Music has been around for as long as humans have roamed the earth. Primitive instruments, mostly percussion and wind, have been around for just about as long.
History traces precursors of the guitar to at least 4,000 years; bowl harps and tanburs were early stringed instruments that were built and played like a guitar. There were as yet no guitars, though, their development would come several millennia later.
Today we have plenty of stringed instruments: the lute or oud is a fine example of such. However, those instruments miss the definition of the guitar: a long neck studded with frets, a flat soundboard and back, usually with sides curved in and ribs to create the cavity.
Over time, the guitar became a dominant instrument on the musical landscape of Europe. These early models generally had very short necks – usually no more than eight frets; eventually the guitar neck was stretched to the 12 frets we know today.
Strangely enough, those early guitars were tuned the same way we tune guitars today: E-A-D-G-B-E.
In those days, rock music was not even a glimmer on anyone’s musical horizon and nobody could have envisioned the role the guitar would play in establishing rock as a legitimate genre of music.
Come with us now as we explore the rock guitar, its history and peculiarities. We’ll talk about rock guitarists of renown and mayhap even help you find guitar lessons so that you too may be a rock guitar player.
The Roots of Rock Music
Rock music got its start in the late 1940s, in the US. Such music could generally be heard in less-than-reputable clubs that catered to a diverse clientele and drew on B. B. King-type rhythm and blues music.
Rock music also counts on influences from jazz music, folk music and classical music.
In the early days of rock music, the piano and/or saxophone were the lead instruments; in that sense, those early forays into rock music resembled Big Bands more than the intimate jazz combo.
You can hear the dominance of those instruments on early rock songs such as Goree Carter’s Rock Awhile and Ike Turner’s Rocket 88.
Of course, the guitar, a centuries-old instrument, was a part of early rock bands, they were just not the lead instrument.
All of that changed in the mid-50s, when the electric guitar riffed its way into the music scene. From that point on, the guitar – specifically, the electric guitar became the lead instrument of the rock’n’roll genre.
Soon, rock bands featured two guitarists: one on lead and the other playing rhythm.
Much of America’s early rock was pioneered by Black artists and it wasn’t until Bill Haley and the Comets released Crazy Man, Crazy (1953) – featuring a significant guitar lick and an extended solo that rock and roll got any mainstream attention.
Their release of Rock Around the Clock the following year officially established rock’n’roll as a mainstream form of music that appealed directly to teenagers.
Soon, other great names of rock’n’roll followed: Elvis Presley, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner and The Drifters among them.
What was happening to music in the UK while all of that music was being made in the US?
Our fledgeling rock musicians were trying very hard to emulate the Americans without very much success… until a certain Fab Four took the world by storm.
Legends of Rock
For a long time, American rock and roll seemed content to follow its standard format – guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Song lyrics remained tame, revolving around romance and heartbreak, fun times, religion and even the war.
Meanwhile, British rock bands were beginning to dominate the music scene on both sides of the ocean and in Europe.
Admittedly, British rock groups were influenced by American music but, soon, they made their own indelible mark on the music scene. Surely you know who they are...
Formed in Liverpool in 1960, The Beatles are often considered the most influential band of all time.
The Fab Four were Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. Initially, with their suits, ties and short hair, they were a rather tame bunch but, as their fame grew, they became the mop-tops that sent girls swooning all over the world.
John Lennon, though the main songwriter, was the band’s rhythm guitarist and George Harrison played lead guitar while Sir Paul took on the bass guitar.
Most critics contend that Paul McCartney had better guitar techniques; you can hear him play the guitar on most studio cuts and judge for yourself if that is so.
The Rolling Stones
Just as The Beatles were in Abbey Road Studio working on their first hit (Love Me Do, released October 1962), The Rolling Stones went on a tour of England to build their following.
They didn’t have a lot of original music at that point; instead, they covered Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley tunes, among others. Still, they had what it took to put on a show; you might say they were the right band at the right time.
Frontman Mick had everything needed to head up a rock music act: the voice, the look, the sass and guitar skills but it was Keith Richards, with his amazing riffs, that blew the guitar world away. Every aspiring guitarist wanted to be Keith – or, at least, play as well as he did (and still does!).
The Rolling Stones opened the door for other types of rock music to evolve: hard rock and heavy metal, psychedelic rock – Hendrix is the first name of this genre, and ultimately alternative rock.
Other Great Rock Guitarists
- Chuck Berry – considered the father of rock’n’roll
- B.B. King: in spite of his blues roots, he was also a prolific rock guitarist
- Eric Clapton is known as Slowhand because audiences would slow-clap while he changed broken guitar strings
- Jimmy Page
- Stevie Ray Vaughn
- David Gilmore
- Mark Knopfler
- Brian May
- Carlos Santana
Naturally, there are others. Won’t you tell us your favs in the comments below?
Learning to Play Rock Guitar
It’s quite possible that you’ve long harboured a desire to play the guitar; if so, we salute you.
There are several ways to pick up on guitar playing and some are better than others. First, let’s find out: have you ever held a guitar? Done any strumming? Talked with other guitar players?
If so, you already know that not every guitar is the same and that, most likely, you will learn how to play the classic guitar first and then progress to an electric guitar – the types of guitar featured in rock’n’roll music.
Of course, you could still play an acoustic guitar while in a rock’n’roll band but it would be much more difficult to be heard on stage…
No matter what, you must learn chords and chord progressions; that will likely be among the first lessons your guitar teacher will impart.
You don’t yet have a guitar teacher?
Sure, you could take guitar lessons online; there are plenty of YouTube channels that have sequential lessons set up for anyone who wants to learn the guitar on their own, with no instructor in the room.
Those channels certainly have value; they can teach you new guitar licks and drill you on the power chords but they cannot give you any feedback or advice based on your playing.
That means that, if you unwittingly pick up a bad habit, you have nobody to tell you that it will negatively impact your playing later down the road – or worse: impact your body/health.
Yes, that really is a thing!
If you don’t relish the idea of lugging your guitar to and from class or, for whatever reason, guitar classes are not for you, why not invite a Superprof guitar tutor to work with you at home?
Superprof guitar tutors know all about best guitar practices for you to follow, including caring for your guitar and warming up before playing. And when it comes to playing guitar…
Yes, you would still have to master the chords and playing arpeggios but you would also get substantial time for improvisation and, once you get good, maybe you will even get a jam session in.
Private guitar lessons really allow you and your guitar instructor a lot of latitude.
You may, for instance, tell your teacher that you don’t quite get the pentatonic scale; your teacher may then spend that hour’s lesson making sure you fully understand the purpose of said scale and how to play it.
A final word about Superprof guitar tutors: if, for whatever reason, you would rather not welcome them to your home, s/he may give you lessons online!
There’s nothing wrong with online guitar lessons as long as there are guitar instructors to provide constructive suggestions…
No matter whether you’re looking for private lessons or to join a class – maybe through your church or local community centre, the important thing is that you learn how to play the guitar.
We’ll be waiting to hear you soon!
Now discover the story behind the passionate strains of flamenco guitar…