The Difference Between Rock & Country Music

By Chad Stetson

Rock music and country music are actually more alike than many people realize. They both have similar roots, and one of the earliest forms of rock music came from a combination of country music and rhythm and blues. Both types of music have similar rhythms and instrumentation, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a country song from a rock song. Still, there are differences between the two genres, something that fans of both genres will be quick to point out.

Instrumentation

The instrumentation of rock music is characterized by the electric guitar backed by an electric bass and percussion from a drum kit. Other instruments have been frequently added such as pianos, synthesizers, and organs. While country music is often based around the guitar and bass, it often favors acoustic guitars over electric ones (although electric guitars can be heard in modern country). Other instruments common in country music include the fiddle, the slide guitar, the pedal steel guitar, and the banjo. Drums weren’t often used in early country music, but they are common in modern country bands.

Rhythm and Chord Progression

Both rock music and country music favor simple duple rhythms with little syncopation, although some more progressive rock music can include more complex rhythms. Rock songs are often based on older musical modes as well as major and minor modes. Structurally, most early rock songs were based on the 12-bar blues structure. Harmonies range anywhere from simple triads, parallel fourths and fifths, and even more dissonant harmonic progressions. Country music favors not just a simple rhythm but a simple chord progression. Traditional country music tends to be very simple, which lends itself well to its popularity and playability.

Lyrics

Unlike many other musical genres, rock lyrics cover a wide range of themes including romantic love, sex, rebellion, and social themes. Lyrics can be very important in rock music but often it’s the music that takes center stage. On the other hand, the lyrics of country songs are far more important. Many country songs exist to tell a story, and the genre’s simple chord progression and rhythms lend themselves well to a wide variety of song lyrics and stories that can be told.

Geographic Location

The importance of geographic location and references to it in both country and rock music is something that some people consider important, although the issue has been hotly debated. By its very definition country music refers to music played by and enjoyed by people in rural areas as well as the south. It was introduced in rural areas and was associated with “singing cowboys” of the 1930s and ‘40s. Modern country music is enjoyed by people in both urban and rural areas, and musicians can come from pretty much anywhere and still be famous as country stars. Rock music is considered to be a little more universal, associated as much with urban locations (San Francisco in the 1960s or Seattle in the grunge era of the 1990s) as well as rural areas.