Singer performing at R&B music concert. Singer performing at R&B music concert.

What is R&B Music?

There are a plethora of genres of music present in today’s world and sometimes it feels like putting up with all those is a little tedious. There is jazz and pop, hip-hop, rap, and blues to name a few.

Each originates from a different setting and moves ahead in a different way.

Let’s see how R&B music came into play and what is the scene of this music genre in the industry at present.

1. What is R&B Music?

R&B music also known as Rhythm and Blues music basically goes back to the early 40s and has been around since then and was developed by African Americans.

R&B music is highly inspired by gospel, blues, folk, and even rock and roll, but has been reinventing itself perpetually.

So no matter what the origin has been, there has been a lot of divergence from all inspirations.

What is R&B Music
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In that sense, contemporary R&B music is not really run by synthesizers or drums or strong bass but that is not really the scene as of today.

2. A Short History of R&B Music

Starting in the early 1940s, R&B music set its base in the cities of Chicago, New York, and LA as these cities had a large number of African-American immigrants.

Initially, it started as church music and the early artists picked up songs and melodies from the South as well, then incorporated them into newer songs in the Northern cities, which usually had string hints of piano, guitars, and double bass.

Initial days saw the mix-up in the categories of rock and R&B music, some artists couldn’t really be placed in just one of the two blocks.

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But eventually, after the 1950s, you could see segregation happen very widely which was because of the racial differences.

So much so that all white music artists were considered to be pop artists or into blues and known as rock and roll artists, and all the blacks were thought to be playing R&B music.

Slowly in the 1960s, R&B music started catching up with soul music, which was a comparatively new genre of the generation and this was the time when rock and roll music was being kinked with experimentation, psychedelics, and heavy sounds.

What is R&B Music
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Moving ahead to the 1970’s we see more influence of African music and lyrics in R&B music.

This phase also saw more inclusion of newer instruments and this is also when disco and funk came into play.

3. Characteristics of R&B Music

Although it is a highly inspired form of music, having a very clear characteristic is a little different.

There is a possibility to find undertones of a lot of other genres, but essentially we can say that the name also clarifies rhythm and blues, it is the content of R&B Music.

Implying that there is soulful singing which has the background of strong backbeats.

What is R&B Music
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If we go into the music-making terminology we can see that R&B Music has a different rhythm section and a horn section.

It is usually a simple set but can have a lot of varied elements. The base instruments have shifted over time but the way of singing has remained constant, always soulful.

If we look at the lyrics, then we know that this genre was started by African Americans who came in during the Great Migration, so initially the songs were about the struggles and life along with all the difficulties.

Eventually, it changed course over time. Now you can see R&B Music which is about different themes and even love songs.

What is R&B Music
Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels

The idea of R&B Music is not to get attention on any one aspect of the song, but rather bring in a whole experience such that you can feel the music, like emotionally connect to the lyrics.

To emphasize this effect, they make use of repetition to create a sense of hook in the songs.

4. Distinction Between Classic R&B and Contemporary R&B

4.1. Classic R&B

Classic R&B music comprises 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s music essentially, with the following characteristics.

There is a strong overlap with rock music, initially even the artists were categorized as rock and roll musicians.

The dominant instrument has been guitars, but it is not much of a surprise since it has a very close relation to rock music.

What is R&B Music
Image by Sabine Mondestin from Pixabay

There is a strong influence of drums and piano also. Although vocalists did play in the background even saxophones were used sometimes.

There is a lot of inspiration from church music and blues and even gospel traditions in R&B music.

4.2. Contemporary R&B

Although it does take inspiration from the original R&B, it is still pretty different and unique in’s own way.

Unlike the guitar-based instrumentation as seen in the classic R&B, we can see a strong influence of the keyboard. The migration is towards synthesizers, drum machines pianos, and electronic keyboards.

What is R&B Music
Photo by Duncan Shaffer on Unsplash

With the movement ahead, the distinction between hip hop and R&B is a little less clear, because the inspiration and incorporation are very much the same and there is the culmination of different elements like rapping as well in some albums.

The vocals are very smooth which again is the very essence of R&B music that involves soulful singing, and vocal artists have become like a very important part of the R&B.

5. Final Thoughts

We have seen the history of R&B music and now we understand very well how it started and what was the movement from the instruments to lyrics and even the entire song composition.

But the fact that it is an inspired form of music remains constant, and that somehow blurs the distinction at times, because there is not so concrete definition of what falls into R&B only.

What we can count on is the nature of singing and the undertones of instrument music.

Last Updated on December 13, 2023 by suchi


Anushree Khandelwal

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