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A rhythm section (also called a backup band) is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band that provides the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the melody.
The core elements of the rhythm section are usually the drum kit and bass. The drums and bass provide the basic pulse and groove of a song. The section is augmented by other instruments such as keyboard instruments and guitars that are used to play the chord progression upon which the song is based. The bass instrument (either double bass or electric bass, or another low-register instrument, such as synth bass, depending on the group and its style of music) plays the low-pitched bassline that supports the chord progression, typically by playing a musically interesting bassline that fits with the harmony.
The term is common in modern small musical ensembles, such as bands that play jazz,country, blues, and rock.
A typical rhythm section comprises one or more guitars (either electric guitars, in rock music bands; acoustic guitars, in country music, folk music and blues or both electric and acoustic in some bands); and/or a keyboard instrument (piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer, etc.) a double bass or electric bass (depending on the style of music), and drums (usually acoustic, but in some post-1980s styles, the drums may be electronic drums).
In some styles of music, there may be additional percussionists playing instruments such as the djembe or shakers. Some styles of music often have two electric guitarists, such as rock genres like heavy metal music and punk rock. Some styles of music use multiple keyboard instrument performers simultaneously (e.g., piano and Hammond organ or electric piano and synthesizer) for a fuller sound. A rhythm section could be as small as two or three instruments (e.g., a guitarist and a bassist or a power trio of bass, drums and guitar) or it may be a fairly large ensemble with several keyboardists, several guitarists, auxiliary string players (mandolin, ukulele, etc.), a drummer and percussionists.
The largest rhythm sections may be led by a bandleader or a conductor who indicates the tempo of each song, starts each song, leads slow-downs of the music at cadences (sections of songs where the music comes to rest on a chord), and indicates when to change soloists and how and when the song will end.
The instrumentalists used in a rhythm section vary according to the style of music and era. Modern pop, rock and jazz band rhythm sections typically consist of a drummer, a bass player, and one or more players of chordal instruments (e.g., a pianist, guitarist, etc.).The term rhythm section may also refer to the instruments in this group (named collectively the "rhythm section instruments").
In music industry parlance, the amplifiers and some of the instruments are nicknamed the "backline." Backline instruments are commonly provided for bands at music festivals and other concerts where several bands will play during an event. By providing these backline instruments, the changeover process is quickened when new bands take the stage. The backline typically includes large and heavy items that are hard to transport, including large bass amplifiers and guitar amplifiers and their speaker cabinets, the drum kit (usually minus the cymbals and the snare drum, which each drummer brings from home), a Hammond organ, stage piano, and a keyboard amplifier.
Even when a venue or festival provides a backline amplification, musicians must still supply some instruments themselves, such as guitars, an electric bass, and, in some cases, the cymbals and/or the snare drum. The venue informs musicians about which instruments are supplied as the backline for a specific concert or stage and in many cases, the contract signed by the band and the venue/promoter contains an explicit list of the backline gear that will be on stage, even specifying brand names and model numbers.
In modern rock music, a rhythm guitarist specializes in rhythmic and chordal playing (as opposed to the melodic guitar solos and lead melody lines played by the lead guitar), often repeating quaver (eighth-note), half note or whole note chords. In the louder genres, such as hard rock, heavy metal and punk rock, rhythm guitarists often play power chords with distortion. Rhythm guitarists often strum open chords in pop, rock, country and folk music and play barre chords in many pop and rock styles.
Although rhythm sections spend much of the time providing accompaniment (backing parts) for songs, in some cases, they provide other musical roles. In some songs or styles of music, instruments from the rhythm section may play soloistic roles on occasion (e.g., improvised guitar solos or solo breaks) or play a melodic role (e.g., a rhythm guitarist may play a lyrical countermelody behind a singer or a melodic intro line before the lead vocalist starts to sing). Since rhythm sections generally provide the background music for lead instruments and solo singers, rhythm sections are typically not as prominent as a singer or soloist. However, since rhythm sections provide the underpinning for a good performance by the lead instruments and vocalists, good rhythm sections are valued in the music industry. Some of the most accomplished rhythm sections have become famous, such as The Band, the E Street Band and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (the latter in reggae). In some popular bands, all of the band members, including rhythm section members, have become famous as individuals (e.g., the rhythm section members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc.).
In almost all genres of popular music and traditional music that use rhythm sections, ranging from rock to country to jazz, the rhythm section members are expected to be able to improvise (make up) their parts or prepare their own parts for a given song by listening to the CD at home. Once the bassist and chord-playing instruments are provided with the chord progression on a lead sheet (in which chords are typically named using the root note of the chord and its quality; e.g., C Major, d minor, G7, etc.), they are expected to be able to improvise or prepare a bass line and chord voicings, respectively, that suit the style of the song.
In each style of music, there are different musical approaches and styles that rhythm section members are expected to use. For example, in a country music song, the guitarist will be expected to be able to perform a chord progression using an intricate fingerpicking style; in a heavy metal song, the guitarist will be expected to play power chords and complex, precise rhythmic patterns; in a jazz song, a guitarist will be expected to be able to play "jazz voicings" of the chords, which emphasize the third, seventh and often the sixth or ninth chord tones (this contrasts with the barre chord voicings used in pop and rock, which emphasize the root, fifth, and to a lesser degree, the third of the chord). Drummers and percussionists are expected to be able to improvise or prepare rhythm parts that suit the style of a given song. In some cases, an arranger, orchestrator or composer will provide a written-out bass part or drum part written in music notation (the five-line staff in which the notes are round symbols with or without stems). It is rare in jazz or rock for chords to be written out in music notation; the arranger or songwriter typically writes the chord symbol and expects the guitarist to improvise the appropriate chord voicing.
Rhythm section members may be expected to sing backup vocals or harmony parts in some styles of music. In some styles of music, notably 2010s-era pop, hip hop music and funk, rhythm section members may be required to perform a rhythmic dance routine, which may range from a simple body movement to a complex dance choreography that requires significant dance skills. In some types of heavy metal music, rhythm section members (guitar, bass, drums) may be expected to be able to "headbang" (move their head in an up and down fashion in time with the beat) while performing. Less commonly, some rhythm section members may sing lead vocals (e.g., Phil Collins or Sting). In some groups, one rhythm section member may have other roles, such as bandleader (e.g., jazz bassist Charles Mingus), conductor (often the case in 2010s-era musical theatre shows), songwriter, composer or arranger.
In the case of swing bands, the classic rhythm section comprises a quartet of electric guitar, piano, double bass, and drums; a noted example is that of the Count Basie Orchestra with Freddie Green, the Count, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. Earlier jazz bands had used banjo in place of guitar, and other bass instruments such as the tuba for recording purposes prior to the advent of microphone technology in studios.
As bebop evolved, smaller jazz groups dropped the guitar, and many free jazz ensembles dropped the piano as well. Auxiliary percussion such as claves, bongos or maracas can also be used, especially in music influenced by strains from Latin America such as salsa and samba. In theory any instrument or instruments can provide a steady rhythm: for example, in the trio led by Jimmy Giuffre the late 1950s, the clarinet, valve trombone and guitar all switched between lead and supporting roles.
In the 1950s, some jazz bandleaders began to replace the double bass with the then-newly invented electric bass. However, the electric bass really made a big impact on jazz in the 1970s, with the advent of jazz rock and jazz fusion. The electric bass was much easier to amplify to stadium-filling volumes using large bass speaker cabinets and amplifiers than an upright bass. The electric bass also began to be used as an expressive solo instrument, as exemplified by the performances of Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke.
In the 1970s, the main chordal rhythm instruments were often electric instruments such as the Rhodes electric piano or electric clavinet, often run through effects units such as fuzz, phasers, or wah-wah pedals and amplified through loud keyboard amplifiers. The jazz fusion rhythm section followed the lead of the rock rhythm sections of the era, and used banks of speakers and powerful amplifiers to create a massive sound large enough for stadium concerts. In the later 1980s and subsequent decades, jazz fusion bands such as the Chick Corea Elektric Band used synthesizers in the rhythm section, both for chordal accompaniment and for synth bass parts.
R&B and rock and roll groups in the 1950s emphasized rhythm, so their backup bands generally consisted only of the standard swing band rhythm section of guitar, piano, bass, and drums supporting a vocalist, and in some cases omitting the keyboards. The bass guitar took over from the double bass in the 1950s, and had almost completely taken over the bass role in the 1960s. As the 1960s progressed the term "rhythm section" as used in a pop music context sometimes came to refer to just the bass and drums. For example, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr of the Beatles were referred to as the band's rhythm section.
In the 1970s, chordal instruments such as the electric and/or acoustic guitar and various keyboards (piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, clavinet) continued to be used to augment the bass and drums in soul, funk, and reggae groups. The sound of late 1960s and 1970s rhythm sections was often given a unique tone and sound due to the use of effects units. Funk bass players would play through auto-wah or envelope follower pedals. Reggae guitarists would plug into echo pedals. Rock guitarists would run their electric guitars through distortion and wah pedals. Electric piano or clavinet players also used effects.
In the 1980s, many rock and pop bands continued to be based around the basic rock rhythm section established by 1960s and 1970s bands: electric bass, drums, and electric guitar or keyboards. In the 1980s, the first widely-affordable digital synthesizer, Yamaha's DX7, was released. The distinctive FM synthesis tone of the DX7 is a key part of the sound of many 1980s pop and dance singles.
As electronic effects became more sophisticated, with the development of digital signal processing, during the 1980s, there was some crossover between the roles played by electronic keyboards and electric guitar. Even though electronic keyboards or organs were the standard instruments used to create sustained "pads" of sound (e.g., held backing chords) for ballads, with the introduction of digital delay pedals and other modern effects, electric guitars could produce similar "pads" or "walls of sound". The Edge, the guitarist from the rock band U2, often used digital delay and reverb-drenched electric guitar arpeggios (chords played one note after the other) to create a shimmering, sustained "pad" for the group. These arpeggio pads created a sustained sound that was similar to the sound of an electronic keyboard. By the late 1980s, the price of digital effects pedals dropped, making these effects units available to the general public.
During the 1980s era, rhythm sections in some styles of pop took an increasing turn towards electronic instruments. A 1980s-era dance pop band might be backed up by a rhythm section of a synth bass, electronic drums (or drum machine) and various synthesizer keyboards. In some 1980s and 1990s bands, live human rhythm sections were sometimes replaced by sequenced MIDI synthesizer rhythm tracks made in the studio. In the 1980s and 1990s, the roots rock scene went in the opposite direction from dance pop; roots rock favoured traditional instruments in the rhythm section such as acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, acoustic bass guitar and upright bass. Another 1980s-era trend that helped revive interest in acoustic instruments was the "MTV Unplugged" style of performances, in which a rock band performs with acoustic instruments, including acoustic guitars and an acoustic bass guitar.
In rock and pop, rhythm sections range in size from the barest, stripped-down size of the "power trio" (guitarist, bassist, and drummer) and the organ trio (Hammond organist, drummer, and a third instrument) to large rhythm sections with several stringed instrument players (mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, etc.), multiple keyboard players (e.g., piano, Hammond organ, electric piano, synth), two instruments playing a bass role (e.g., bass guitar and synth bass) and a group of auxiliary percussionists (congas, shakers, etc.) to fill out (or "sweeten") the sound. Some rhythm sections combine electronic/digital instruments that are sequenced, pre-recorded backup tracks and live instruments (including electric, electronic and acoustic instruments).
The drums and bass both supply a rhythmic pulse for the music, and the bass instrument supplies a harmonic foundation with a bassline. The types of basslines performed by the bass guitarist vary widely from one style of music to another. Despite all of the differences in the styles of bassline in most styles of popular music, the bass guitarist fulfills a similar role: anchoring the harmonic framework (often by emphasizing the roots of the chord progression) and laying down the beat (in collaboration with the drummer). The importance of the bass guitarist and the bass line varies in different styles of music. In some pop styles, such as 1980s-era pop and musical theater, the bass sometimes plays a relatively simple part, and the music forefronts the vocals and melody instruments. In contrast, in reggae or funk, entire songs may be centered around the bass groove, and the bassline is very prominent in the mix.
Similarly, the role of the drummer varies a great deal from one style of music to another. In some types of music, such as traditional 1950s-style country music, the drummer has a rudimentary "timekeeping" role, and the drums are placed low in the mix by the sound engineers. In styles such as progressive rock, metal, and jazz fusion, the drummers often perform complex, challenging parts, and the drums may be given a prominent placement in the mix; as well, the drummer may be often given prominent solo breaks, fills, or introductions that put the spotlight on their technical skills and musicality. In the more experimental forms of free jazz and jazz fusion, the drummer may not play the strict "timekeeping" role that is associated with drums in pop music. Instead, the drums may be used more to create textured polyrhythmic soundscapes. In this type of situation, the main pulse is often provided by the bass player rather than the drummer.
The rhythm section members sometimes break out of their accompaniment role when they are asked to perform keyboard solos, bass breaks, or drum solos. In genres such as progressive rock, art rock, or progressive metal, the rhythm section members may play complicated parts along with the lead guitar (or vocalist) and perform extended solos. In jazz groups and jazz fusion bands, the rhythm section members are often called on to perform improvised solos. In jazz, the drummer may "trade" short solo sections with a saxophone player or trumpet player; this practice, nicknamed "trading fours", typically involves the drummer and the horn player alternating four bar solo sections during a jazz tune. They can also trade eights, twos, ones, or other numbers depending on the musical context.
In organ trios, the lower octaves of a Hammond organ or electronic keyboard are used as a substitute for bass guitar or double bass. The organist can play the bassline using the bass pedal keyboard or using the lower manual. As well, the organist could play right-hand chords and melodies. Organ trios were a widely used type of jazz ensemble in the 1950s and 1960s to play hard bop.
Organ trios are sometimes used in rock as well. The Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek used a keyboard bass to play the bass lines. Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore would act as an organ trio with the addition of singer Jim Morrison.
New Orleans or Dixieland jazz bands occasionally use tuba, sousaphone, or bass saxophone in place of the double bass that was common in 1920s-era jazz bands. This tradition developed from the origins of New Orleans music in marching bands, which used instruments that could be carried on harnesses or with straps. Marching bands use a mixture of brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, because all of these instruments can be played while marching.
Not all rhythm sections follow the standard model of drummer-bassist-chordal instrument. Some bands have no drummer. In bands without a drummer, one or more instruments from the rhythm section often play in styles that replace the drum kit role—that is laying down the beat and backbeat. Traditional bluegrass bands typically do not have a drummer. In bluegrass bands, the timekeeping role is shared between several instruments: the upright bass generally plays the on-beats while the mandolin plays chop chords on the off-beats, with the banjo also keeping a steady eighth note rhythm.
This distributed nature allows for rhythmic continuity while players take turns highlighting the melody. In funk-oriented groups that do not have a drummer, the electric bass player may take over some of the drummer's role by using slap bass. With slap bass, the bassist slaps the low strings to create a strong "thump" (similar to the bass drum's role) and "snaps" or "pops" the high strings to create a percussive effect (the latter takes over some of the role played by the hi-hat cymbals). In some bands, there may be no bass player—the basslines may be played by the piano player, synth player, or guitarist. Using a guitar player to provide basslines is particularly effective if a guitar player has a seven-string guitar with a low "B" string.
Some jazz duos consist of a singer accompanied by a single piano player. In these duos, the jazz piano player has a challenging task; they have to provide all of the rhythmic and harmonic foundation that would normally be provided by a full rhythm section. A jazz pianist accompanying a singer in a duo needs to play a deep bassline, chords, and fill-in melody lines while the singer is performing. The pianist often improvises an instrumental solo in between vocal melodies.
Bass ( BAYSS) (also called bottom end) describes tones of low (also called "deep") frequency, pitch and range from 16 to 256 Hz (C0 to middle C4) and bass instruments that produce tones in the low-pitched range C2-C4. They belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, and for stringed instruments, a large hollow body, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.
Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bassline played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a drummer, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that created a "hypnotic" and "danceable feel". Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.
The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.
A musical ensemble, also known as a music group or musical group, is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music, with the ensemble typically known by a distinct name. Some music ensembles consist solely of instruments, such as the jazz quartet or the orchestra. Some music ensembles consist solely of singers, such as choirs and doo wop groups. In both popular music and classical music, there are ensembles in which both instrumentalists and singers perform, such as the rock band or the Baroque chamber group for basso continuo and one or more singers. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles. Some ensembles blend the sounds of a variety of instrument families, such as the orchestra, which uses a string section, brass instruments, woodwinds and percussion instruments, or the concert band, which uses brass, woodwinds and percussion.
In music performances, rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with other instruments from the rhythm section ; and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords from a song's chord progression, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming or fingerpicking rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.
A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit, leaving out the second rhythm guitar or keyboard instrument that are used in other rock music bands that are quartets and quintets. Larger rock bands use one or more additional rhythm section to fill out the sound with chords and harmony parts.
A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard. In unaccompanied solo performance, basslines may simply be played in the lower register of any instrument such as guitar or piano while melody and/or further accompaniment is provided in the middle or upper register. In solo music for piano and pipe organ, these instruments have an excellent lower register that can be used to play a deep bassline. On organs, the bass line is typically played using the pedal keyboard and massive 16' and 32' bass pipes.
Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.
In jazz, comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.
A guitar solo is a melodic passage, instrumental section, or entire piece of music written for a classical guitar, electric guitar or an acoustic guitar. In 20th and 21st century traditional music and popular music such as blues, swing, jazz, jazz fusion, rock and metal, guitar solos often contain virtuoso techniques and varying degrees of improvisation. Guitar solos on classical guitar, which are typically written in musical notation, are also used in classical music forms such as chamber music and concertos.
Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.
The Headhunters were an American jazz-fusion band formed by Herbie Hancock in 1973. The group fused jazz, funk, and rock music.
A music store or musical instrument store is a retail business that sells musical instruments and related equipment and accessories. Some music stores provide additional services for a fee, such as music lessons, instrument or equipment rental, or repair services.
An organ trio is a form of jazz ensemble consisting of three musicians; a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and either a jazz guitarist or a saxophone player. In some cases the saxophonist will join a trio which consists of an organist, guitarist, and drummer, making it a quartet. Organ trios were a popular type of jazz ensemble for club and bar settings in the 1950s and 1960s, performing a blues-based style of jazz that incorporated elements of R&B. The organ trio format was characterized by long improvised solos and an exploration of different musical "moods".
Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.
Jazz guitarists are guitarists who play jazz using an approach to chords, melodies, and improvised solo lines which is called jazz guitar playing. The guitar has fulfilled the roles of accompanist and soloist in small and large ensembles and also as an unaccompanied solo instrument.
This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.
Heavy metal bass is the use of the bass guitar in the rock music genres of heavy metal and hard rock. The bassist is part of the rhythm section in a heavy metal band, along with the drummer, rhythm guitarist and, in some bands, a keyboard player. The prominent role of the bass is key to the metal sound, and the interplay of bass and distorted electric guitar is a central element of metal. The bass guitar provides the low-end sound crucial to making the music "heavy". The bass plays a "... more important role in heavy metal than in any other genre of rock."
A rock band or pop band is a small musical ensemble that performs rock music, pop music, or a related genre. A four-piece band is the most common configuration in rock and pop music. In the early years, the configuration was typically two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. Another common formation is a vocalist who does not play an instrument, electric guitarist, bass guitarist, and a drummer. Instrumentally, these bands can be considered as trios. Sometimes, in addition to electric guitars, electric bass, and drums, also a keyboardist plays.
Offstage musicians and singers are performers who play instruments and/or sing backstage, out of sight of the audience, during a live popular music concert at which the main band is visible playing and singing onstage. The sound from the offstage musicians or singers is captured by a microphone or from the output of their instrument, and this signal is mixed in with the singing and playing of the onstage performers using an audio console and a sound reinforcement system. Offstage backup singers are also used in some Broadway musicals, as have offstage instrumentalists, in cases where an onstage actor needs to appear to play an instrument.