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History of Rock
Rock Music is a group of related music styles that have dominated popular music in the West since about 1955. Rock music began in the United States, but it has influenced and in turn been shaped by a broad field of cultures and musical traditions, including gospel music, the blues, country-and-western music, classical music, folk music, electronic music, and the popular music of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In addition to its use as a broad designation, the term rock music commonly refers to music styles after 1959 predominantly influenced by white musicians. Other major rock music styles include rock and roll, the first genre of the music; and rythem-and-blues music, influenced mainly by black American musicians. Each of these major genres encompasses a variety of substyles, such as heavy metal, punk, alternative, and grunge. While innovations in rock music have often occurred in regional centers-such as New York City, Kingston, Jamaica, and Liverpool, England-the influence of rock music is now felt worldwide.
The central musical instrument in most kinds of rock music is the electric guitar. Important figures in the history of this instrument include jazz musician Charlie Christian, who in the late 1930s was one of the first to perform the amplified guitar as a solo instrument; Aaron Thibeaux T-Bone Walker, the first blues musician to record with an amplified guitar (1942); Leo Fender, who in 1948 introduced the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar; and Les Paul, who popularized the instrument in the early 1950s with a series of technologically innovative recordings. Rock-and-roll guitarist Chuck Berry established a style of playing in the late 1950s that remains a great influence on rock music. Beginning in the late 1960s a new generation of rock guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana, experimented with amplification, feedback (a type of electronic sound distortion), and various electronic devices, extending the musical potential of the instrument.
Other instruments commonly used in rock music include the electric bass guitar (introduced by Fender in 1951); keyboard instruments such as the electric piano, organ, and synthesizer; and the drum set, an African American innovation that came into rock music from jazz and R&B music. Instruments that play important roles in certain rock-music genres include the saxophone-prominent in jazz-rock and soul music-and a wide assortment of traditional instruments used in worldbeat music. The microphone also functions as a musical instrument for many rock singers, who rely upon the amplification and various effects (such as echo) obtainable through electronic means.
Rock music also shares more complex technical aspects. Most rock music is based on the same harmonies as Western music, especially the chords known as tonic, subdominant, and dominant. The chord progression (series of chords) known as the 12-bar blues is based on these chords and has figured prominently in certain styles, especially rock and roll, soul music, and southern rock. Other common harmonic devices include the use of a drone or pedal point (a single pitch sustained through a progression of chords), and the parallel movement of chords, derived from a technique on the electric guitar known as bar-chording. Many elements of African American music have been a continuing source of influence on rock music. These characteristics include riffs(repeated patterns), backbeats (emphasizing the second and fourth beats of each measure, blue notes (the use of certain bent-sounding pitches, especially those related to the third and fifth degrees of a musical scale), and dense buzzy-sounding timbres, or tone colors.
The musical form of rock music varies. Rock and roll of the late 1950s relied heavily upon 12-bar blues and 32-bar song forms. Some rock bands of the late 1960s experimented with more flexible, open-ended forms, and some rock bands of the 1970s developed suite forms derived from classical music. Another important formal development in rock music has been the so-called concept album, a succession of musical pieces tied together by a loose narrative theme.
Much rock music is performed at high volume levels, so the music has been closely tied to developments in electronic technology. Rock musicians have pioneered new studio recording techniques, such as multi-tracking-a process of recording different song segments at different times and layering them on top of one another-and digital sampling, the reproduction by a computer of the patterns of a particular sound. Rock concerts, typically huge events involving thousands of audience members, often feature high-tech theatrical stage effects, including synchronized lighting.
Rock music has grown to include hundreds of musical styles, some of which define a broad mainstream, while others are supported by small but devoted audiences. As in earlier decades, major record companies have used independent labels to find new trends and locate promising talent.
Heavy metal has remained popular, as evidenced by huge arena concerts featuring such bands as Korn and Limp Bizkit. A style known as alternative rock, popularized in the late 1980s by the group R.E.M., combines heavy-metal guitars, folk and punk influences, and cryptic, introspective lyrics. The alternative style spawned a number of substyles, such as the grunge rock of Seattle-based groups Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. Techno, a style of dance music that gained popularity in the 1990s, combines computer-generated, discolike rhythms with digital samples. Acid Jazz is a related style, combining rock, soul, R&B, and jazz influences.
Since its inception in the 1950s, rock music has moved from the margins of American popular music to become the center of a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Closely connected with youth culture, rock music and musicians have helped to establish new fashions, forms of language, attitudes, and political views. However, rock music is no longer limited to an audience of teenagers, since many current listeners formed their musical tastes during the golden age of rock and roll. Similarly, while rock has historically encouraged new creative expressions, the innovations of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix have defined a tradition to which successive generations of musicians have repeatedly turned for inspiration.
From its origins, rock music has been shaped by a complex relationship between freedom-symbolized by the image of the rebellious rock musician-and corporate control. Originally a mixture of styles outside the mainstream of white middle-class popular taste, rock and roll soon became a mass-produced commodity. This tension between individuality and commercialism still looms large in rock music and is reflected in fan distaste for musicians who compromise, or sell out their musical values in order to secure multi-million-dollar recording contracts. Shaped by technology, the growth of the mass media, and the social identities of its artists and audiences, rock music continues to play a central role in the popular culture of the United States and, increasingly, the world.
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