Why Rock Music Deserves Just as Much Respect as Classical

Most people see classical music as superior to rock. But here are some ways in which rock stars are actually more talented than classical musicians.

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It's generally seen that classical music is a much more sophisticated and complex genre of music than rock, and in several ways this is true. Writing a two hour symphony for a 100 piece orchestra is no small feat, and requires a massive understanding of music theory as well as the workings of several different instruments. But there are several things that I believe rock does much better than classical music which generally don't seem to get as fairly acknowledged. Here are some of them:

1. Singing and Playing at the same time

Playing a syncopated rhythm on guitar while singing lead vocals that control a room is one of the most difficult things that a person can do. People can spend entire years of life hoping to be a competent live musician at one instrument, and several rockers can do two at one. Players like David Byrne or Josh Homme can manage a complex and rhythmic guitar piece while also pulling off a huge vocal performance, and there's not much you can say about that other than it being insanely impressive and requiring an exhausting amount of practice.

2. Tone

While intonation is obviously very important in classical music, finding the right tone is often a very different task for guitar, due to the wide array of different setups available through different amps and pedals. Guitarists and producers can spend hours twisting knobs and fiddling with switches to find the perfect tone, giving themselves a major headache in the process. This is just part of playing in a massively competitive industry where you need to get your playing to stand out as much as you can, and this shows the dedication that rock musicians have.

3. Playing without lessons

While the vast majority of classical players have had a dedicated teacher to show them the ropes and get them to a professional level, most rock stars could never afford this luxury, and learnt by simply playing in their room for hours on end. This means that if they hear an interesting technique on a record, then they have to painstakingly work out how to play it themselves, rather than simply getting an expert to show them. While this is less true in the internet age, it was the way most classic rock stars worked, and several hard working musicians still do today.

4. Memory

Rock musicians never play to sheet music. Most of them can't even read it at all. This means that if you're going to lay a piece you have to know it inside out and back to front, whether it's a three chord punk song or a fifteen minute prog epic. As I'm sure many of you found, remembering something simple like whether to go into the pre-chorus or another bridge next can become an arduous task when you've got to perform in front of hundreds of people, and means that you can never afford to lose concentration.

5. Playing while rocking out

Watch this video:

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Here we see John Frusciante playing a tight, rhythmic guitar piece which also requires an intricate, syncopated right hand performance. And he does that while flying about the stage, spinning in circles. And then out of nowhere he's at the microphone to sing backing vocals without taking a breath. If that's not talent then show me what is. Playing your instrument at the professional standard is one thing, but in the rock genre people manage to do this while jumping about the stage and looking like their playing is the last thing they're concentrated with.

6. Inspiring the masses

This is the big one. While classical music is obviously important, having been around for centuries, the world of music has never been the same since rock and roll took off in the '50s. Rock and pop music simply has an ability to touch average people in a way which had never been seen before. Rock music gave anybody a chance, so long as they had a message to get across. One of my favourite facts has always been that the Beatles had to stop touring because amplification louder than the excited screams of their fans didn't exist. That shows how powerful music can be, and how big a response it can invoke in so many people, and really what makes rock music special.

45 comments sorted by best / new / date

    v3rmilion
    Well, it's a little biased, but yeah. No, it's basically just a little biased. 1. Yeah, the technical perfection demanded of the style really doesn't lend itself well to both playing and singing. Even if you were brilliant at both, that would be a really weird string section if you also had a choir in it. 2. Totally subjective. You could also play an acoustic and not have anything to do with that. The point is that you don't get to make the choice to go out of your way and add things and then complain about the complexity those things add to the process. 3. That's probably why a lot of rock musicians are technically inept when compared to classically-trained musicians. 4. "We can't read sheet music, therefore we're better." What? 5. Yeah, if only the timpani player could dance around the stage and headbang with the tuba player. It's not like their instruments are cumbersome and hard to move around with, especially when compared to the rather light and mobile guitar. 6. Implying classical music wasn't appreciated just as much in its hayday. Just because the fans aren't cheering louder than the people playing doesn't mean they don't like it as much, but having a crowd of people screaming during a symphony would ruin it a bit, don't you think?
    TheLlamaMan
    I agree entirely that this article is extremely one-sided, bordering on ignorant, despite the fact that I also believe that rock should be respected. While I hate to make assumptions, it does seem like the author has a very limited – or even ill-informed – understanding of what being a classical musician entails. Every single one of the points made can easily be refuted on multiple levels, but sadly many people will passively agree just because rock is the genre they prefer.
    District
    You worded it perfectly. Of course, I do think rock deserves as much respect as classical, which goes for any genre. But the reasons in this article are not really that good.
    zakaye
    Any genre.. even rap?
    Corvus280
    Why not? You can't tell me that there isn't a lot of skill involved in rapping. Only because a lot of mainstream rap is total shit it doesn't mean there's no good rap out there.
    Elegitii
    Nice article. I thought it was gonna look at the actual music and technical side tho :/
    Guytarist38
    And i think that the author forgot an important thing : the improvisation. Improvisation is a thing which doest not exists in classical playing. I've often played with very talented musiciens who have learned classical music for more than 15 years and a lot of them are not able to improvise. But it is understandable because improvisation is a very difficult exercice in which the musician has to use some rules to make the song ring right. He has to know the notes that can be played on every chord the band plays. He also has to use various shades and rythm to surprise and move the audience. So on my opinion, this is also a point that makes rock as interesting as classical. Still, Nice article.
    MaggaraMarine
    There are lots of classical musicians who can improvise. Also the way classical musicians "improvise" is not by adding notes. They change the tempo of the piece to their taste and use different kind of articulation. Yes, I would say classical is usually more "strict" when it comes to this kind of things but it does have some room for different kind of interpretations of the same piece. The kind of improvisation you are talking about (for example playing an improvised guitar solo) isn't really required but I'm pretty sure many professional classical musicians are able to improvise.
    JimBell
    Yup. And this would have been my most recommended song to show that off
    ElviDo
    just try to write to write a PARTITION fot 12 instruments. rarley more than 5 in a Rock band
    BananaColada
    I don't feel that you have a very good conception of what it takes to be in an orchestra
    TheLastRaven
    But a classical composer isn't IN an orchestra. They just write. They don't play anything. The write a composition and then get like 100 people to play. RHCP, continuing with that example, is 4 guys who write all of their songs and perform them, and they don't just sit in a chair in an ideal position and play what they see. They must remember every single note, hammer-on, slide, mute, pull-off, everything. And if one guy messes up, you don't have 99 other people to mask it. It's all on you.
    xmdsx2
    Do you honestly believe people who play classical/flamenco guitar cannot play from memory? Honestly? Jesus, man...
    TheLastRaven
    I'm talking about orchestral and symphonic musicians, and the vast majority of them use sheet music, and if they can play from memory then why don't they? I don't know of many classical pieces that include guitar, but if they do and it's played from memory I would be more impressed than if it wasn't
    MaggaraMarine
    Have you ever played in a classical orchestra? They have notation in front of them because the pieces have so much stuff in them and there are so many people that play the same part. So everybody needs to play it exactly like it's written. Every dynamic, articulation, etc. is really important in orchestra. In a rock band you can play stuff more freely. A basic rock arrangement is really really simple when you compare it to an orchestral piece.If a professional classical musician performs a solo piece, they rarely have notes in front of them when they perform. But solo pieces have more freedom in them. When you want 70 musicians to play the piece EXACTLY the same way, you pretty much need to have notation in front of you. Of course there are musicians that have played the same piece so many times that they don't need notation in front of them. But when we are talking about professional classical orchestras, they rarely play same pieces many times. They have a couple of concerts where they perform certain pieces, then they change the pieces they perform. They usually also have a pretty tight schedule. For example they may need to learn a whole symphony in just a couple of weeks. Try doing that without sheet music.And even if the schedule wasn't tight, an orchestral piece still has so many details to be remembered that I think having sheet music in front of you is pretty reasonable. That way you can make sure everybody plays the piece exactly the same way. For me it requires a lot less work to memorize 10 rock songs than to memorize one orchestral piece. There's so much less details in a rock song arrangement. And the way you play individual notes doesn't matter that much because in a band that has only three to six members in it has a lot more space in it. In a symphonic orchestra there are dozens of violinists that play exactly the same thing. And if some of them articulate it differently, it will sound bad. Rock band has a lot more freedom in it. Many times the same song isn't even played the same way every time. I'm sorry to say this but don't think you are experienced enough to have an opinion on this. I have played in a classical orchestra. I have played in a rock band. I know rock songs are a lot easier to memorize than most orchestral pieces. I'm not saying rock music sucks or anything like that. It is actually my preferred genre. I love playing in a rock band. I respect rock musicians just like I respect classical musicians. But rock bands and classical orchestras are very different. As I said, individual notes matter so much more in a classical orchestra than in a rock band. I'm not talking about playing wrong pitches because that matters in both genres. But I'm talking about HOW you play the notes. Dynamics, articulation, timing... That kind of stuff.
    ElviDo
    I would say the sale with gypsy jazz. But often those guys can write music down, because it make it faster
    v3rmilion
    To be fair, a lot of orchestral instruments can't really be played while jumping around. Good luck getting your bassoon player to "rock out" while they play.
    emicyber
    WTF? They don't play any instrument? Bach: organist, violinist, singer, harpsichordist. Most of his pieces were played by him in the court to pleased the king. Mozart: violinist, pianist, harpsichordist. Same as above but he had 7 seven years old when he played for the king And I named only 2 but all composers know to play an instruments. Get your facts right, please.
    TheLastRaven
    What I'm saying is that I think it's more difficult and impressive for someone to "rock out" while playing than to remain seated in an ideal position, that includes the guitar as an instrument. If Frusciante sat on a stool with the guitar perfectly cradled across his body it wouldn't be as cool to watch. And I think orchestral instruments can be played energetically in the same way electric guitars can; Skillet's violinists headbang and move around while pyro is going off everywhere and the band plays heavy rock. And check this out:
    Okean
    You know it is a big difference to play the same songs for a whole tour or play a symphony for two nights and then you have to prepare a whole new piece.. have you thought of that? And also it isn't just looking on a sheet, imagine being a violinist who plays with ten other violinists and if you play wrong it won't just be masked, because these stuff hasn't so much distortion on that it will cover every wrong note.. I play in a Metalband and think rock deserves as much respect as any other musicgenre.. But people please look for the right arguments
    TheLastRaven
    I'm pretty sure fans would notice if a rock guitarist missed a note or chord with distortion on. And, for example, I recently saw Jack White live, and he never has a setlist, he played songs from The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, his solo albums, and a bit of Led Zeppelin. Furthermore, he played every differently than it's album version and he doesn't play the same live version at any of his shows, I've watched footage of his other concerts and each version typically varies a good deal. If he had missed a note in a riff or accidentally muted a chord it would be apparent, but he didn't. I don't think symphonic players are inferior or unworthy of respect by any means, I just think rock guitarists are sometimes seen as inferior because of their reputation, but they're every bit as physically and mentally talented as an orchestral musician. Sorry if I came off as ignorant or offensive, I was a bit fired up about this.
    MaggaraMarine
    1. I don't agree with this. You can practice it and when you can do it, you can do it. It's not any more difficult than being able to play a technical piece. It requires some different skills of course. But learning to sing and play at the same time doesn't really take that much time. It just needs you to practice slowly. I think it could be compared to playing a syncopated beat on drums where your hands and feet do completely different things. 2. Yeah, when you record, it may take some time to find the perfect tone. In classical music all of the tone is in your technique. Recording classical and rock is just so different. You can't really compare them. 3. Playing rock music doesn't require nearly as much technique as playing classical music. You can start a decent sounding rock band after playing for two years. But try doing the same with classical music. Not going to happen. That's because in rock music you pretty much need to know the basic chords and you can play many songs. In classical you need to have a good technique and also be able to make the notes you play sound good. Strumming chords is not enough. 4. Even if you have sheet music in front of you, you need to focus on the piece. Why orchestras use sheet music is because the pieces are so complex. In rock music you pretty much repeat riff #1 8 times, then you repeat riff #2 4 times. Then you play the chorus riff/chord progression (3-5 chords) and repeat riffs #1 and #2 again. Lots of repeating. No need to count rests or anything like that. You need to remember that orchestras have so many musicians playing in them and the structures aren't like in rock music (ie, play riff #1 8 times and then play riff #2 4 times. And after playing enough of rock/pop music, you can predict how many times a riff needs to be repeated). There are smaller classical groups and they may not use sheet music. Same with solo performers. They usually don't use sheet music. I have never found it hard to remember how a pop/rock song goes, unless I haven't played it for a long time. 5. There are some classical groups that put out a great show (some brass quintets and that kind of groups). But if you play in a regular symphonic orchestra, how could you perform any better? Also, if you watch conductors, they do perform. They don't just stand still and move their hands. Same can be said about the instrumentalists in an orchestra. They also move a bit. Of course they can't stand up and start headbanging. First of all, that doesn't really fit the style. And also, it would easily turn into a chaos. I mean, 70 musicians headbanging on stage and playing their instruments at the same time? I just don't see that happening. And as I said, it doesn't really fit the style. 6. Most people still recognize some 200-400 year old melodies. For example who hasn't heard the melody in the beginning of Beethoven's 5th symphony? Though it is true that popular music is popular. But they are different genres and people behave differently in a pop concert than in a classical concert. Don't get me wrong. I like rock music. That's actually the genre I listen to most of the time. But it's just so different from classical music. I don't think they should be compared.
    Akkeli
    Cool article. The way I see it, skill or difficulty is not really the issue here. It's just a matter of so called "high arts" vs popular culture. The line is continuously being blurred though.
    BlackRose93
    I stopped reading at the sheet music part.
    MaggaraMarine
    Yeah... Classical pieces are a lot more complex than rock pieces. Most rock songs have a main riff, a pretty simple chord progression and follow a pretty basic structure. I played in a military band (we played party gigs) and it was really easy to memorize all the pop/rock songs. When you are familiar with that kind of music, it is pretty easy to predict what happens next (for example, the verse lasts 8 or 16 bars and then comes the chorus that also lasts 8 or 16 bars and then you repeat - and most songs follow this kind of structure). Classical pieces have more parts in them so it's pretty reasonable to use sheet music. But usually if you go and watch a solo classical musician perform, he doesn't use sheet music. So classical musicians also have to memorize lots of pieces. And I would say they are more complex and technical than rock. But don't get me wrong. I like rock music a lot. But it is true that playing rock music doesn't require nearly as good technique as playing classical music. Technique doesn't make music good though. As I said, I enjoy listening and playing rock music. It's different.
    BlackRose93
    It seems to me that he compared rock to classical because the later is highly-respected from almost everyone. He doesn't seem to know however,any reasons why classical is respected and seen as a high-quality music.And that clearly shows.
    BlackRose93
    I actually managed to finish the article,though I regret doing so. I love both classical and rock/metal.You don't seem to provide us with any musical reasons why rock should be respected (and I definitely think it should). Point 5 is simply rediculous.Yeah ok,let's headbang while playing violin.Or call out for a mosh-pit while playing some Chopin.It wouldn't seem stupid at all. Every style has it's own form of stage presence.Just because I don't jump around like a monkey,doesn't seem that my performance lacks energy. Rock should be respected,but not because it's "cool".Because that seems to be your only point.
    Phiddler
    This is quite silly... 1. I'd rather hear someone master one instrument than be ok at two 2. Please, string sections have entire meetings on when to up/down bow so their tones match up 3. Im supposed to respect the fact that you dont know what youre doing? 4. Now I just think the author has never met a classical musician 5. Now I just think the author has never seen classical played live 6. Ok, open a history book dude. And if you want a modern example, Beethovens 9th is played every NYE in Japan, almost every major orchestra/choir in the country play it with thousands and thousands of people in attendance. Its a huge event. Its a big world outside your bedroom window, open your eyes
    xmdsx2
    With all due respect, but this is one of the stupidest articles I've ever read, and I've read many.
    Mr. Skull
    I feel the biggest difference between classical and Rock/metal is that the composers in the latter are also the performers. That makes it difficult and, i feel, kind of silly to compare the two.
    MaggaraMarine
    Rock deserves as much respect as classical because it's all subjective. And music isn't all about technique. Yes, you could argue how complex/technical/whatever classical pieces are. But so what? Some people don't like technical stuff. You could also argue how catchy some rock/pop songs are and how many millions of records bands like The Beatles have sold. They are different and don't need to be compared.
    ironicallyindie
    The fact that so many books still name the Beatles "the greatest or most significant or most influential" rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art. Jazz critics have long recognized that the greatest jazz musicians of all times are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, who were not the most famous or richest or best sellers of their times, let alone of all times. Classical critics rank the highly controversial Beethoven over classical musicians who were highly popular in courts around Europe. Rock critics are still blinded by commercial success: the Beatles sold more than anyone else (not true, by the way), therefore they must have been the greatest. Jazz critics grow up listening to a lot of jazz music of the past, classical critics grow up listening to a lot of classical music of the past. Rock critics are often totally ignorant of the rock music of the past, they barely know the best sellers. No wonder they will think that the Beatles did anything worth of being saved. In a sense the Beatles are emblematic of the status of rock criticism as a whole: too much attention to commercial phenomena (be it grunge or U2) and too little attention to the merits of real musicians. If somebody composes the most divine music but no major label picks him up and sells him around the world, a lot of rock critics will ignore him. If a major label picks up a musician who is as stereotyped as one can be but launches her or him worldwide, your average critic will waste rivers of ink on her or him. This is the sad status of rock criticism: rock critics are basically publicists working for free for major labels, distributors and record stores. They simply publicize what the music business wants to make money with. Hopefully, one not-too-distant day, there will be a clear demarcation between a great musician like Tim Buckley, who never sold much, and commercial products like the Beatles. And rock critics will study more of rock history and realize who invented what and who simply exploited it commercially. Beatles' "aryan" music removed any trace of black music from rock and roll: it replaced syncopated african rhythm with linear western melody, and lusty negro attitudes with cute white-kid smiles. Contemporary musicians never spoke highly of the Beatles, and for a good reason. They could not figure out why the Beatles' songs should be regarded more highly than their own. They knew that the Beatles were simply lucky to become a folk phenomenon (thanks to "Beatlemania", which had nothing to do with their musical merits). THat phenomenon kept alive interest in their (mediocre) musical endeavours to this day. Nothing else grants the Beatles more attention than, say, the Kinks or the Rolling Stones. There was nothing intrinsically better in the Beatles' music. Ray Davies of the Kinks was certainly a far better songwriter than Lennon & McCartney. The Stones were certainly much more skilled musicians than the 'Fab Fours'. And Pete Townshend was a far more accomplished composer, capable of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia". Not to mention later and far greater British musicians. Not to mention the American musicians who created what the Beatles later sold to the masses. The Beatles sold a lot of records not because they were the greatest musicians but simply because their music was easy to sell to the masses: it had no difficult content, it had no technical innovations, it had no creative depth. They wrote a bunch of catchy 3-minute ditties and they were photogenic. If somebody had not invented "beatlemania" in 1963, you would not have wasted five minutes of your time to read a page about such a trivial band.
    emicyber
    I finally found someone that thinks like me. IMHO, The Beatles are sooo overrated and, for me, Jazz musicians were the real geniuses of that era. Musically and technically speaking, The Beatles were poor in those aspects. However, I admit that they had written some good songs, but c'mon... "Twist and Shout" has the same chord progression of Valens' "La Bamba", jeez. Listen to Django Reinhardt please! That dude was a true genius. He created a new technique with only 2 fingers!! (he couldn't use ring and pinky fingers because of an accident) and this happened in the late 30's - early 40's.