There is Progressive Rock, known as Prog Rock in the UK, Jazz Rock,
Rockabilly, Blues Rock, Soft Rock, Hard Rock, Rock ‘n Roll; I could go
on. We know it is a type of music, a specific genre widely recognized
but it’s difficult to define. Nevertheless, it actually does have some
specific, consistent characteristics that make it unique and that were
not a part of the popular music sound before it was born.
Some of the most distinctive characteristics are the instruments that are used, the 4/4 time, strong, sometimes syncopated, drum rhythms, particularly the backbeat, and a chord progression called the 12-bar blues scale. Of course, this list of musical properties applies to many other types of music, particularly most of the music that influenced Rock in the first place, Jazz, Soul, Gospel, Country and Western and Blues. It has even been suggested that Irish Jiggs had something to do with it.
The electric guitar is the predominant sound; we can hear Jimmie Hendrix in our heads, just talking about it. Then there are the drums, that strong Rock beat is like an old friend who makes us smile when he says hello. The other necessary instruments are the electric bass, keyboards such as the piano, or organ and synthesizers. Sometimes there are horns too, but this isn’t common. This is why Rock bands are usually just three to five players, although sometimes there are as many as seven if horns are part of the group.
The specific musical properties are so consistent that in a study done
by Dr. Joe Burns, (Southeastern Louisiana University, Communications
Department) two different songs turned out to be the same song,
technically. He discovered that Rock Around the Clock and Maybellene
use the same chord progressions, or series of chords, in a 1,4,5, order,
which, incidentally, he found to be in seventy five percent of the songs
he studied. The numbers 1,4,5 refer to the note in the scale that acts
as the basic note that creates the chord. For example, in the key of C,
using a 7-note scale, you would have, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, (C,). The
last C completes an octave, a series of 8 notes, and is the beginning of
next octave. The 1,4, 5 progression is simply a chord played on the
first middle C. It is playing the C triad, the F triad, and the G
triad, C, F, G, that’s the 1, 4, 5. Country and Western music
significantly influenced the choice of chord progressions used in Rock.
All this lends itself nicely to the 12-bar blues scale.
Rock composers must have a practical streak because over time, the number of chords they used became fewer and the melody lines became minimal. The melodies are almost always under an octave in range, which was an advantage for Rock singers who did not have a large vocal range. In addition, band members and featured singers are another extremely important characteristic of Rock. Rock musicians develop personal performance styles and so do the singers, it’s entertainment, a show. Watching a good Rock band is a visual experience as well as a listening one.