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Rock music

Table of contents

What is rock music?

Rock music has its origins in the 1950s, when the country music of white Americans and the rhythm and blues music of black Americans merged. The resulting rock’n’roll had a new and exciting sound that quickly became very popular with young people. Well-known representatives of rock’n’roll in the 1950s were

Elvis Presley

Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Rock music as an independent form of music differs essentially from rock’n’roll in its rhythm.

An entirely new periphery of technical objects had to be invented to accommodate the new musical style, which would have been inconceivable without its electrical amplification. Inventors like Leo Fender invented the first solid-body electric guitars, which reduced the annoying feedback. Other inventions included the first electric bass and amplifiers and speakers for the necessary volume. The close collaboration between guitar manufacturers and guitarists such as Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimi Hendrix led to the development of new and improved products.

However, rock music is not just limited to rock’n’roll, but includes many different genres and subgenres such as punk, heavy metal, alternative rock, grunge and indie rock. What all these genres have in common is that they emerged from a rebellion against the establishment and a longing for freedom and self-determination. Rock music is therefore not just a style of music, but also an attitude to life and a culture.

Live concerts are an important part of rock music. This often includes the stage show, which can range from extravagant outfits to spectacular lighting effects. Interaction with the audience is a central component and contributes to the unique atmosphere of a rock concert.

Beat music, which was a further development of rock’n’roll, emerged in Great Britain in the 1960s. Well-known bands such as the Beatles and the

Rolling Stones

were instrumental in popularizing beat music worldwide. Today, they are still one of the most successful bands of all time.

Despite some criticism of rock music and its influence on youth culture, it still has a large following. Rock music is one of the best-known and most listened to musical genres in the world and stands for rebellion, freedom and self-determination.

The 1960s

In the 1960s, rock’n’roll in England underwent a stylistic change. The Beatles, a Beat band, and the Rolling Stones, who were strongly influenced by the blues, are considered to be important pioneers and forerunners of rock music. The first genre split took place when the Beatles performed in suits and ties and played more melodic songs, while the Rolling Stones stood out with their rough sound. The Rolling Stones’ song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” has been described as the actual birth of rock.

During this time, bands such as Cream, The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience began to introduce more technically sophisticated themes into rock music, establishing the LP’s importance over that of the single. With the concept albums Tommy by The Who, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band by The Beatles, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and Disreali Gears by Cream, LPs were viewed as a complete work, from the cover design to the dramaturgical song sequence to the telling of a complex story.

From the mid-1960s, a completely new treatment of the record sleeves developed, with each band receiving its own band logo. Gerard Huerta rose to fame with his iconic brand for AC/DC.

The psychedelic and West Coast scene was an elementary component of rock music in the second half of the 1960s. Bands such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead became famous in San Francisco. The consumption of drugs played an important role in order to enjoy the excessive improvisations at happening concerts. The utopia of a new society was celebrated in the two major festivals of 1969. However, this dream collapsed again after the death of Meredith Hunter during the Rolling Stones’ performance at the Altamont Free Concert.

The 1970s

Glam rock, a combination of hard rock and pop music characterized by a futuristic, androgynous aesthetic, can be seen as a step forward in the sexual liberation of the late 1960s. British bands such as The Sweet, Slade and T. Rex were particularly popular, while David Bowie and Queen also had their roots in this genre. At the same time, hard rock, from which metal later emerged, experienced an upswing. The main pioneers here were Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

Another important trend in the early 1970s was an artistic direction that emerged from psychedelic rock, but also incorporated elements of classical music, new music, jazz and folk and manifested itself in the genres of art rock and progressive rock. Important representatives were Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull.

By the mid-70s, the genre had established itself further and was developed into “stadium rock”, a development that was revolutionized and perfected by the Eagles and Led Zeppelin, among others. Extensive tours that filled large stadiums all over the world, endless armies of stagehands, sound engineers and roadies, elaborate light shows, enormous quantities of dry ice, lasers, monitor boxes and amplifiers transported in countless articulated lorries now characterized the scene.

As a reaction to this development towards bombast, but also as a counter-movement to the emerging disco music and the hippie culture, which was regarded as peaceful, the rebellious punk subculture emerged later in the decade. Forerunners of the punk movement, still strongly rooted in classic rock music, can be recognized in AC/DC and Motörhead, who initiated a return and purification to simple, fast, purist and no-frills rock. Important representatives of punk were the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Ramones. Here too, elements of other musical genres formed the basis for a new genre, New Wave. Typical of the music of this time was the fusion of reggae and punk, which can be heard in the music of The Police or Fischer-Z. But representatives of black music such as Michael Jackson also formed links with rock music.

The advancing digitalization in music

music production

and an ever-increasing perfectionism made it possible for musical genres beyond rock to emerge. The avant-gardists of Krautrock, such as Can and Kraftwerk in particular, played their part in this development by laying the foundations for electronic pop music with their experimental music.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, there were so-called “pop metal” bands such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe and the most successful German band, the Scorpions. These groups were hugely successful and only Bon Jovi have managed to maintain their fan base to this day. Their music developed stylistically from metal to stadium rock at the end of the 1980s.

After the creative heyday of punk faded, post-punk emerged, giving rise to groups such as Joy Division and The Cure, as well as so-called New Wave. Stylistically, it often went in a cooler, reduced direction. Synthetic sound generators were also increasingly used, which laid the foundation for the development of synth-pop and electronic dance music as a whole.

The independent scene, which saw itself in the tradition of punk, tried to distance itself from the mainstream of the music industry. This gave rise to a diverse and large scene with many sub-genres, which later became alternative in the 1990s, with the Pixies and Sonic Youth as its most important representatives. Heavy metal also experienced a heyday with groups such as Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Metallica, during which a variety of subgenres developed. At the interface between rock and pop, many bands emerged that were among the most popular and commercially successful of the decade, for example Queen, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Big Country, Genesis, Yes, Simple Minds, U2, R.E.M., Van Halen, Whitesnake and The Cure. The decade ended with the band Guns N’ Roses, who became megastars in 1987 with their album Appetite for Destruction and the hits Paradise City and Sweet Child o’mine. The development of music television had a major influence on this last era of superstars. MTV, which began as a rock station, was able to use the instrument of heavy rotation to turn bands into stars.

As in the section on record sleeves, which developed into an art form in their own right in the 1960s, this happened in the late 1980s and 1990s with the music video. Rock has always been more than just music: clothing, vehicles, a special way of moving, almost artistic stage shows and sophisticated graphic design for records and logos have always been part of the overall appearance. Then came the short film with musical accompaniment, which was broadcast on its own music channels, such as MTV and later Viva, in a loop. These include groundbreaking videos for Queen, Dire Straits, Genesis and Michael Jackson as well as the work of directors Chris Cunningham with his idiosyncratic style and Michel Gondry for Beck, the Rolling Stones, the White Stripes, Radiohead and the Foo Fighters.

The 1990s

In the early 1990s, rock music experienced an unexpected boom thanks to the success of the US grunge band Nirvana. After the experiments and digitalization of the 1980s, they played musically simpler music again and had a lasting influence on the entire alternative scene of the 1990s. Bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins also achieved great commercial success through the popularization of grunge. After the death of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, however, grunge lost popularity and once again became an underground genre. Nevertheless, bands like Pearl Jam and the Melvins were able to successfully release records and go on tour into the new millennium. One variant of grunge was the feminist riot grrrl movement, which, like Kurt Cobain, attempted to break the dominance of male super rock stars in the style of Axl Rose with his macho poses.

Guns N’ Roses continued to cause a stir worldwide in the early 1990s with their Use Your Illusion Tour, making them one of the few older rock bands to achieve enormous success despite the massive influence of grunge in the 1990s.

The first crossover bands also appeared at the beginning of the decade. Rage Against the Machine, Incubus and above all the Red Hot Chili Peppers achieved great popularity. Skatepunk popularized references between music, trendy and extreme sports and the associated lifestyle. In 1994, a neo-punk wave emerged, triggered by albums such as Green Day’s Dookie. In this context, bands such as NOFX, Rancid, Bad Religion and The Offspring also became known to a wider audience. Many of these bands are classified as pop-punk. Stoner or desert rock, established in the early 1990s by the bands Kyuss and the successor groups Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet, can also be classified as a harder subgenre of rock. Slower rhythms, lower-tuned guitars – sometimes played over bass amplifiers – and the unmistakable influence of Black Sabbath shaped this style, which is still played today by Clutch, Pontiak and the Truckfighters.

In the mid-1990s, Britpop finally broke the dominance of US grunge and alternative rock. The British pop and rock music of the 1960s and 1970s, mixed with elements of Madchester, shoegazing and alternative rock, served as a source of inspiration for young British bands. Bands such as Blur, Pulp, The Verve and Oasis had a lasting influence on rock music at the end of the decade. The first album by the British band Placebo was released in 1996. They made a lasting impression with their dark mixture of Britpop and alternative rock. Fusion and experimentation only came to the fore again at the end of the decade with artists who adapted elements from the electronic music that was enjoying success at the time, such as Radiohead, Blur and Nine Inch Nails.

The 2000s

The retro wave shaped the new millennium. Bands such as The Strokes, Kings of Leon, The Subways, Mando Diao, Wolfmother, The White Stripes and Franz Ferdinand drew on typical elements of past decades and brought them back into the music charts. The Hives and The Libertines stood on the shoulders of old punk greats like Television, and the Bright Eyes had a lot in common with Bob Dylan. The punk revival of the 1990s, especially pop punk, continued for a long time with bands like Blink-182, Sum 41 and Simple Plan.

At the beginning of the decade, the crossover band Korn attracted attention with its combination of metal and hip-hop elements. Together with bands such as Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, Slipknot and Papa Roach, who further developed the style of metal, they formed the nu metal genre.

In the UK, indie bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Maxïmo Park, The Fratellis, Bloc Party and The Kooks dominated from the middle of the decade. These bands were clearly in the tradition of the British bands of the 1990s. The “old” Britpop and alternative rock bands such as Oasis, Blur and Radiohead also released successful albums in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the band Arcade Fire, which is also partly classified as indie, revitalized the art rock genre with a wide range of instruments. Bands like Archive or Animal Collective tended to break into rock music from electronic genres. Muse also enjoyed great success throughout the decade with their combination of electronic, alternative, hard and progressive rock (new prog).

Alternative rock bands that are sometimes classified as emo, such as Jimmy Eat World, Billy Talent, Paramore, Bullet for My Valentine, 30 Seconds to Mars, My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco, have also enjoyed chart success. The German pop-rock band Tokio Hotel, which also became one of the most successful German bands of the decade internationally, was also associated with this genre. In German-speaking countries, bands from Hamburg in particular, such as Kettcar, Tomte and Tocotronic, combined indie rock and

indie pop

in a further development of the Hamburg School. Even pop-rock bands like


Silbermond and Madsen were also successful from the mid-2000s.

In Scandinavia, a very lively independent rock scene also developed, with Motorpsycho, Turbonegro, Soundtrack of our Lives, Refused, the Hives and Kvelertak cultivating an uncomplicated approach to the rich heritage and uninhibitedly incorporating influences ranging from black metal and punk to the Beach Boys and the Allmann Brothers.

From 2010

The importance of electronic sounds and synthesizers in rock music was already on the rise again in the years before 2010. Electronic influences could also be heard in the development of bands such as the Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand, who were initially classified as part of the post-punk revival. Later, this also became apparent with the Strokes. Indie rock generally moved away from the “garage character” towards more progressive music. Bands such as Foals, Klaxons and Vampire Weekend contributed to this trend with their form of indie rock. A greater direct influence can also be heard in the newer music of These New Puritans or Wild Beasts.

Since the beginning of the 2010s, a psychedelic rock revival has been observed around bands such as Tame Impala, Temples and Warpaint. Elements of this genre can also be found on the Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 album “AM”, which was described by the New Musical Express as the best album of the decade to date.

In 2017, rock music was replaced as the best-selling genre in the US charts; rhythm and blues and hip-hop had the largest share of consumption at 25.1 percent, followed by rock at 23 percent. Rock music still has the largest share of album sales at 40 percent, but sales figures have been declining for years.

What types of rock music are there?

After the success of beat music, rock music split into different directions. Each generation contributed its own ideas and there was a lot of experimentation. The 1970s saw the emergence of hard rock, a hard variant of rock that made bands such as Queen, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin famous.

Other musicians preferred a somewhat calmer style, which was referred to as soft rock. Successful representatives of soft rock at this time were David Bowie and Elton John.

Around 1976, punk culture emerged in the UK and the USA and with it punk music. Bands such as the “Ramones” and “The Clash” contributed to the popularity of punk rock in the USA and Europe.

The end of the 1970s also saw the emergence of heavy metal, a particularly hard version of rock. The British band “Black Sabbath” was particularly influential for later heavy metal, although they did not describe themselves as a heavy metal band.

Initially, hardly any rock music was produced in Germany; the radio mainly played rock music from the USA and England. In the 1970s, German rock emerged, made famous by musicians such as Marius Müller-Westernhagen and Herbert Grönemeyer. Later, they mixed their music with electronic sounds in particular. This combination is referred to as “Krautrock” by non-German speakers.

The 1990s saw new trends in rock music. In the USA, this was mainly grunge music, a mixture of punk and heavy metal, which replaced hard rock and heavy metal. The most famous grunge band is “Nirvana”. After the death of singer Kurt Cobain in 1994, grunge quickly lost popularity again.

The British answer to grunge was Britpop. Although it is called pop, it is actually a form of rock music. The name comes from the fact that Britpop bands such as “Oasis” and “Blur” were inspired by popular British bands such as the Beatles. As with grunge, the era of Britpop was relatively short.

Since the 1990s, many different new styles of rock music have emerged, which are now summarized under the term “alternative rock”. When rock music is combined with another musical genre, it is also referred to as “crossover”. This means something like “crossing”.

Instruments in a classic rock band

A typical rock band consists of at least one


one bass and one


. Mostly electric guitars and basses are used, but there are also acoustic instruments. Often several guitars can be heard in a rock piece: One plays a continuous accompaniment that always remains the same, while another plays melodies. This is why we speak of rhythm guitar and melody or lead guitar. This combination of rhythm and melody is supported by the bass guitar, which plays low notes. The drums add rhythm to the music.

As there are many different types of rock music, this instrumentation is often extended by additional instruments. In the rock’n’roll era, the music was often played by a large band, which also included






and other

wind instruments

belonged to. There was often piano in soft rock, and some soft rockers like Elton John or Billy Joel played the piano themselves and sang to it. Soft rock also included

string instruments





are used.

Especially in crossover, German rock and occasionally in other rock genres, the classic line-up is supplemented by electronic instruments such as



Hammond organs

are added. These instruments generate sounds via a computer and can therefore produce sounds that cannot be achieved with electric guitars and basses.

List of rock musicians

  • Angus Young (AC/DC)
  • Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)
  • Brian May (Queen)
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Bono (U2)
  • David Bowie
  • The doctors
  • The Dead Pants
  • Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
  • Elvis Presley
  • Eric Clapton
  • Freddie Mercury (Queen)
  • Herbert Grönemeyer
  • July
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
  • John Lennon (The Beatles)
  • Jon Bon Jovi (Bon Jovi)
  • Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
  • Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones)
  • Marius Müller-Westernhagen
  • Nena
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Peter Maffay
  • Gunslinger
  • Rammstein
  • Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
  • Robert Smith (The Cure)
  • Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
  • Scorpions
  • Silver moon
  • Sportfreunde Stiller
  • Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)
  • The Doors
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Tina Turner
  • Tokio Hotel
  • Udo Lindenberg
  • Westernhagen



Rock music artists