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Deconstructing Music Genres: Rock Music


What genre would you categorise this song in?”

This is a question that has caused endless debates among music fans since forever. But as with the music, the answer lies is in the state of evolution.

A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions.

Music can be classified into genres in many different ways. As music is artistic by nature these genres are often subjective, over-lapping, and at times even controversial.

What are Sub-Genres?

A sub-genre is a sort of trickle-down categorisation of similar types of music within a specific genre. Sub-genres can be defined by the musical techniques, styles, context, content, and the spirit of the themes.

Sub-genres veer towards a culture of their own and command loyal fans. Identifying their music’s sub-genre also helps musicians and their representatives choose the right labels to approach with their music. It also helps in promoting and marketing music and putting together live shows.

In this series, we shall dwell upon various genres and their sub-genres. It is near impossible to draw up a comprehensive list though, due to the sheer number of sub-genres.

So, to kick things off let us take a look at Rock Music.

Rock music originated from rock and roll of the 1940s-50s, which itself evolved from blues, gospel, country music, and other influences. Rock music is also influenced by a number of other genres like folk, jazz, classical, and other musical styles. Bands under this genre used electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and a vocalist. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4/4 time signature using a verse-chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse.

Blues Rock

Rock and blues have historically always been closely linked. Blues-rock originated in the early-to-mid 1960s and combines elements of blues and rock. It is mostly electric ensemble-style music with instrumentation similar to electric blues, a sub-genre of Blues, and rock.

The Chicago blues musicians Elmore James, Albert King and Freddie King were early pioneers of blues rock music. The 1966 John Mayall/Eric Clapton album ‘Blues Breakers’ is said to be the defining album for the genre.

Some of the most popular artists in music history like Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers Band, The Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Muddy Waters, and Gary Clark Jr. have explored this genre.

Heavy Metal

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, heavy metal is one of the most aggressive sub-genres of rock music. Featuring a band setup with electric guitars, bass, and drums, the distorted guitar sounds give it the ‘heavy’ aggressive sound. It has its roots in blues-rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock and is characterized by fast tempos and high-pitched vocals with lyrics based on dark and depressing subject matter pertaining to the present times and societal behaviour.

Metal or Heavy Metal has become a genre in its own right and has spawned countless other sub-genres like thrash metal, death metal, gothic metal, and others.

Bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest are said to be the originators of this sub-genre, and Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax are known as the ‘Big 4’ of heavy metal.

Alternative Rock

As the name suggests this sub-genre was born as an alternative to mainstream rock. British post-punk music and British new wave music are the two major influences in alternative rock. This sub-genre began in the eighties with bands like REM, U2, and others whose music composed of alternate sounds and non-traditional musical elements, associated with the so-called ‘underground culture’.

Beck, Foo Fighters, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Pixies, are some of the leading names which popularised Alternative rock. This sub-genre exerted considerable influence on the musicians who grew up during that decade.

Grunge Rock

Grunge Rock also known as the Seattle sound is influenced by punk rock, hardcore punk, noise rock, and speed metal and with structures close to hard rock and heavy metal. The guitarists use a high level of distortion, fuzz, and feedback effects with elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal. Many grunge musicians displayed a general disillusionment with the society and also a hatred for social prejudices. Their attitude was reflective in their lyrics which often spoke on themes such as social alienation, apathy, confinement, and a desire for freedom.

The early grunge movement started in the late 1980s but grunge became commercially successful only in the first half of the 1990s. This was mainly due to the enormous success of two albums, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Although the sub-genre faded by the end of the 90s, it gave the world some amazing bands like Stone Temple Pilots, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Everclear and Soundgarden.

Punk Rock

Punk rock developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Songs were usually fast, hard-edged, short, and often with political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk became incredibly popular because of its radical image and lyrical themes.

By late 1976, bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and the Ramones were recognised as the leaders of this new musical movement. The punk culture was about expressing youthful rebellion characterised by distinctive styles of clothing and anti-authoritarian ideologies.

Towards the end of the 20th century, punk rock became part of the mainstream, with bands such as Green Day, The Offspring, and Blink-182 receiving widespread popularity.

Psychedelic Rock

Psychedelic rock interchangeably used with Acid rock is a genre that was influenced by rock music, psychedelia, jazz, electronic music, and a representative of the psychedelic culture of the 1960s. The music attempts to replicate the effects of hallucinogenic drugs by incorporating new electronic sound effects and recording effects, extended solos, and improvisation.

It was used as a way to break free from musical rules and develop new techniques. Most psychedelic rock musicians were influenced by folk, jazz, and the blues. A few bands also used Indian classical music majorly in their songs.
Psychedelic rock peaked between 1967 and 1969, with milestone events including the 1967 Summer of Love and the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The latter is considered a defining moment in rock history and witnessed unprecedented crowds and performances by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and more.

Along with these legendary bands, The Doors, Grateful Dead, Cream, The Byrds are some of the prominent exponents of this sub-genre.

Progressive Rock

Progressive rock, also known as prog rock or prog, first gained popularity in the US. The term “art rock” is often used alternatively with “progressive rock”.

Progressive rock bands went beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structures thereby challenging rock’s technical and compositional boundaries. The arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music. The Lyrics were conceptual, abstract, or just fantasy. Progressive rock albums were conceptual albums usually telling an epic story or tackling an all-embracing theme. The sub-genre reached the peak of its popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Prog rock was epitomised by the music of bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.


In the late 1960s, rock music was blended with jazz, to create jazz-rock. In the 1970s, rock incorporated influences from soul, funk, and Latin music. While in the 1970s and 80s, rock developed a number of sub-genres, such as soft rock, glam rock, hard rock, and synth-rock. In the 1990s, the rock sub-genres list inducted Brit-Pop, indie rock, and nu-metal.

To conclude, there are various other sub-genres representing rock music but as mentioned earlier it is not possible to include them all.

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