Descriptive Essay on Evolution of Rock Music

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Rock music first began to emerge in the United States in the late 1940s/early 1950s, also known as ‘Rock n roll’, but the roots of rock can be traced back centuries to drumbeats in Africa and Celtic folk music in Europe. This led to the creation of artists such as Van Halen and Pink Floyd who helped revolutionize music all through the 70s.

The instruments involved in a typical rock song would be most typically a rhythm guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, and a drum kit, with the lead instruments being guitar and vocals. Similarly, pop music could be a keyboard/piano involved, but it isn’t as frequently present as the other instruments because of the dominance of the guitar, both lead, and rhythm; the rhythm guitar pretty much substitutes for the keyboard.

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A rock song would normally use a 4/4 time signature and follow the standard structure of an intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, solo, middle 8, chorus, outro (a verse-chorus-like structure), so it is quite easy to keep up with a rock song in terms of structure. The use of a guitar or bass riff within a rock song is used to form the main melodic anchor, and by hearing this you will be able to instantly recognize the song. A key example of this would be ‘Smoke on The Water’ as their riff is an iconic song for beginners to play as it has shaped the way rock is played.

An iconic rock guitar that can be seen being used by legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, and Pink Floyd is ‘The Fender Stratocaster’. It has been a necessity of rock music since the day it was released and has been a constant in the brand’s line-up since day one. This guitar, alongside the Gibson Les Paul, is one of the most emulated guitar shapes in the musical world with many other brands choosing to take “inspiration” from this unique Strat look. The double cutaway guitar was originally intended for country players to use, as Leo Fender, obviously, the founder of Fender Guitars, was a huge country fan, however, this guitar has been one of the most widely used setups appearing in all musical genres, mainly rock and country, with the humbucking pickup configuration appearing in the harder rock style bands, too. For example, Jimmy Hendrix would use a humbucking pickup on his Stratocasters during his performances to reinforce the big, loud, and warm sound that is created, contrasting with the bright, snappy sound of the single-coil pickups used.

You would use a Marshall Amp to help achieve that masterful rock sound, such as t Marshall JCM900 4100, to drive a moderately high gain tone with a lot of definition, clarity, and responsiveness. You would need to push the mids up and adjust gain somewhere in the 3-5 vicinity. You want just a little bit of sustain and “grunge” to an otherwise clean-sounding signal – a good setup that world-famous lead singer and guitarist Van Halen would use is Gain: 10 o’clock, Low: 1 o’clock, Mid: 10.5 o’clock, High: 2 o’clock, Volume: 10 o’clock, Presence: 1 o’clock, Resonance: 1 o’clock.

Distortion and overdrive are the most commonly used effects in pretty much every rock song to help boost the gain and prominence of the guitar. It has been used innovatively by mainly Jimi Hendrix, but also by Eric Clapton too. Hendrix used this to add more ‘dirt’ and ‘drive’ to his amp when playing so the songs become bolder and grittier to deliver the ultimate rock guitar sound. However, Rock music also uses phasers and flangers. A phaser is an electronic sound processor used to filter a signal by creating a series of peaks and troughs in the frequency spectrum. The position of the peaks and troughs of the waveform being affected is typically modulated so that they vary over time, thus, therefore, creating a sweeping effect. Similarly, ‘flanging’ is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually only smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resulting frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum.

In some cases, the chord progression is used with a simplified sequence of two or three notes, also known as a ‘riff’. That sequence is repeated throughout the piece. In rock music, this is typically expanded to more complex sequences comprising a combination of chords, single notes, and palm muting. The rhythm guitar part in the songs performed by more technically oriented bands often includes riffs and complex lead guitar techniques. In some genres, especially rock, the audio signal from the rhythm guitar's output is often heavily distorted by overdriving the guitar's amplifier to create a thicker and ‘crunchier’ sound for the palm-muted rhythms.

The pedals that are used to help with distortion are the MXR DD25 and the MXR M104 Distortion Plus, and the pedals that are used to help with phasing/flanging are such pedals as the MXR PHASE 90 and the MXR M101 Phase 90.

Rock has embodied and served as the vehicle for cultural and social movements, leading to major subcultures like ‘mods’ and ‘rockers’ in the UK. Rock music has been associated with political activism as well as changes in social attitudes to race, sex, and drug use; it is often seen as an expression of youth revolt against adult life and how they should be acting. However, Rock is very similar to other genres such as Blues and Jazz through the messages given, as Blues was created through the struggle of African-Americans during the time period of mistreatment and slavery of these people, so both genres have been produced through struggles in their own way. Rock originated from the Blues style of music, using very similar instruments such as the drums, rhythm guitar, electric bass, lead guitar, and vocals.

However, Rock Music is also similarly structured to a pop song using the verse-chorus structure, except Rock differentiated itself through distorted and overdriven solos and riffs throughout the songs. Rhythm and Blues, or R&B, are the main innovators behind the development of Rock and Roll music. Elements of rock and roll can be heard in the Blues music in the 1920s. A man named Little Richard (who was one of the greatest innovators in 1950s rock music) stated that “Rhythm and Blues had a baby, and somebody named it rock and roll.” R&B is not the only form of music that created Rock and Roll though, as it was surprisingly influenced by country and western music. Country and western music also originated in Southern America during the 1920s. This form of music usually consists of ballads, dance tunes, and harmonies and the major instruments used are banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, fiddles, and harmonicas – rock is an inspiration to the music itself.

If I was to play ‘Panama’ by Van Halen on the guitar, the opening chord sequence, which is accompanied by the kick-drum, would need to be played through palm muting and opening up the chords, as it has that scratchy-distorted type of sound that instantly gives off the song of rock. Later on, the chords would then need to be opened up as the bass and full drumkit joins in with the guitar, and then just before the vocals come in there would need to be a muted guitar riff that gradually opens up to then be accompanied by the drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and vocals. A tremolo bar (or whammy bar) will be used in the riff and solo, which is another effect used in blues as well, bending the strings to dramatize the solos and create more presence within the song. Distortion and overdrive will need to be used on the amp, with the gain turned up about halfway and the presence turned up about two-thirds of the way to give the lead guitar that dominance and distorted effect.

This contrasts with if I was to play ‘La Grange’ by ZZ Top, as I would need to play a choppy chord sequence using upstrokes and palm-stops for the intro with a 5-note riff after the sequence. This song from the blues genre uses overdrive just like rock, but only distortion is used at a minimal level for emphasis on the choppy chords/riffs. I would maintain this chord sequence through the first verse repeatedly but push up the overdrive and distortion here for more dominance and presence, to then change to a guitar solo played in the C minor pentatonic scale. Similarly, to rock music, blues also have guitar solos that are played in a pentatonic scale that matches with the key of the song, using a whammy bar, as rock solos do, to add more ‘color’ and emphasis on these solos. A good amp setting that I would use for this blues song would be distortion turned only to just under 1/3 of the way, overdrive to be pushed to ¾ of the way, the gain similarly put to halfway, and the presence at 2/3’s as well.

The lyrics are also quite different in both blues and rock music. Rock music will have lyrics typically about topics such as love, recklessness, rock stars’ lives, and rocking out against haters, whereas blues will have lyrics typically about discrimination, blues’ background, sad and emotional events, and sad topics. A rock song would have lyrics carried out throughout the whole song, apart from the solo, whereas a blues song would have short bursts of lyrics broken up by instrumentals and riffs/solos. What does appear to be similar here is their ‘preaching’ of how their own individual backgrounds and issues that they have had when developing.

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Descriptive Essay on Evolution of Rock Music. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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