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The sound of rock is traditionally centered around the electric guitar, which emerged in its modern form in the 1950s with the popularization of rock and roll.[2] The sound of an electric guitar in rock music is typically supported by an electric bass guitar pioneered in jazz music in the same era,[3] and percussion produced from a drum kit that combines drums and cymbals.[4] This trio of instruments has often been complemented by the inclusion of others, particularly keyboards such as the piano, Hammond organ and synthesizers.[5] A group of musicians performing rock music is termed a rock band or rock group and typically consists of between two and five members. Classically, a rock band takes the form of a quartet whose members cover one or more roles, including vocalist, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, drummer and occasionally that of keyboard player or other instrumentalist.[6]

Rock music is traditionally built on a foundation of simple unsyncopated rhythms in a 4/4 meter, with a repetitive snare drum back beat on beats two and four.[7] Melodies are often derived from older musical modes, including the Dorian and Mixolydian, as well as major and minor modes. Harmonies range from the common triad to parallel fourths and fifths and dissonant harmonic progressions.[7] Rock songs from the mid-1960s onwards often used the verse-chorus structure derived from blues and folk music, but there has been considerable variation from this model.[8] Critics have stressed the eclecticism and stylistic diversity of rock.[9] Because of its complex history and tendency to borrow from other musical and cultural forms, it has been argued that "it is impossible to bind rock music to a rigidly delineated musical definition."[10]

Unlike many earlier styles of popular music, rock lyrics have dealt with a wide range of themes in addition to romantic love: including sex, rebellion against "The Establishment", social concerns and life styles.[7] These themes were inherited from a variety of sources, including the Tin Pan Alley pop tradition, folk music and rhythm and blues.[11] The predominance of white, male and often middle class musicians in rock music has often been noted[12] and rock has been seen as an appropriation of black musical forms for a young, white and largely male audience.[13] As a result it has been seen as articulating the concerns of this group in both style and lyrics.[14]

Since the term rock began to be used in preference to rock and roll from the mid 1960s, it has often been contrasted with pop music, with which it has shared many characteristics, but from which it is often distanced by an emphasis on musicianship, live performance and a focus on serious and progressive themes as part of an ideology of authenticity that is frequently combined with an awareness of the genre's history and development.[15] According to Simon Frith "rock was something more than pop, something more than rock and roll. Rock musicians combined an emphasis on skill and technique with the romantic concept of art as artistic expression, original and sincere".[15] In the new millennium the term rock has sometimes been used as a blanket term including forms such as pop music, reggae music, soul music, and even hip hop, with which it has been influenced but often contrasted through much of its history.[16]

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  2. J. M. Curtis, Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984 (Madison, WI: Popular Press, 1987), ISBN 0-87972-369-6, pp. 68-73.
  3. R. C. Brewer, "Bass Guitar" in J. Shepherd, ed., Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II: Performance and Production (New York, NY: Continuum, 2003), ISBN 0-8264-6322-3, p. 56.
  4. R. Mattingly, "Drum Set", in J. Shepherd, ed., Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II: Performance and Production (New York, NY: Continuum, 2003), ISBN 0-8264-6322-3, p. 361.
  5. P. Théberge, Any Sound you can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology (Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1997), ISBN 0-8195-6309-9, pp. 69-70.
  6. D. Laing, "Quartet", in J. Shepherd, ed., Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II: Performance and Production (New York, NY: Continuum, 2003), ISBN 0-8264-6322-3, p. 56.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 C. Ammer, The Facts on File Dictionary of Music (New York, NY: Infobase, 4th edn., 2004), ISBN 0-8160-5266-2, pp. 251-2.
  8. J. Covach, "From craft to art: formal structure in the music of the Beatles", in K. Womack and Todd F. Davis, eds, Reading the Beatles: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, and the Fab Four (New York, NY: SUNY Press, 2006), ISBN 0-7914-6715-5, p. 40.
  9. T. Gracyk, Rhythm and Noise: an Aesthetics of Rock, (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996), ISBN 1-86064-090-7, p. xi.
  10. P. Wicke, Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-521-39914-9, p. x.
  11. B. A. Farber, Rock 'n' roll Wisdom: What Psychologically Astute Lyrics Teach About Life and Love (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007), ISBN 0-275-99164-4, pp. xxvi-xxviii.
  12. C. McDonald, Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009), ISBN 0-253-35408-0, pp. 108-9.
  13. S. Waksman, Instruments of Desire: the Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), ISBN 0-674-00547-3, p. 176.
  14. S. Frith, Taking Popular Music Seriously: Selected Essays (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), ISBN 0-7546-2679-2, pp. 43-4.
  15. 15.0 15.1 T. Warner, Pop Music: Technology and Creativity: Trevor Horn and the Digital Revolution (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), ISBN 0-7546-3132-X, pp. 3-4.
  16. R. Beebe, D. Fulbrook and B. Saunders, "Introduction" in R. Beebe, D. Fulbrook, B. Saunders, eds, Rock Over the Edge: Transformations in Popular Music Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-8223-2900-X, p. 7.

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