With so many music genres and the ever expanding and evolving music scene, at times it is difficult to distinguish one style from the other. There have been numerous overlaps that now it is possible for one song to have several sub-genres. Yet despite this being the case, there are still some characteristics in funk music that differentiates it clearly from all the rest.
In a nutshell, funk music is described as having an intense groove by using strong funk bass guitar riffs and bass lines. But it is impossible to understand this without first identifying the instruments that are most often used in this genre of music. The most common are the bass guitar-which is considered paramount, electric-rhythm guitar, drums, and a brass section, usually made up of a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. Identifying these components is vital because each play a very important role in the overall sound of the music.
As mentioned earlier, the bass is a prominent fixture in funk. Before this genre stepped into the limelight as a frontrunner in popular music, the bass guitar was not heavily incorporated by other styles. But it is what provides funk the melodic baseline that is often the centerpiece of the song. It also gives funk music the beat that is crucial to its dance-ability.
Aside from this, the slap bass method of playing the guitar has become fundamental in the definition of funk music. This technique is performed by using the bone of the thumb joint to strike the lower strings near the guitar’s neck and allowing the vibrating string to come into contact with the metal frets. This provides a prominent buzzing tone with a sharp attach and more high-frequency vibration.
The electric guitar is another key instrument in performing funk music, although it does not share the same prominence as the funk bass. Its main purpose is to be rhythmic, repeating the same simple chord or chord sequence for most of the song, without variation. This kind of playing is reminiscent of a percussive style where riffs are used to strengthen the drum elements.
Because the guitar takes the rhythmic role, it is the brass section–mainly the three horns mentioned above, that provide the lead work. Although uncommon, the horns are also used for solos in songs more than any other instrument.
There would be no funk music without the drums. While this instrument is naturally a part of any band’s rhythm section, its importance in funk is exceptional. The key to the steady groove of the music genre is the ability to cohere to the repetition of the drum playing.
But these instruments playing on their own cannot capture that groovy and rhythm-oriented funk sound. Even more important than each individual instrument is funk music’s principle of a strong and steady rhythm line that each player adheres to. That is the true characteristic of funk–having the funk bass, drums, electric guitar and horns make music as a team. Funk music has no soloists, instead it has the sound of an ensemble.