The Similarities Between Baroque and Rock Music

Zac HicksHistory of Worship and Church Music, Worship Style, Worship Theology & Thought5 Comments

History is one of elitism’s greatest enemies.  The more I study history, and particularly that of music, the more I realize that there is nothing new under the sun.  Worship wars recapitulate themselves again and again.  I’ve found that, many times, those who appear elitist about a particular vein of music (e.g. classical) fail to see that some of the music they look down upon carry elements, objectives, and stylistic choices which characterized a portion of the music they uphold as superior.  Pragmatically speaking, I am occasionally confronted by traditionalists who favor certain instruments (e.g. organ, choir, and strings) and musical arrangements (e.g. the four-part block chord harmonization of most traditional hymns) as simply “better” than those of modern music (e.g. rock band instrumentation and chord-over-several-beat harmonization).

Without speaking much to such qualitative evaluation, I would like to point out an important observation by British musicologist, Richard Middleton, who, in analyzing Procul Harum’s 1967 rock hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” takes time to summarize the similarities between Baroque and Rock:1

Late Baroque music tends to be relatively formulaic. Like rock music, it generally uses conventional harmonic progressions, melodic patterns and structural frameworks, and operates through imaginative combinations, elaborations and variations of these, rather than developing extended, through-composed forms. It also tends to have a regular, strongly marked beat; indeed, its continuo section could be regarded as analogous to the rhythm section of jazz and rock… We can say, then, that between the two codes involved—Baroque and rock—there are differences but also a relatively high syntactic correlation.

1 Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990), 30-31.

5 Comments on “The Similarities Between Baroque and Rock Music”

  1. Don't know that I agree completely on everything, but the eight-note pulse is also prominent in much rock and even jazz, although it's not always even eighths.

  2. It's definitely a more liberal, practical approach to see the similarities between types of music. Metal is as complex as jazz and some rap as complex as poems. The catchiness of pop/rock with the catchiness of simpler classical music.

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