Guitar Rock history. Guitar Rock styles. Playing Rock.

Guitar Rock

Rock history - Rolling Stones moving to rock sound

In the 1970s. the Rolling Stones moved from their blues roots to a more polished rock sound.
By the late 1960s. many popular acts had grown tired of producing chart songs, and injected more attitude, experimentation and social conscience into their music. Rock' was born. The pioneers of this new style included Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, and their music appealed to record buyers who saw mainstream pop as tame.

Clapton first made a name for himself with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in 1965 when he turned his amp up loud to get a more aggressive, sustained guitar tone. He formed Cream two years later with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, and they were the first popular group to feature extended virtuoso solos in their music. By 1967. Hendrix had also extended the range of the electric guitar by coaxing sounds out of it that hadn't been heard before. Clapton and Hendrix based their playing around the blues scale and their solos were often long improvisations. Pop-guitar solos were usually brief instrumental fills between vocal passages, but 'classic rock' solos would often take up half of the song.

Rock History - Birth of the Riff

Famous rock - Deep Purple - Ritchie blackmore playing solo

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple was famous for his complex and lengthy guitar solos.
History of riff: another prominent feature in early rock music was the riff - a repeated note or chord phrase over which the vocals and solos were projected. A classic example of this is Cream's 'Sunshine Of Your Love' (1968). a whole song based upon a simple, grinding riff. Other players such as Jimmy Page. Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi latched on to the sheer power of this device and started to create even more powerful riffs, such as Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love' (1969). Deep Purple's 'Speed King (1970) and Black Sabbath's Paranoid’ (1970).

Rock music marked a shift away from singles and towards albums; projects such as Led Zeppelin s acclaimed Led Zeppelin II (1969). Pink Floyd's psychedelic Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) and Mike Oldfield's instrumental Tubular Bells (1973) were all bestselling albums by artists who rarely recorded singles.


Clash - the ultimate punk-rock band

For many, the Clash were the ultimate punk-rock band.
In 1976. punk suddenly appeared and bands like the Sex Pistols, the Oash and the Damned introduced a basic rock style that relied more on attitude than technique. However, it was a short-lived trend and by the late 1970s rock began to fragment into a number of sub- genres. including new wave (an offshoot from punk), stadium rock (the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Queen) and the various strands of heavy metal that were beginning to develop in the US and UK.

New wave was essentially a generic term used for the wide range of British bands that followed on from punk. These included idiosyncratic artists such as Elvis Costello and XTC. straight-ahead rockers like the Pretenders and the Cars, white reggae or ska-pop bands including Madness and the Police, and a legion of synthesizer- driven bands. The genre died out when new bands such as the Smiths and REM began to appeal to more alternative rock fans.


The Smiths were the dominant British indie' rock band of the 1980s. and this was mainly down to the unique combination of singer Morrissey’s forlorn crooning and the uncluttered rhythm guitar work of Johnny Marr. They recorded a number of hit singles and albums that laid down the foundations for the next generation of British guitar rock bands, before splitting up in 1987. REM also boasted a unique singer/guitarist combination - Michael Stipe's cryptic vocals and the ringing guitar hooks of Peter Buck. They are still going strong today.


Despite the influx of fresh indie bands into the album and singles charts during the 1980s. most of the popular bands from this period, including Bon Jovi and Guns N' Roses, were purveyors of straight-ahead rock. By the end of the decade, however, grunge - a vibrant mixture of punk and heavy metal - became a prominent movement with Nirvana, a Seattle-based band, at the helm. Nirvana's success was down to a combination of strong material, stop-start dynamics, and the manic intensity of singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain. Unfortunately. Cobain suffered from drug addiction and manic depression, a combination that ended in suicide.

Variety of Rock Styles

Bernard Butler - famous for riffs and squalls in playing rock

Bernard Butler helped to make Suede a huge success with his virtuoso riffs and squalls playing rock
A number of major song-orientated rock styles emerged during the 1990s including Britpop. which mixed songwriting - inspired by bands like the Beatles - with the more indie vibe of the Smiths. Suede, driven by the quasi-glam vocals of Brett Anderson and sweeping guitar of Bernard Butler, pioneered this style, and they paved the way for the huge success of Oasis and Blur, bands from the north and south of England respectively. The decade also saw the rise of inventive alternative-rock bands including Radiohead, who combined intense guitar sounds with electronic drones and angst-driven lyrics. Today there is an unprecedented variety of rock styles and this range is still growing.

Playing Rock

If you want to be a proficient rock guitarist you'll need to know a variety of basic chord shapes. The most common open chords (ones that include open strings as well as fretted ones) are A. Am. B7. C. C7. D. Dm. D7. E. E7. F. G and G7. which will allow you to play songs in the popular rock keys of A. C. D. E and G. The barre chords you should know are the barred versions of the A and E shapes (major barre chords) and Am and Em shapes (minor barre chords). These will allow you to play in any key you want as barre shapes can be played anywhere on the fingerboard. Open chords are good for earthy strumming and would suit for example, an Oasis-style song, while barre chords can be used to create a more powerful, aggressive sound for punk and hard-rock styles. Major chords are ideal for upbeat rock riffs, while minor ones are more suitable for ballads.

Power Chords

rock chords - power chords

Fifth chords are often referred to as power chords' because of their solid sound.
You should also familiarize yourself with the basic power chords' used in grunge and hard rock. These are two-note chords consisting of the first and fifth notes of the major scale, played on any two adjacent strings (such as the sixth and fifth strings, or fourth and third strings) with your index finger fretting the root note (on the thicker string) and your third finger fretting the fifth note (on the lighter string) two frets further up the fingerboard. To play an A power chord on the sixth and fifth strings (E and A strings), for example, place your index finger behind the fifth fret on the sixth string and your third finger behind the seventh fret on the fifth string and then strum those strings only. To play a B power chord on the same two strings, simply move the shape two frets further up the guitar neck and so on.

Strumming and Picking

grunge rhythm playing rock chords

Chords In grunge rhythm playing are largely played as fifth chords in order to achieve a controlled, tighter sound.
Rhythmically, rock is fairly straightforward, with emphasis mainly on the first and third beats of the bar. Strumming is usually performed with downstrokes. as these supply more power, although more intricate rhythms might require alternating downstrokes and upstrokes. Many rock guitarists also play chords as arpeggios (playing all the separate notes in ascending or descending order) with a plectrum or the fingers of the picking hand, to produce a more melodious sound. This is used to great effect in rock classics such as Led Zeppelin's ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and the Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’.

classic rock repetitive guitar riff

In classic rock repetitive guitar riffs, such as this one. often open and then form the basis of the songs.
Most rock solos feature the pentatonic minor and blues scales and you should familiarize yourself with these scales if you want to play basic rock lead guitar. If you want to take things further, the major scale and the Mixolydian mode will add greater depth to your upbeat solos, and the Aeolian mode will come in handy for those haunting rock ballads.

Getting an Authentic Rock Sound

getting rock sound - Gibson SG

The Gibson SG produces a truly great rock sound from its humbuckers.
If you want to get a good rock-guitar sound you'll need an electric guitar and some sort of amplifier. The guitar can be a solid-body instrument (one made out of solid wood) or a semi-solid model (hollowed out). Solid-body guitars are great for producing a clear, sustained tone with minimal feedback, while semi-solid instruments produce a fat, warm sound but tend to feedback more when used at higher volumes.

Choosing the Right Amplifier

When it comes to amplifiers, you have a number of options, the most traditional of which would be a hardware, or freestanding, amp. These come in two flavours: valve (tube) amps, which are expensive but produce a fat warm sound; and transistor amps, which are more affordable and reliable but not ideal if you’re after a 'vintage' tone. If you choose to buy a hardware guitar amp. consider one with built-in effects capabilities.

Fender Deluxe rock amplifier

Combine your guitar with a great valve amp like this Fender Deluxe, and you're really rocking.
Hardware amps can get loud, and playing through one at home might upset your neighbours. In such a case, you should consider using an amplifier-modelling box such as a Line 6 POD. or a virtual amp software package such as IK Multimedia's AmpliTube. These come with an arsenal of realistic and ready-to-go rock presets, and you can use them at any volume you like. You can even gig with them, as long as the venue at which you're playing has a PA system.

The Right Effects

Effects pedals have been used extensively by rock players over the years and you too can use them to colour your guitar sound. A wah-wah pedal will come in handy for Hendrix- style soloing, while a phaser or flanger can be used to create rich textures and unique tones. An overdrive pedal might be useful for adding extra distortion during solos, and a compressor can be great for ironing out excessively loud sounds so that you end up with a more consistent volume. Most virtual amps come with a selection of built-in effects that you can use.

rock effects pedals - Line 6 POD

Some people are advocates of effects pedals like the Line 6 POD. which can replicate the sounds of different amplifiers.