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Characteristics of Funk Music

James Brown, ChristianBier/GoogleImage.com

Funk is a musical style that is groove-based, often slow, but with driving rhythms. The style began in the 1970s in the African-American community. More important, funk music is an attitude and a universe all its own.


Funk music sprang to life in the late 1960s, based on the syncopation heavily embedded in the music of the late James Brown. Funk grew into its own in the 1970s and continues to find a strong place in music to this day.

Musical Style

Funk music is groove-based and syncopated, emphasizing the downbeat where the beat is based on the one and three counts in four-four time.


The instruments most often used in funk music are electric bass, electric guitar, Hammond B-3 organ, synthesizer and an assortment of horns.


The lyrics in funk music are usually fairly whimsical and are geared toward feeding into the groove. They are often self-referential regarding both the style and the band's name with Parliament songs like "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucka)" and "P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)."

George Clinton, IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful/Flickr.com

Best known and most influential artists in funk have been James Brown, Parliament and Funkadelic. Funkadelic crossed into psychedelic music and didn't wear the funk mantle or embody the form as decidedly and consistently as James Brown and Parliament, but "One Nation Under a Groove" is one bona fide example of their funk roots. There is little argument that Parliament is the band that most quickly springs to mind when funk is discussed. Bass player Bootsy Collins, who had started out with James Brown and also played with Parliament and Funkadelic, went on to forge his own solo career with such songs as the sultry "I'd Rather be With You" and the lighthearted "Bootzilla." He even made a Christmas collection with "Winterfunkyland (aka Winter Wonderland)" as one of the offerings. George Clinton's sense of humor and enduring love for and embracing of his funk roots style of music has carved out his place firmly in musical history, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall in 1997 with Parliament and Funkadelic. His songs "Do Fries Go With that Shake?" and "Atomic Dog" are classics. He enjoys great success to this day, touring regularly and giving concerts to adoring fans, clad in full regalia of his rainbow-hued dreadlocks and eccentric wardrobe. Other popular artists include New Orleans' The Meters and The Isley Brothers. Dayton's Ohio Players helped round out the 1970s funk pantheon with "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster." In the 1980s, Cameo's "Word Up" and The Dazz Band's "Let it Whip" helped keep funk alive.


Flea, Bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leon Wilson/GoogleImage.com

Funk influenced the emergence of the disco heyday of the 1970s and continued to thrive and be referenced long after disco's time had come and gone. There have been many bands influenced by funk music over the years, and it has steadily held a place in the the following musical decades with bands like Royal Crescent Mob of the 1980s and 1990s who used funk music as a platform, as The Red Hot Chili Peppers continues to do this day. Currently, The Roots culls from many classic styles; not the least being funk music. Many hip-hop artists sample classic funk music to help aid in a bolstering original pieces with a timeless groove.

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