularity to rock bands such as The Pretenders.
In the 1980s, the New Wave trend brought popularity to rock bands such as The Pretenders.

Some of the most influential rock bands and artists include The Beatles, whose innovative songwriting and recording techniques revolutionized popular music; The Rolling Stones, known for their blues-influenced rock and charismatic stage presence; Led Zeppelin, who are often credited with pioneering the heavy metal genre; and Queen, with their eclectic style and theatrical performances. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, with his groundbreaking guitar work, and Bob Dylan, with his poetic lyrics, have also left an indelible mark on the genre.

What impact has rock music had on popular culture and society?

Rock music has had a profound impact on popular culture and society, often reflecting and shaping social attitudes and movements. It played a pivotal role in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, with songs that addressed civil rights, war, and other social issues. Rock concerts and festivals have become cultural phenomena, epitomized by events like Woodstock. The genre has also influenced fashion, language, and lifestyle, and continues to be a platform for expression and rebellion for many.

How do rock music's subgenres differ from each other?

Rock music's subgenres are distinguished by their unique sonic qualities, lyrical themes, and cultural contexts. For example, punk rock is known for its raw energy, concise songs, and anti-establishment ethos, while progressive rock is characterized by complex compositions, conceptual album themes, and virtuosic musicianship. Heavy metal emphasizes volume, power, and speed, with distorted guitars and grandiose imagery. Indie rock typically features a do-it-yourself approach and often eschews mainstream popularity for artistic integrity. Each subgenre offers a different interpretation of the rock music ethos.

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Discussion Comments


I am 12 years old and have had the enormous benefit of being born into a blues and rock family, so I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana during the day,

and B.B King and Muddy Waters to go to bed. I just love the energy and the feeling you get from these genres.

I have a 12 year old son and I have been trying to introduce him to some of the music that I loved in the 60s and 70s. He is pretty resistant and seems to like nothing but metal and dubstep.

I think for him the music of my time sounds soft. What I have been trying to explain to him is that it was new, and for us it seemed impossibly tough and heavy. He doesn't get the context. But I guess I can't blame him much, the stuff he likes sounds pretty bad to me too.

I have a friend that has a very elaborate and complex theory that punk rock is a direct descendant of the blues.

We work together and he talks about it constantly. he makes a pretty good case though. I am always urging him to write something up, or to at least put together a mix that he thinks illustrates the progression.

I like pop songs that include rock elements. I love the sound of electric guitar, and I think it really adds an edge to a pop song.

When an artist who normally sings to dance music invites a rock musician to play one of her songs, the result is something powerful. Quite often, songs like these become big hits.

I find it amusing that the world was so shocked by Elvis when he first started. If those very same people could see what rock musicians today do on stage, they would faint from embarrassment!

The way that Elvis danced and sang is actually very mild when compared to the suggestive dances and lyrics of modern bands. People say that it all started with Elvis, but I don't think it's fair to blame him for the perverse behavior of artists decades down the road.

@Perdido – It seems that the decade when you are growing up is usually the decade from which your favorite music comes. See, I grew up in the nineties, so I hated eighties music.

I loved grunge, because it was all I knew, other than a scattering of pop songs that got radio airplay in with the grunge. When we're young, we tend to listen to what is current, unless we have an older music aficionado around to introduce us to other stuff.

I'm not a big fan of 70s rock music. I think that's because I was born in 1978, so I can't associate any memories with the songs of the 70s.

However, I am crazy about 80s rock music. I get aggravated when critics refer to rock bands from this era as “hair bands.” Yes, they teased and permed their hair and wore lots of makeup, but that had no bearing on their sound, which was excellent.

I think that 80s rock was the pinnacle of rock music. Once the 90s arrived and brought depressing grunge bands, rock music suffered greatly. Some say that grunge gave music a much needed change, but I say it was the death of rock music.


I've been asking the same question myself, and have decided it's pretty subjective really. I had a really good look through the archives of Classic Rock Magazine and they talked about every one from AC/DC (obviously rock) to Phil Collins - not very rock and roll in my opinion!


is rock music better than country music? if so how? please help.


what do people think about how rock music has changed? help please.


Where can I find free 70s rock music? That is the total peak of rock for me, the late 1970s, and I wish that I could find more of it.

My local library doesn't really have anything besides 90s pop/rock music, and I really want to listen to some classic rock.

Besides youtube, are there any site that stream it for free?


For me, most of the so-called "rock" music today is just a rock/pop hybrid. Music has come such a long way since Elvis, through the Beatles, Stones, and everyone else that it's natural for the feel of the genre to have changed, but I really think that most of the old rockers would be ashamed to go to some of the "rock" music concerts today.

Luckily we can still catch the good, classic rock music performances online, thanks to youtube and things like that -- otherwise we'd be pretty stuck for genuine, down to earth rock'n'roll.


What a great summary for such a huge genre. I mean, you included everything from pop/rock music to 80s hard rock music, which is quite the span of genres.

Good for you for not getting caught up in one aspect -- this is an enormous topic, I mean, there are whole books written on really narrow aspects of rock music alone. I once saw a 500 page book on 1970s female rock music, for crying out loud!

I think that for the space you had, you did an awesome job with this topic.


How does 'Emo Rock' come into the picture?

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    • Guitarist playing an acoustic guitar.
      By: olly
      Guitarist playing an acoustic guitar.
    • Fans at a rock concert.
      By: DWP
      Fans at a rock concert.
    • The development of the electric guitar in the mid-20th Century directly led to the creation of the "classic" rock sound.
      By: mekcar
      The development of the electric guitar in the mid-20th Century directly led to the creation of the "classic" rock sound.
    • Rock guitars are typically played through an amplifier.
      By: matt&stustock
      Rock guitars are typically played through an amplifier.
    • Rock music refers to a wide range of musical forms.
      By: Andrey Armyagov
      Rock music refers to a wide range of musical forms.
    • In the 1980s, the New Wave trend brought popularity to rock bands such as The Pretenders.
      By: nico7martin
      In the 1980s, the New Wave trend brought popularity to rock bands such as The Pretenders.