Rhythm Section - Components - R&B, Rock and Pop

R&B, Rock and Pop

R&B and Rock and Roll groups in the 1950s emphasized rhythm, their bands generally consisting only of the standard swing band rhythm section of guitar, piano, bass, drums supporting a vocalist, and in some cases abandoning the keyboards altogether. The bass guitar took over from the double bass in the 1960s, and as the music progressed into the 1960s, the term "rhythm section" as used in a pop music context often 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 guitar and various keyboards (piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, clavinet) continued to augment the bass and drums, soul, funk, and reggae groups of the 1960s through 1970s. 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.

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. As electronic effects became more sophisticated 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 delay and reverb-drenched electric guitar arpeggios to create a shimmering, sustained "pad" for the group.

During this 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, and various synthesizer keyboards. In some 1980s and 1990s bands, live human rhythm sections were replaced by sequenced MIDI synthesizer rhythm tracks which were 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, and pedal steel guitar. Another 1980s-era trend which helped to revive an interest in acoustic instruments was the "MTV unplugged" style of performances, in which a rock band would perform with acoustic instruments, including acoustic guitars and an acoustic bass guitar.

In rock and pop, rhythm sections ranged 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, synth), two instruments playing a bass role (e.g., bass guitar and synth bass) and a group of percussionists (congas, shakers, etc.) to fill out the sound.

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