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What Makes Rock

19 Apr 2017Arts Essays

Rock music is different from other forms of music in its use of multiple sources of inspiration. More than any other type of music, rock music is a hybrid, combining elements from Black blues music, British music, folk music, American gospel music, and country and western music ("Rock Music"). Rock music is also different from the rock and roll music that came before it because rock and roll was meant primarily for dancing, while rock music is often written for listeners and not for dancers ("Rock Music").

Rock and jazz both use improvisation, or the ability of the performers to create melodies as the music is being performed with minimum notation. Jazz, however, uses a variety of instruments to perform solos, including saxophone, piano, guitar, and other instruments. Rock music relies primarily on the electric guitar for solos. Although other instruments may be used for solos on some songs, the overwhelming majority of rock solos are on electric guitar. Electric guitar solos are so common in rock music that it is hard to think of a rock song that does not include an electric guitar solo, even if other instruments also have a solo in the song. Rock bands that feature other instruments, like Ian Anderson's flute solos in Jethro Tull, or even the piano work in some rock bands that feature strong piano or keyboard players, are so rare that they are almost considered novelty acts – and even these bands use a lot of electric guitar solo work.

Rock is very different from classical music. Classical music uses a wider variety of instruments and is usually much more complex than the typical rock song. Rock also uses a less complicated chord structure than jazz.

Although some rock bands use fairly complex chords and chord changes, the majority of rock songs consists of about 3 or maybe 4 different chords that are repeated over and over. Rock chords are simpler, sometimes consisting of only 2 notes, while jazz chords are much more complex. Jazz chord progressions are also usually more complex than rock, although rock music often uses a 12-bar blues form that came from jazz music.
Rock is closely related to pop and country music. Rock, pop, and country all came from a folk music tradition. Folk singers used songs to tell stories, much like rock, pop, and country singers do today. Rock, however, uses a harder sound than pop or country. The instrument choices are also different. Country music, for example, uses a fiddle solo much in the same way that rock bands rely on guitar solos. However, today's country music is very similar to 1970's rock music. Finally, the subject matter of rock tends to be different. While pop music tends to be fluffy and country tends to be sad, rock tends to be angry and rebellious.

About humanities courses…

Humanities courses are about what makes us human. Music, theater, art, and literature separate us from other primates and from machines. While it is true that primates and machines can make art, music, and literature (and, for that matter, probably theater as well), they do not express human emotion. The humanities tell us about ourselves, about our culture, and about the lives and cultures of other people. Humanities courses help us to understand these things.

As a cultural study, rock music is as important to humanities as classical music or any of the other traditional humanities courses. "Culture" refers to "patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance" ("Culture"). Creating and listening to rock music is a common human activity and is an important characteristic of American culture that cannot be ignored. Classes about classical music or jazz may teach culture as we wish it was or as other people think it should be. Rock music classes teach about the culture that actually exists.

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