30 Different Types of Rock Music (Rock Subgenres)
Rock music has matured and diversified dramatically over the years. This article delves into 30 of the most popular types of rock music. From acid rock to alternative rock and indie rock, it’s one of the most diverse music genres out there.
But how do these subgenres differ from each other, and what makes each of them unique? Let’s find out!
Note: As we give examples of artists below, please keep in mind that many artists may be classified within multiple genres. For example, Nirvana can be considered in both Alternative Rock and Grunge.
- 1. Alternative Rock
- 2. Rock ‘n’ Roll
- 3. Blues Rock
- 4. Progressive Rock
- 5. Indie Rock
- 6. Punk Rock
- 7. Psychedelic Rock
- 8. Acid Rock
- 9. Glam Rock
- 10. Roots Rock
- 11. Folk Rock
- 12. Arena Rock
- 13. Soft Rock
- 14. Funk Rock
- 15. Garage Rock
- 16. Space Rock
- 17. Electronic Rock
- 18. Experimental Rock
- 19. Surf Rock
- 20. Britpop
- 21. Art Rock
- 22. Stoner Rock
- 23. Instrumental Rock
- 24. Jazz Rock
- 25. Sleaze Rock
- 26. Gothic Rock
- 27. Jam Rock
- 28. Industrial Rock
- 29. Geek Rock
- 30. Yacht Rock
1. Alternative Rock
Alternative rock had its breakthrough in the 80s as, you guessed it, an alternative to rock as people knew it at the time. The subgenre has many of the characteristics of classic rock, in addition to elements from other rock subgenres or even totally unrelated genres like hip-hop.
Alternative rock is defined by edgy lyrics and experimental use of instrumentation. However, the subgenre remains loosely defined, to the point that it’s used to refer to any music that sounds “similar to rock ‘n’ roll”.
Some of the most popular alternative rock bands include Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Sonic Youth.
2. Rock ‘n’ Roll
The emergence of rock ‘n’ roll is often associated with youth revolt and rejection of social norms and gender discrimination. Rock ‘n’ roll songs are full of energy, have catchy melodies, and usually integrate elements from other music genres, like country and R&B.
Rock ‘n’ roll is one of the earliest subgenres of rock music, spreading throughout the late 1940s to early 1950s in the United States. AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones are some of the rock ‘n’ roll giants that heavily contributed to its development.
The early works of rock’n’roll music typically used the saxophone or piano as the lead instrument. However, later on, these instruments were either replaced or used alongside the guitar.
3. Blues Rock
As its name implies, blues rock is a combination of blues and rock music. Blues rock pieces typically have a loud beat, aggressive texture, heavy guitar sounds, and blues-scale guitar solos.
Blues rock came to life in the early to mid-1960s, specifically in the United States and the United Kingdom. Bands like Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and The Allman Brothers Band were among the earliest bands to adopt this style of rock music.
4. Progressive Rock
Progressive rock is an experimentation-driven subgenre of rock that emphasizes musical virtuosity, wild compositions, and conceptual lyrics. The subgenre first gained popularity back in the late 1960s with the formation of bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, and Dream Theatre.
This type of rock music is characterized by odd time signatures and long songs. Progressive rock bands also like to utilize complex compositions and instrumentations.
5. Indie Rock
Indie rock is all about using simple instruments and a clear melody. This type of rock music emerged in the 70s-80s period in the United Kingdom and the United States. The whole point of indie rock was to combat the heavy commercialism of rock music.
The term “indie music” may refer to either independent artists or those within the indie rock genres (learn more about that in our article on What Is Indie Music). The term can be sometimes misunderstood, many artists fit into both categories. They are different but not mutually exclusive!
Some of the most popular indie rock bands include Arctic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kaiser Chiefs, and The Killers.
6. Punk Rock
Punk rock is always thought of as a blend of garage rock and conventional rock ‘n’ roll. It presented a newly-born alternative to the traditional rock ‘n’ roll music of the 70s.
The subgenre includes elements like power chords, extreme vocals, distorted guitars, and fast tempos. The lyrics of punk rock songs often revolve around social discontent and alienation.
A few of the most famous punk rock groups include Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Green Day.
7. Psychedelic Rock
Psychedelic rock is heavily influenced by psychedelic culture. Bands that play this style of rock music rely on trippy studio effects, including reverb, distortion, reversed sound, and phasing to give the subgenre a distinct nature. This is usually in combination with the original use of instruments such as wah-wah pedals and electric guitars with feedback.
Bands like The 13th Floor Elevator, Jefferson Airplane, and The Flaming Lips are often regarded as the pioneers of psychedelic rock.
8. Acid Rock
Acid rock was inspired by the garage punk movement in the mid-60s. Many people consider acid and psychedelic rock to be the same subgenre, while others classify psychedelic rock as a subgenre of acid rock.
Acid rock incorporates long jam sessions and heavy sound distortion, accompanied by blues progressions. Jefferson Airplane, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, and Pink Floyd are some of the most widely-acclaimed acid rock bands.
9. Glam Rock
Popularized in the 1970s in the United Kingdom, glam rock was one of the most iconic cultural phenomena at that time. This style of rock music is greatly influenced by bubblegum pop. Glam rock bands usually put on wild wigs and wear unconventional costumes.
The subgenre prioritizes catchy melodies, stomping hip-shaking rhythms, and extreme theatricality. Some notable glam rock bands include Slade, T. Rex, New York Dolls, and Sweet.
10. Roots Rock
Roots rock takes inspiration from traditional American music genres like blues, country, and folk. The earliest works of roots rock date back to the late 1960s, in response to the spread of progressive rock during that period. The subgenre was also prominent in the 1980s when heavy metal and punk rock were dominating the scene.
There are many styles of roots rock that include country rock, southern rock, blues rock, heartland rock, and swamp rock. Some of the legendary roots rock bands include Los Lobos, The Allman Brothers Band, and The Marshall Tucker Band.
11. Folk Rock
Folk rock is basically folk music plus the heavy guitar riffs and drums of rock music. This subgenre has its roots dating back to the early to mid-1960s in the United States.
Bob Dylan and the Byrds are credited for being the first artists to attempt blending the 2 genres together. And even though the new hybrid folk-rock music genre didn’t appeal to the folk community back then, it went mainstream pretty quickly.
The Albion Band, The Mamas & The Papas, and “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” are a few of the subgenre’s well-known adopters.
12. Arena Rock
Arena rock isn’t really considered a subgenre of rock, but more of a style of rock music that’s intended to be played in large venues. But what makes it any different from rock music as we know it?
Well, for starters, arena rock places more emphasis on melody, along with the integration of loud guitar effects and anthemic choruses. Arena rock is also known for its unique visual aesthetic that usually encompasses fireworks and smoke effects.
Queen is the perfect example of arena rock music. Other notable bands that popularized this style of rock music include Bon Jovi, Foreigner, and Journey.
13. Soft Rock
The words “soft” and “rock” don’t usually go together since, well, rock music typically features hard and heavy sounds. Nevertheless, it appealed to a quite sizable audience.
Soft rock appeared in the rock music scene back in the mid to late 1960s in the United States and the United Kingdom. The subgenre borrows elements from folk-rock, baroque pop, and brill building to produce a softer sound.
Some notable soft rock bands encompass Air Supply, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, and Eagles.
14. Funk Rock
Funk rock is yet another hybrid genre that combines elements from funk and rock music. The subgenre is defined by crunchy distorted guitar sounds, synths, and funky bass lines. Keyboards and drum machines are also used in fuck rock pieces.
The genre gained widespread adoption in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States. Albums and singles released by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Aerosmith, and David Bowie, were the main drivers behind the funk rock movement.
15. Garage Rock
As you might’ve already guessed, garage rock is simple rock music that’s played in a garage. The trend started in the late 1950s to early 1960s in the United States and Canada with the emergence of garage rock bands.
This subgenre is fueled by raw energy and often accompanied by easy chord progressions and untamed aggression. Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Link Wray, and Chuck Berry are some notable artists that influenced the evolution of garage rock music.
Later in the mid-1960s, the debut of bands like The Beatles and The British Invasion helped the subgenre flourish.
16. Space Rock
Space rock has a little bit of a “space geekiness” feel about it. It often comprises lengthy song structures with a focus on instrumental textures and reverb-laden guitar sounds. Lyrics that revolve around science fiction and outer space are often included, too.
Pink Floyd are considered the founding fathers of this interesting subgenre. Releases like Astronomy Domine, Lucifer Sam, and Interstellar Overdrive are the earliest pieces of rock music to be categorized as space rock.
Other notable space rock bands include Spacemen 3, Hawkwind, and Eloy.
17. Electronic Rock
Electronic rock is a fusion genre that combines elements of electronic and rock music. The subgenre is known for its integration of electronic instruments and beats into rock music. It often takes inspiration from other genres like hip hop, synth-pop, and techno.
This style of music got popular in the late 1960s, with characteristics like upbeat vocals, mellotrons, synths, and tape techniques. Some of the most popular electronic rock bands encompass Depeche Mode, Ratatat, Linkin Park, and Celldweller.
18. Experimental Rock
Experimental rock is essentially rock music with very few creative boundaries. It’s where artists test out their wildest ideas!
The subgenre first appeared in the 1960s in the United States, encompassing improvisation, odd structures and rhythms, and an avant-garde influence. Many people associate experimental rock with art rock because both subgenres heavily rely on improvisation.
Bands that have released pieces of experimental rock include Sonic Youth, Swans, and The Velvet Underground.
19. Surf Rock
Surf rock was popular among the surf community in the early 1960s, specifically in southern California. Surf rock can be classified into two styles: instrumental surf and vocal surf. The former is defined by the use of reverb-heavy electric guitars to mimic the sounds of crashing waves, while the latter also adds vocal harmonies to the guitar sounds.
The Beach Boys is probably the most famous surf music band and are considered the subgenre’s founders. Other notable bands include The Surfaris, The Ventures, and The Bel-Airs.
Britpop is a style of alternative rock music that has a British influence. It emerged in the 1990s in the United Kingdom. Some say that it was more of a cultural movement that responded to US-influenced grunge music rather than a subgenre of its own.
The aim of the movement was to bring back the “British-styled” alternative rock music that was invented by The Beatles and other British rock bands. Super Grass, Oasis, and Sleeper are some of the bands that supported the movement with pieces of Britpop music.
21. Art Rock
With an artistic vibe, the sound of art rock is super experimental, be it in the time signatures or the rhythms. This avant-garde style of rock music got notable recognition in the 1960s in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Pieces of art rock music are intended to be listened to while relaxing at home, instead of dancing to it. A few names that pioneered the art rock subgenre include Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, The Pretty Things, Pink Floyd, and Procol Harum.
22. Stoner Rock
Stoner rock is a fusion genre that combines not one, not two, but three genres of music into one. It borrows from subgenres such as acid rock, doom metal, and psychedelic rock. The subgenre came to life in the 1990s, and it’s characterized by groove-laden sounds, heavy bass, distortion, and a slow-mid tempo.
Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, and Queen of the Stone Age are some of the most prominent names in the stoner rock music industry.
23. Instrumental Rock
Instrumental rock is pretty much what it sounds like it is: rock music minus the lyrics. This style of music spread out in the 1950s-1960s era in the United States.
It uses the fundamental characteristics of rock music with a greater focus on catchy melodies. It’s also worth noting that, unlike lyrical rock music, instrumental rock has more solo artists.
One classic piece of instrumental rock is The Bill Doggett Combo’s “Honky Tonk”. The song featured a sinuous saxophone-organ lead and a catchy beat.
Some remarkable instrumental rock artists include Steve Vai, Delicate Steve, and Ry Cooder.
24. Jazz Rock
Jazz rock is a blend of jazz and rock genres. This style of music went mainstream in the 1960s. Jazz rock is also categorized as a subgenre of jazz fusion, a genre that combines various music genres together.
Jazz rock songs incorporate the essential characteristics of jazz music, accompanied by the heavy guitar riffs, bass lines, and drumming styles of rock music. The subgenre also spotlights the use of electronic instruments and dance rhythms.
Mahavinsu Orchestra, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Soft Machine are among the pioneers of jazz rock.
25. Sleaze Rock
Sleaze rock is pretty much a style of glam rock music with some elements from hard rock. Sleaze rock is often confused with glam rock, but it’s undeniable that both subgenres share lots of similarities.
The term came into existence in the 1980s. The greed decade witnessed the formation of a considerable number of sleaze rock bands, whose members wore torn jeans, mesh shirts, and outrageous wigs.
Some of these bands include Hanoi Rock, L.A. Guns, and Faster Pussycat.
26. Gothic Rock
Gothic rock emerged in the post-punk wave of the 1970s in the United Kingdom. It incorporates darker themes and sounds, reverbs, melodic bass chords, and jangly guitars.
The subgenre’s poetic nature has made it an integral part of the goth subculture. The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, The Cure, and Fields of the Nephilim are a few of the greatest goth rock bands of all time. Early works of gothic rock, like Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead, have inspired an entire generation of goth bands.
27. Jam Rock
Jam rock is a relatively new style of rock music that originated in the late 1980s to early 1990s. During that period, free-form extended jams took the rock music industry by storm, signaling the birth of the jam rock subgenre.
Jam rock is derived from psychedelic rock music, with bands like The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, and the Bluesy Riffs leading the scene with iconic live performances. The subgenre deeply relies on improvisation.
28. Industrial Rock
Industrial rock is an offspring of 2 genres: industrial music and rock music. It’s defined by heavy distortion, provocative sounds, and controversial vocals and themes. The earliest works of industrial rock appeared in the late 70s, with the likes of Cromagnon, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Throbbing Gristle contributing to the subgenre.
However, the subgenre didn’t gain significant popularity and mainstream acceptance till the 90s. Some of the bands that helped the subgenre become mainstream include Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, and Orgy.
29. Geek Rock
Geek rock, or nerd rock, adds elements inspired by the geek culture to rock music. It usually includes unconventional instruments like ukuleles and accordions, along with a little bit of humor. Of course, the themes and lyrics almost always include references to the geek subculture.
The subgenre first appeared in the late 90s, making it one of the newest styles of rock music. Weezer, Nerf Herder, and Devo are some of the most popular geek rock bands.
30. Yacht Rock
OK, this one sounds a bit eccentric, but it does exist. Yacht rock is literally a form of rock music that’s accompanied by music videos shot on yachts. The subgenre exploded in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s era. Other popular names for this style of music are west coast sound and adult-oriented rock.
So, what defines yacht rock? Well, for starters, yacht rock is melodic and strays a bit from hard rock music. It’s soft and often includes elements of R&B and jazz. Steely Dan, Toto, and The Doobie Brothers are a few names that popularized the subgenre.
As you can tell, defining rock music as a single genre seems a bit generic. And while it’s true that all rock subgenres have many things in common, they’re far from being carbon copies.
Among the most popular styles of rock music are indie rock, alternative rock, progressive rock, and Rock and roll.
Of course, while we’ve covered a lot of rock music genres in this article, there are still plenty of others out there.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Image by: original by flickr user xPassenger, changes by de:user:JD, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Rush Image by: Enrico Frangi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Arctic Monkeys Image by: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Mamas & The Papas Image by: CBS Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Journey Image by: Dave Golland, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hawkwind Image by: Andrew King, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Depeche Mode Image by: Nir Nussbaum, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Kyuss Image by: By Back of the album Blues For The Red Sun, obtained from http://www.imgsync.com/data/img/4250939kyuss.jpg, Fair use, Link
The Sisters of Mercy Image by: djidji.perroto, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Steely Dan Image by: Kotivalo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons