How to Play Rock ‘n Roll in 3 Simple Steps

Rock-‘n-roll… it’s not just a genre, it’s a lifestyle, it’s the sound of one of the most influential eras in music history and it’s… a parallel universe? Who knows? Venerable guestblogger, Teo from Chordify does know one thing for sure: how to play classic rock-’n-roll. And here, in three simple steps, he explains the basics. Hold on to something, because by the end of this humble blog, you’ll have your neighbours jiving in the street.

Step 1 – A Crash Course in Basic Blues

Summing up an entire genre in one simple chord progression just isn’t possible. However, every style of music usually has a foundation on which everything else has been built so that, as soon as you learn those basic principles, you can get pretty far – whether your weapon of choice is a guitar, a piano, or any other instrument.

The foundation, or basic principle of rock-’n-roll lies in the blues. In turn, the blues is based on a few fixed rules, or common chord progressions. If this next bit sounds too technical, don’t worry. Playing it is actually easier than you think. In the first place, it’s important to know the key of the blues song you’re playing, so for the sake of argument, let’s say we’re playing a number in C. Now, it’s just a question of stepping, or counting from the root note: C. So, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Each step, or note, is given a number, giving you I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII. Sounds logical so far, right? The theory behind it is actually a little bit more complex, but this simple fixed rule will make things easier when you get to the practical bit.

What to know more about music theory? Have a look at this introduction to scales.

Twelve Times Four

Ok, now you really need to pay attention. The blues is almost always made up of twelve bars, which is more commonly known as the ‘twelve bar blues’. One of the most-used chord structures in the twelve bar blues is as follows:

  • For the first four bars: I | I | I | I (or: I | I | IV | I )
  • For the next four bars: IV | IV | I | I
  • And, for the third set of four bars: V | IV | I | V .

Now, we can swap out the numbers for chords and build ourselves a standard blues structure. Earlier, we talked about playing a song in C, so let’s try that out with the structure above. So the first four bars become: C | C | C | C (or C | C | G | C). Following on from that, the second line becomes: F | F | C | C and the final line becomes: G | F | C | G. You can do exactly the same thing for a song in the key of E. The only difference being that, you’ll be using an E, A and B chord instead of a C, F and G chord.

Want to know more about chords?

How to Play Rock ‘n Roll in 3 Simple Steps

Step 2 – Uptempo

Pretty straightforward so far? Maybe, maybe not, but how does any of this relate to rock-’n-roll? Now we come to the easiest part of the deal: the tempo. The blues came about when African slaves would sing together in a fixed rhythm to make the horrors of forced labour at least a tiny bit more bearable, and the eighth note rhythm they would sing in is heard back in the recorded songs that followed. ‘Eighth note’? What does that mean? Ok, grab your guitar and start counting to four while hitting a chord on every first count. Here, the accent is on the first count, so you’re playing a ‘whole’ note. When you hit the chord on every count, you’re playing crotchets, or quarter notes. But what happens when you start counting like this… 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and. When you hit your chord on both the ‘one’ and the ‘and’, then you’re playing the eighth notes – also known as quavers. Try it out and see if you can play it smoothly. Once you’ve got it down, speed up the tempo because, what do you get when you speed up the blues? Rock-‘n-roll! Really! In some songs, you’ll notice that the eighth notes kind of skip or ‘swing’ while in others they are normal or ‘straight’.

How to Play Rock ‘n Roll in 3 Simple Steps

Step 3 – Time to Practise

While it’s nice to take a quick dip into the theory side of things, luckily, you can also just pick up your guitar or sit at your piano and just play. To help, Chordify have put together a special list to celebrate Rocktober and packed it with a mass of tracks so you can start nailing some rock-’n-roll classics, including Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by Jerry Lee Lewis. Find it all on the Rocktober channel and get jamming!

See also…

» Top 10 most played along songs
» Learning to Play Guitar: Sheet Music, Chords, or Tab?
» Learning To Play Guitar Chords For Beginners
» How to play basic piano chords
» Ukulele for guitarists: the 4 most-important chords
» Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols
» When Do I Need to Change My Guitar Strings?
» What’s the Best Jazz Guitar?
» Learning to Play Metal: Tips for Beginner Guitarists
» How To Change Electric Guitar Strings
» How to Change the Strings of Your Acoustic Guitar

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Guest Blogger Teo Lazarov (Chordify)
Teo Lazarov is a journalist, entrepreneur and musician. He writes for the Chordify blog and founded the online magazine DATmag. If he isn’t writing or interviewing, he plays bass in his band called Baa$. The result of a mad experiment in which the DNA of Pantera and Ice-T is crossed with that of Bruce Lee and The Predator.
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