Spotlight on the RnB song genre

The aim of our spotlights on different song genres is to make it easy for Music teachers to bring to life the different contemporary music styles.  In addition, for English teachers to have the knowledge and a great instrumental track for pupils to write song lyrics in a style of music they choose.

RnB are the initials for Rhythm and Blues, a genre of music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s. That was the time where musicians transformed jazz based music by using new popular instrument like electric guitar and bass and more heavy consistent drum beats.

Some artists who made this genre well known were Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Little Richard.  Nowadays, RNB music has evolved a lot, using electronic sounds and production technics like in modern pop music. But the essence is still the same as at its beginning, some Jazz, some Blues and a lot of Soul.

We’ve looked at some of the key features of instrumentation, rhythm & beat and chords & harmonies in RnB songs.  Plus we’ve selected some RnB songs to have a listen to.  Pupils can use our demonstration instrumental track to write their lyrics & melodies over.

In contemporary RNB, it is very often to hear electric or acoustic guitars. Synths and keys are used to add more colours and its even possible to hear sometimes horns sections which comes from jazz and soul music. And of course all kind of drum beats with modern effects, reversed sounds and noises that add character to a track.

Rhythm and Beat
RNB evolved a lot through time and it is difficult to define one typical groove for this kind of music. The early “Rhythm and Blues” sounded very similar to Rock”n”roll. It had a fast tempo with the intention to make people dance. Nowadays RNB tends to be slower than typical dance Songs and they are sometimes even very slow. Most songs are in 4/4 which means that the rhythm goes 1, 2, 3, 4 but RNB is a genre that has a lot of songs using 6/8 rhythms like in the demo instrumental.

Chords and Harmonies
Pop and RnB music seems to be very similar nowadays because they are both very popular, very flexible, they use both acoustic and electronic sounds. But the roots of RNB are Jazz and Blues so you need to play jazzy chords to get the colours of a H.e.r or Jorja Smith´s song. By adding the 7th of each chords like Am7 instead of just Am, it will already get much closer to the authentic RNB sound.

Demonstration instrumental track
You can use our demonstration instrumental track below to have a go at putting your lyrics and melodies over a RnB style instrumental.  The Demo instrumental has a 6/8 feels which means that we count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.  The song structure of this instrumental track is:

Intro x4 (bars)
Verse x8
Prechorus x8
Chorus x8
2nd Verse x8
2nd Prechorus x8
Chorus x8
Chorus x8
Outro x8


Following songs are here to help you understand the groove of it, make you discover variations with different moods and also inspire you with melodic ideas.

One of the most well known RnB songs of the 2000s. Alicia Keys loves to use the acoustic piano everywhere and a lot of backing vocals to add more dynamics while the electronic drum beat is almost just a loop.

Typical 6/8 guitar based RnB song with many movements and variations in the vocal melodies.

Intimate song with simple hooks with the choruses that leaves a lot of space for the music to vibe.

This doesn’t have a 6/8 feel but it is a great song with a lot of energy and passion although it is very slow and uses only electronic sounds.

This would probably be described more as a Pop song rather than a RnB one but it is also in 6/8 and Ariana Grande is anyway known to have sung anything from EDM, Pop, HipHop, Jazz and of also RnB.

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