Both American and Latin music encompass a wide range of genres stemming from numerous cultures and ethnicities. Although the versatility of American music makes it impossible to define a specific style as "American," certain kinds of music, like rock 'n' roll, are commonly associated with American culture. Latin music includes music from the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin American music generally has a distinct style, flavor and function, and has achieved worldwide appreciation.
Latin American and American music differ substantially in their origins. The earliest Latin American music was based on African drumming, transported during the slave trade from 1550 to 1880. This established a lasting attention to rhythm in Latin music. From this basis, Latin music evolved in the various national cultures, becoming a unique genre. American music, on the other hand, cannot be traced back so directly, as most forms of music that were brought to the United States were already at least partially developed. One truly American genre is "rock 'n' roll", which evolved from rhythm and blues; it relies heavily on electric instruments, high volumes and simple, basic beats.
The fundamental difference between Latin and American music lies in the instruments that characterize the different styles. American rock 'n' roll is primarily characterized by the electric guitar. Previously, music had been primarily acoustic; the addition of electric instruments brought new tone and volume to the music. Latin music uses many percussion instruments to establish its famous rhythms, including the claves (two sticks that are struck against each other), the maracas (two hollowed-out wooden instruments containing seeds), and the bongo (a small double drum often used in salsa music). This substantial difference in instruments is a major difference between Latin and American music.
Music takes different cultural roles in Latin America and the United States. From its earliest stages, Latin music was functional before it was recreational. Slaves use African drumming to communicate, conveying messages of the past, of struggle and of happiness through their rhythms. Latin music is still appreciated for more than just its musical beauty, as it accompanies many different types of Latin dance. Rock 'n' roll music, on the other hand, evolved in the 1950s and 1960s, an era which emphasized the aesthetic appreciation of music and had a generally free-spirited nature. The music of that time was an outlet for emotion.
Latin music pays more attention to rhythmic patterns than does American music. Latin music typically follows a specific song structure: a long introductory verse, then a shorter section with a two or three-chord progression devised to build intensity, then a return to the long verse followed by a short coda (a small repetition of a prior portion of the piece). This structure is entirely different from that of American rock 'n' roll, which usually uses a simple verse-chorus-verse structure based on a three-chord progression.