Rock Music, etc., Terms


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A cappella - Singing by a soloist or group without instrumental accompaniment.

Acid Rock - See Psychedelic Rock.

Album - A 12-inch circular piece of vinyl with a micro-groove that plays at 33a revolutions per minute.

Alternative - Alternative to what?  Mainstream?  While the term has become something of a buzzword beginning in the '90s, in general, it is an umbrella term for styles including rap (gangsta rap of the mid '90s, New Jack Swing, jazz rap), though primarily thought of as the styles of post-punk hardcore, thrash metal and grunge.

Antiphonal choruses - Groups of singers or instrumentalists that are separated by physical distance in performance, and sing or play different material in response to one another.

A&R - "Artists and Repertoire" representative from a recording company ... a talent scout.

AOR - Adult-oriented rock.

Arrangement - Preplanned music involving written-out parts for instrumentalists and/or vocalists. (See Head chart.)

Art Rock - The simplest form used stringed instruments normally associated with the symphony orchestra within the context of rock instrumentation.  A more complex style was created by musicians who wrote multi-movement works common in classical music.  A third, more experimental, art-rock style was based on ideas from the works of modern composers of avant-garde and electronic music.

"A" Side - The side of the single recording that is hoped to be the hit side; the side that is promoted.

Avant-garde - Very current, modern and experimental.

Backbeat - Beats two and four of a four-beat pattern, the accenting of which creates rock's basic rhythm.

Barrelhouse - A bar, or honky tonk, originally with whiskey barrels along the walls, or used as tables.  The boogie-woogie-based piano style was often heard in such places.

Bass riff - A low, short repeated bit of melody, often played by the bass guitar, or by bass and lead guitar together.

Beats - (Also beatniks) American writers and poets of the '50s and later whose works included social criticisms questioning the lack of individual freedom in American society.

Bebop - A modern jazz style pioneered in the early '40s by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker Bird), pianist Thelonius Monk, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and others. Bebop was more harmonically, melodically and rhythmically complex than earlier jazz, and was usually played by small combos of musicians who possessed a great amount of technical facility; also called bop.

The Big Six - 1950s rockers Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

Bluegrass - A complex country style that developed from the early 20th-century string bands; it was first called bluegrass in the mid '40s.  A variety of instruments may be used to play the music, but a five-string banjo and guitar are generally essential to authentic bluegrass.

Blue notes - Notes that are lowered a half-step or less.  Early blues musicians lowered the 3rd and 7th scale degrees, and bebop musicians lowered the 5th degree as well.

Blues harp - A harmonica used to play blues; a technique called "cross harping" makes use of a harp played in a key one step or a 5th below that of the song, in order to have blue notes automatically available to the player.

Boogie-woogie - A rhythmic piano style that uses repeating bass patterns.

Bottleneck - A glass or metal tube that fits over a guitarist's ring finger or little finger and stops the strings of the guitar when it is slid up or down the instrument's fingerboard.  Originally, the glass tube was the neck of a bottle that had been broken off and sanded.

Bridge of a guitar - A piece of wood or metal attached to the body of the guitar to which strings are attached, or over which they pass.

Bridge of a song - A musical connection between the last verse and the chorus.

"B" side - The "flip" side of a recording; the side that is not usually promoted.

Bubblegum - Music aimed at a preteen audience.

Call and response - The practice of singing in which a solo vocalist, the caller, is answered by a group of singers.  The practice is also used with instruments, but its origins are vocal.

CD - Compact Disc.  ("Disc" refers to audio and video discs.  "Disk" refers to computer disks.)

Cool jazz - A style of modern jazz developed by trumpeter Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and others.  As the name implies, it is a style that is subdued, and it generally is played by a small combo.

Country blues - The earliest and simplest blues style, usually performed by a solo singer accompanied by simple guitar strumming with occasional melodic fills.

Country-guitar fills - Short bits of melody played as a response to a vocal line.

Cover recording - A recording made subsequent to the original version; it may or may not follow the style or lyrics of the original.

Crooning - The soft vocal style of Rudy Vallée, Bing Crosby, Perry Como and others who tended to slide from one note to another, giving the effect of warmth, intimacy and sentimentality.

Crossovers - Records in one market which succeeded in another market.  Crossovers were the key ingredient that enabled rock music to develop as a separate style.

Cutting - A technique used by disc jockeys to segue one recording into another using a vari-speed control on one phonograph to maintain a constant beat pattern through the change.

Dada - (Also Dadaism) A movement in art in which frustration over the destruction of human life that took place during WW I was expressed by fashioning artworks out of trash or other material put together in chaotic form.  Also, a western European artistic and literary movement (1916-23) that sought the discovery of authentic reality through the abolition of traditional cultural and aesthetic forms.

Delta blues - The country-blues style of Robert Johnson and others who came from the Mississippi delta region.

Demo - A recording made as a demonstration of a group's sound, for the purpose of selling the group to a record company or promoter.

Disco - Derived from the French term discothèque (meaning "record library"), applied in the '60s to nightclubs that played recorded music.  In the '70s it described the dance music played in nightclubs.

Dobro - A steel-strung, guitar-like acoustic instrument with a raised metal section on the instrument's soundboard, played with a sliding bar, invented in the '20s by the Dopyera brothers.

Doo-wop progression - The chord progression of a tonic (I) chord, a submediant seventh (vi7) chord, a supertonic seventh (ii7) chord, and a dominant seventh (V7) chord, commonly used as the basis of '50s doo-wop songs.

Double time - A technique in music in which the tempo is doubled, or played twice as fast as in the preceding section.

Dubbing (in recordings) - Also called overdubbing; refers to the technique of adding instrumental, vocal or other sounds to a recording that has already been put on tape.  Dubbing requires a multiple-track tape machine to allow one track to be heard while the new one is being recorded.

EP - A 7-inch of 12-inch disc that is played at 45 rpm, with usually two songs on each side.

Falsetto - An artificially produced high male vocal range above the normal tenor voice.

Feedback - A naturally produced, sustained distorted squeal created when high-volume sound coming out of an amplifier is taken in by the pickup on the guitar (or a microphone) and then fed back into the amplifier.

Fills - Bits of melody or embellishment played between sections of the main solo melody.

Flamenco - A very rhythmic and highly emotional dance music originated by the gypsies of southern Spain.

Flat-four beat - A four-beat metric pattern in which all beats receive equal accenting.

Flip side - B side.

Folk Rock - A style of music whereby rock elements were incorporated into the folk style during the '60s.  Its creation is attributed to Bob Dylan, also the Byrds.

45 - A 7-inch-diameter vinyl disc of recorded music that revolves at 45 rpm; also known as a disc, single, or platter.

Funk - Music, of primarily black performers, with heavy rhythms and a throbbing beat.

Fusion - A somewhat experimental jazz style that made use of rock instrumentation and took some rhythmic and melodic patterns from rock.  Fusion was primarily an instrumental music, which tended to be more closely related to jazz than to rock.  (See Jazz Rock.)

Fuzztone - A distorted sound effect achieved by cutting through the speaker cone of an amplifier, playing a tube amplifier at a much higher volume than it was intended for, or using an electronic device that creates a controllable version of the sound.

Gangsta Rap - Became a dominant subgenre of rap by the mid-1990s.  Includes themes of gang-related violence, pornography, and often includes extra-musical sounds such as gunshots, etc.  Characteristics:  driving beat, heavy metal guitar style, angry/violent lyrics.

Gig - A musician's playing job.  The term is occasionally used to represent any job.

Glitter Rock - Glitter rock was not a specific musical style, but rather a performance image that influenced the development of the trend in the '70s toward large-scale theatrical performances.  While not all glitter groups assumed an androgynous image, most did stress sexuality of some sort as part of their act.

Gold disc - An award given to a single that sells 1 million copies (500,000 copies after January 1, 1989) and an album that sells 500,000 copies.

Gospel - A Christian religious music, especially a kind that evolved from spirituals sung in black churches in the South.

Groupie - An obsessively devoted female fan of a male rock star, traditionally.  Could easily go the other way, too.

Grunge - A subgenre of the alternative music scene, emerging from Seattle.  Musical characteristics are quite similar to hard-core.  It was a fusion of punk and metal.  At the heart of grunge is musical dissonance.  Artists wanted to have artistic control over their music instead of it being relegated to a major recording company ... enter Bruce Pavitt's Sub Pop Records.  Artists include:  Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Headbangers - The post-punk hardcore rock audience.

Head chart - An instrumental/vocal arrangement conceived on the spot, usually consisting of simple riffs played in unison, or with simple harmonies.

Heavy metal - In a word ... rock music that is LOUD.  It took everything about hard rock a step further:  more repetitive, singers screamed, distortion was commonplace.  Shock value seemed to be important, as well.

Hip-hop - The entire culture related to rap:  the music, the manner of dress, the language, the graffiti, etc. 

Honky-tonk - A bar or saloon; boogie-woogie-style piano is often played in honky tonks.

Hook - A very catchy melody or lyric that sticks in the listener's mind.

Horn - Generic term for any wind instrument, especially trumpet, trombone or saxophone; also, a French horn.

Horn section - The section of a jazz band that includes brass and woodwind instruments; also, a group of French horns.

Improvisation - Spontaneous performance of music that has not been written or planned out in advance, based on a progression of harmonies and usually involving a certain amount of interplay among several musicians.

Indies - Small "independent" record companies, other than the Majors.

Instrumental break - A technique in which instruments stop playing during a sort section of music allowing a singer or instrumental soloist to be heard alone.

Jam - A genre in which bands are known to tour constantly, draw their fan base and fame from live concerts, and are dedicated to live experimentation and improvisation.

Jam Session - A spontaneous musical performance.

Jazz Rap - Combined hip-hop rhythms, horn lines and jazzlike scat vocals into the standard rap mix.

Jazz Rock - Combined the horn-section sound of swing dance music with a rock rhythm section and a rock beat.  It almost always used vocals, an element more essential to rock than to jazz.  Jazz rock tended to be more closely related to rock than to jazz.  (See Fusion.)

Jug band - A small blues, country or folk group that uses a whiskey jug as a bass instrument, sounded by a player blowing into the mouth of the jug.

Lip syncing - Moving the lips to synchronize with a prerecorded song, giving the impression that the song is being performed live.

LP - A long-playing record, usually on 12-inch-diameter vinyl and played at 33a rpm.

The Majors - Major recording companies which dominated the pop market in the 1950s: RCA Victor, Columbia, Capitol, Mercury and Decca.

Mariachi band - A vocal-instrumental group of Mexican origin, consisting of strolling musicians who sing and play guitars and guitar-related instruments, violins and trumpets.

Mento - A Jamaican folk music that combines a Cuban rumba with African rhythms.  The name comes from the Spanish mentar, meaning "to mention," referring to the subtle way the music and dance express personal complaints or social criticisms.

Mods - Short for "modernists"; the Mods were a '60s youth subculture in England who considered themselves the wave of the future; they usually had jobs, wore trendy clothes, rode around on motor scooters (rather than motorcycles) and took amphetamines.

Montuno - An improvisation section in a style of Latin music, usually based on constant alternation between a supertonic seventh chord (ii7) and a dominant seventh (V7) chord.

MOR - Middle-of-the-road; popular music with the greatest appeal to the masses.

Nashville Numbering System - A form of music notation where the chords are represented by numbers instead of letters.  The numbers represent chords in a particular key.  For example, this progression, 1 / / / | 4 / / / | 5 / / / | 1 / / /  would be performed        C / / / | F / / / | G / / / | C / / /.

New Age - Electronically (often) produced or enhanced meditative instrumental music with jazz and progressive pop influences.  New Age artists include:  Tangerine Dream, Mannheim Steamroller and many others.

New Jack Swing - A subgenre of rap emanating from NYC, merging the hip-hop beat with light rap and traditional R&B vocals.  Artists:  Teddy Riley, Guy, Blackstreet, Keith Sweat.

New Wave - Post-punk rock music of the mid to late '70s.  Punk was too violent and anti-establishment to appeal to mass audiences.  Some mainstream groups began adapting punk's half-beat pulse, monotone vocals and emotional alienation, pulling the style more toward the mainstream.  Unlike punk's almost exclusive use of guitar, bass & drums, new wave often added electronic keyboards, saxophones or other instruments.  Also unlike punk's distortion, new wave musicians produced a clean, slick sound.  The angry guitar strumming of punk was transformed into a fast, clear playing of repeated notes on the electric bass.  Important New Wave bands included:  Blondie, Elvis Costello, Devo.

Overdubbing - The technique of adding more tracks of sound to a recording that has already been recorded.

Patter-talk - Talking in rhythmic patterns; also called rap.

Payola - The practice of bribing disc jockeys to induce them to play particular recordings on the air.

Platinum disc - Awarded to a single that sells in excess of 2 million copies (1 million copies after January 1, 1989) and an album that sells in excess of 1 million copies.

Pop - Generally pleasant music with broad appeal, aimed at an adult audience.

Pop song form - The structure of repeated and contrasting sections of a song in which each section (represented as letters when the form is described) is usually similar in length and corresponds to an AABA, or some variant on that organization.

Post-Punk Hardcore - Following in the footsteps of late-'70s punk rock, these bands took loudness, intensity, tempo and nihilism to new levels.  Combined hyperactive guitar banging with the traditional pulsating punk beat and lyrics expressing dark disillusionment.  (Formation of the SST label in southern California provided a vehicle for distribution apart from a major label.)  The post-punk rock audience was known as "headbangers."

Progressive Rock - A term used to replace "art rock," related to '70s bands that relied on the musical language of rock to create longer, more complex works that they hoped could be taken seriously as classical works--this in distinction from the earlier rock-with-orchestra and rock-opera advocates.

Psychedelic Rock - Rock music of the '60s which attempted to recreate the effects of a psychedelic drug experience via long instrumental improvisations on one or two repeating chords, often involving one musician responding to what another had just played.

Pub - A bar or tavern in Britain.

Punk Rock - Similar to glitter rock, the focal point of punk rock was not musical, but extramusical.  It was a rebellion against virtually all forms of post-'60s rock, and against society in general.  The punk attitude was one of anger, frustration and violence.  Punk music was simple, repetitive and louder than mainstream rock.  Lyrics tended to be on the gross side.  (Also, see New Wave.)

Rap - A way of talking in rhythmic patterns; commentary chanted in phrases that rhyme over a pulsating beat and usually with little or no musical accompaniment, originally.  Rap artists from the '80s include:  Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J., Public Enemy, M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice (white rapper).

R & B - Rhythm and blues; formerly called race music or sepia music.

Reggae - A Jamaican music that developed from a mixture of styles of African and American music and has as its characteristics the rhythmic flow of ska and the syncopated bass line of rock steady, but is faster and more rock-oriented than either style.

Rhythm and Blues - Called "race music" until the end of the '40s, an originally black American popular music in which the back-beat was accented and beats were usually subdivided unevenly.

Riff (melodic and/or rhythmic) - A short melodic or rhythmic pattern that is repeated over and over while changes take place in the music played along with it.

Rock beat - The most identifiable feature of rock music is its beat, the strongest pulses of which occur on beats 2 & 4 in 4/4 time.

Rockabilly - Music that combined honky-tonk country music with blues and rhythm and blues.  Rockabilly bands in the '50s generally used electric lead guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar, acoustic (standup) bass and drums.  (Name is a combination of rock and hillbilly.)

Rockers - An English youth subculture in the '60s that wore leather jackets, rode motorcycles (not motor scooters), and identified with American rockabilly music.

Rock steady - A Jamaican music that was basically a slowed-down version of ska, but included a syncopated bass line.  When sped up, rock steady became reggae.

Rumba - A dance and its rhythmically complex music, of Cuban origin.

Salsa rhythm - Popular music from Cuba based on rhythm patterns from Africa; salsa music often includes an improvisational montuno section.

Scratching - A technique used by disc jockeys in which a record's rotation is rapidly changed from forward to backward repeatedly, to create a rhythmic pulse over which the disc jockey talks in a rhythmic patter or rap style.

Segue - The joining together, without pause, of two different pieces of music.

Shuffle beat - A rhythmic pattern based on uneven beat subdivisions in which a note is played on the beat and the next note is played on the last uneven subdivision of the beat, creating a "shuffling" rhythm.  (It is the equivalent of a quarter note followed by an eighth note in 12/8 time, only the pattern occurs in 4/4 time.)

Single - A 45.

Ska - A Jamaican musical style that combines characteristics of mento and American rhythm and blues, and is based on the use of an accented subdivision after each beat.

Skiffle - A very simple British folk music that involved little more than melody and accompaniment by a strummed acoustic guitar, and rudimentary rhythm instruments such as washboard; it was a cross between folk and Dixieland.

Slapping bass - A name given to rockabilly bassists' practice of slapping the strings against the fingerboards of their instruments as they played.

Soul - Difficult to define, soul music has traditionally been related to black church music, and may be considered a composite of gospel and blues.  The term was attached to several styles of music that expressed the growing feeling of black pride, primarily in the '60s.

Speed Metal - A faster version of Thrash Metal.  (See Thrash Metal.)

Spirituals - American folk hymns and other religious songs that originated in the late 18th or early 19th centuries and developed into gospel music.

Steel guitar - An American country instrument that developed from guitars brought by Mexican cattlemen to Hawaii in the late 19th century, but which were tuned to a major chord; placed across the player's lap, chords were changed by sliding a comb, a knife, or a steel bar up and down the strings.

Stop time - A technique in which instruments play only on the first beat of each bar, for example, while a soloist continues performing.  There are a number of stop-time patterns: first and third beats; first and fourth beats; as well as patterns stretching over two or more measures (not to be confused with break).

String bending - A guitar technique used by many blues and rock guitarists in which the player pushes or pulls the string temporarily out of alignment, causing the string to tighten and the pitch to be raised.

Tag - A short section of music added to the end of a composition to emphasize that the piece is ending.  The term "coda" is also used for a tag ending.

Tape splicing - The technique of cutting apart and putting together pieces of pre-recorded tape.

Technological Developments  In the 1950s, the primary recorded medium for rock music was the seven-inch single.  In the 1960s, the twelve-inch LP album became the dominant medium  (There was also the now-ridiculed 8-track tape during this time frame.)  In the 1970s, cassette tapes were the thing.  In the latter 1980s, the CD began to dominate the market.  Newer audio media include DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and  mini-disc formats.

Theremin - Electronic instrument developed by Leon Theremin (1896-1993).  The Theremin is performed without touching it.  As the hand nears the antenna, the pitch rises.  A second antenna, if available, affects volume.

Thrash Metal - A blending of heavy metal (such as produced by Black Sabbath) with the speed and intensity of hardcore.  Thrash metal provided a raw alternative to mainstream heavy metal artists, such as Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, etc.  Most thrash metal bands originated in England.  Artists included:  Metallica, Megadeth.  (Speed Metal was a faster version of Thrash Metal.)

Tin Pan Alley - the name given to an area of New York City at 28th Street that became the center of popular-music publishing from the late 1800s to the late 1950s.

Toasting - A Jamaican name for the rhythmic patter-talk used by disc jockeys.

Top 40 - A listing of the 40 most popular records nationally for a given week, on the basis of radio station playlists and retail sales of singles.

Trading twos or fours - A term for a type of improvisation used especially by jazz musicians in which two or more musicians take turns improvising on two- or four-bar sections of music.

Trad jazz (traditional jazz) - Dixieland jazz in the style played in New Orleans and Chicago during the '20s.

Tremelo arm - A metal bar on an electric guitar that is attached to the bridge (to which the strings are fastened) and can be moved by the player to raise or lower the pitch of the strings to create an effect of vibrato.

Twelve-bar blues - The classic blues form that is structured in three four-bar phrases and follows a particular chord progression based on four bars of a tonic chord, two bars of a subdominant chord, two bars of a tonic chord, one bar of a dominant chord, one bar of a subdominant chord, and two bars of a tonic chord.  I-I-I-I - IV-IV-I-I - V-IV-I-I. There are many variations of this basic progression.

Two-beat bass - A style of bass playing often used in country music in which the bass plays the root of the chord on the first beat of each bar and the fifth of the chord on the third beat of each bar.

Urban blues - A blues style that developed in the big cities and was generally more sophisticated and played by larger instrumental groups than the older country-blues style.

Vamp - A repeated pattern, usually without a melody, that serves to fill time before the main melody enters.

Walking bass line - The line played by a bass player that "walks" melodically (by step) between chord tones instead of jumping from one chord tone to another.

Wall of Sound - The lush, multitracked sound Phil Spector created as producer of hits for such acts as the Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers.

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