Since the beginnings of Rock and Roll people have been drawn to the beat and the sound it creates. There is always a lot of emphasis placed on the vocalist and their abilities. But what about the instruments of rock of roll? Without them Rock and Roll would be a totally different genre. The sound would be completely different. Take a moment and think about it. Choose your favorite rock and Roll song and remove the instruments.
no instruments at all
All you have left is a vocalist trying to convey a message or story. Would you still tap your toes? Would you still feel like dancing? Only you know your answer but for me the lack of instruments would be a game changer.
The Purpose of Musical Instruments in Rock and Roll
Musical instruments have a variety of purposes in rock and roll music. They are the back bone or heart beat of the band. Without them the music feels empty. It is the instruments that makes the rock and roll sound. Lets take a closer look at why musical instruments are so essential to rock and roll music.
- Harmonic background – The harmonic background is the chords used within the song. It is usually provide by one or more instruments who play a specific chord progression. Rock and Roll is most often based on tonal music, meaning there are specific chords and pitches present within the music. The harmonic background is often played on the piano or guitar because of their ability to play several notes at once, but it is not uncommon to use solo instruments as well. The Bass guitar or string bass is often used to provide the bass note for each chord. For example, A C major chord consists of the notes C, E and G. In this case the bass note is C. Thus the bass instrument would play a C whenever the C major chord was played.
- Beat – In rock and roll the beat is often provided by the percussion section. Most often the percussion section is a drum set but many other percussion instruments can also be used. More on that later.
- Tempo – The tempo is the speed that the song will played.
Mood – The mood of a song is extremely important when trying to convey a particular message. The mood is basically the feelings that are conveyed. While the vocalist can convey a particular message through words and emotion, the musical instruments can add to this using the basic elements of music which include:
- Dynamics (Loud and soft)
- Tempo (Speed of music)
- Texture (The number of instruments playing at once)
- Tonality (major or minor chords)
It is important to realize that all the members of a rock and roll band have equal importance. They all contribute to creating a polished final performance that conveys the message they are trying to create.
The Instruments of Rock and Roll
Now that we have a better understanding of the purposes of instruments in rock and roll. Lets take a look at the actual instruments themselves.The exact instrumentation of a rock band varies depending on the group but there are several instruments that are present in almost all rock and roll bands. Here is a list of the most common instruments found in rock and roll music and there purpose within the group.
Guitar – The guitar is perhaps one of the most popular instruments in rock and roll. Many young guitarist get their inspiration from famous rock and roll guitar players. Both the electric and acoustic guitar are used. Quite often the choice is dependent on the sound and mood that the band is trying to create.
The guitar is often given a solo within a piece of music. This solo is often improvised meaning the guitarist makes it up as they go. The guitar solo is often placed in the middle of the song and given significant importance.
Piano (Keyboards) – The piano or keyboards play a similar role as the guitar. It is often used to provide the harmonic structure and embellish the accompaniment. There are many instances in which the piano will provide accompaniment alone.
Drums – The drum set is the heart beat of the band. It is responsible for setting the tempo and setting the basic beat. Drum solos are very common in Rock and Roll music.
Although the drum set is the most popular percussion instrument in a rock band, many other percussion instruments may be present. These include the tambourine, maracas, and the cow bell.
Other Instruments found in Rock and Roll
While the guitar, bass guitar, piano (keyboards) and drums are the most common instruments found in Rock and Roll many other instruments were added as the genre began to evolve and influence other musicians. Today Rock and Roll actually refers to two types of music. The original Rock and Roll, which was established in the 1950’s, and what we know today as Rock music. Todays rock bands have been known to utilize many different instruments including:
The Orchestra – There have been many rock groups in history to have an orchestra as part of their accompaniment. The orchestra can provide a wide array of tone colors and set a mood quite effectively.
Brass instruments -It is not uncommon to find rock bands with one or several brass instruments. They are very useful for adding embellishments such as shots and solos.
Saxophone – The saxophone can serve the same purpose as brass instruments.
Strings – Violins and cellos have also been used in rock and roll. They are fabulous instruments for creating specific moods.
Like many other genres the sky is the limit when choosing instruments for a rock band. Regardless of the instrumentation used musical instruments have a very important purpose and role. The instruments of Rock and Roll are responsible for creating the sound and mood that we all expect and love. The next time you are listening to your favorite rock and roll song see how many instruments you can pick out and imagine them not being there at all. I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment if you have something to add or perhaps a favorite rock and roll musician you would like to highlight.