What started off as an underground movement nearly 70 years ago has evolved to be the soundtrack of the lives of an entire generation and all its historic moments. Rock music’s long, storied past has made it a versatile style of music beloved by many.

It has elicited calls of action for peace, been blamed for violence, and, most of all, entertained the people of the world since its inception. Here’s a quick introduction to this now-classic genre of music.

Instrumental Traits of Rock Music

The basics of rock music start with the instrumentation of a song. There are three instruments that are most commonly used in rock: the lead sound generally comes from an electric guitar; next, the music’s beat and rhythm is enriched by a bass guitar sound; the last main piece of rock music is the drums. Drums are usually played as a full drum set, including snare drum, bass drum, ride cymbals, and a hi-hat.

After those three basic instruments, some musical styles add more sounds in the form of secondary electric guitars, keyboards, saxophones or other instruments. On top of the instruments, rock music normally features a singer. Songs usually start with a verse and then have a chorus which repeats between each verse after that.

The Beginnings of Rock

The style and musicality of rock music was heavily influenced by blues traditions and rhythm and blues (also known as R&B) from the early 20th century. It was born out of the natural evolution of many musical styles from the 1930s and 1940s, including swing, gospel, country, and folk.

What emerged was a musical genre that was upbeat with infectious melodies and lyrics that were often controversial.

Perhaps most notably, this combination of genres appealed to a diverse audience of both black and white listeners. Rock music’s inception and development came at a crucial time in America’s history – a time when segregation still ruled much of the country. Throughout its development, rock music has played important roles in political and social controversies.

While we aren’t really sure of the exact moment when “rock and roll” (later just “rock”) began to be a clearly recognized musical genre, rock records were being released in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some of the first noteworthy rock stars include Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Transitions and Social Advocacy

By the 1960s, rock music had started to change. With the hottest hits coming from Great Britain, the love of rock and roll had spread from beyond American teens’ bedrooms and made an impact everywhere. Super-groups like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones helped rock music spread across the globe.

As the 1960s and 1970s passed, rock music also started to become an anthem for the disillusioned. Rock songs of protest against the Vietnam War were uniting people and encouraging peace throughout the United States. Messages of hope and themes of anti-establishment started to become common in rock song lyrics.

Later Years

Since the 1980s, rock music has expanded even more to include newer styles and musical methods. Progressive rock, heavy metal, alternative, punk rock, emo, and grunge are all diverse sub-genres and sister genres of rock that dominate today’s popular music charts.


Rock (and roll) has proved itself to be a genre for the ages. “Old” rock groups continue to hold their popularity – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, and many more. Rock music paved the way for and inspired many of today’s most popular artists and its influence will no doubt continue as part of music’s ever-changing sound.

Do you envision yourself as a rock star? What questions or observations do you have about rock music?

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