What is house music? Four-to-the-floor beats, infectious grooves, a soulful vocal here and there. It’s a genre that has been around for years and still going strong. One of the reasons for this is that it seems to fit the character of the people who love it most. It’s upbeat, not too heavy or sentimental. You know what we’re talking about; it’s house music.
This article helps you find out exactly what house music is, where it came from, and how you can get more. We are glad to provide all the information in this comprehensive rundown of house music.
What is house music?
House music is a form of electronic dance music. It originated in Chicago in the 1980s. It quickly spread to other American cities, such as New York City and Detroit, and international music hubs such as London and Paris.
It descends directly from disco music and rose to prominence in the late ’70s/early ’80s after the end of the disco era. House music and many subgenres have a steady beat (typically a 4/4 time signature), played at 120 beats per hour (bpm).
It has influenced many other sub-genres in electronic dance music over the forty years it has been around. EDM is the origin of almost all (sub-)genres. This genre was the first to create electronic music.
What does house music sound like?
A house music beat can range from 118 to 130 bpm (beats/minute). It is driven by a prominent drum beat, similar to disco. In particular the early days of the genre, this drumbeat draws heavily on iconic drum machines like the Roland TR-808 or Roland TR-909.
Open hi-hats are often used on house beats (between the kick drums), and there may be claps and snares every second or fourth beat. Add to that a deep bassline, a synthesizer-generated riff, and the occasional soulful or funk-inspired vocal, and you’ve got yourself an outstanding house record.
It is worth noting that house music producers rely more on samples and sampled instruments than bringing in other musicians to record. This is because samplers became more affordable in the late ’80s when house music gained popularity.
A Short History of House Music
House music genre was born in Chicago in the 1980s and has since become a worldwide phenomenon.
House music originated from the sounds of funk, soul, and disco. It was pioneered by a group of Black American DJs, who were familiar with hip hop and disco subcultures and who adopted synthesizer technology from companies like Roland and Korg.
Early days and pioneers
Chicagoans Frankie Knuckles and Jesse Saunders were some of the most influential producers and DJs in early house music. Silk (aka Jack Master Silk), Chip E. Farley “Jackmaster Funk,” Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers). Other house music pioneers like Larry Levan, a New Yorker, was also prominent in the early days of house music.
Chicago music historians often trace the Chicago house music genre back to the Warehouse nightclub in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Frankie Knuckles, sometimes called the “godfather” of house music, created continuous dance grooves at The Warehouse by creating records with a steady four-on-the-floor beat and tempos that range from 120 to 130 bpm.
The Roland TR-808 or TR-909 drum machines are often used in house music. This is because these machines allow DJs to create tracks at their own homes, without having to rent a studio.
The emergence of acid house
This subgenre was one of the first to emerge from house music. It featured heavy use of the Roland TB303 Bass Line synthesizer. This subgenre was named after the song “Acid Tracks” by Phuture, a Chicago collective that included Herbert “Herb J,” Nathan “DJ Pierre,” Jones, and Earl “Spanky” Smith Jr.
House music’s global impact
House music quickly became the soundtrack of raves in London and Sheffield. It inspired Detroit techno music, a closely related genre. Juan Atkins, the Belleville Three collective, combined the Chicago house with an electropop from German bands like Kraftwerk to create the Belleville Three.
In New York, there was a prominent house scene at Paradise Garage, Manhattan’s SoHo district. This particular form of house music, led by DJ Larry Levan, became the defining feature of the region’s gay culture. It was trendy among Latin American and Black men.
House music today
House music is a constant presence at raves and on dance playlists. It has also reached the Top 40 at different points. Platinum records have been released by French house bands like St. Germain and Daft Punk, which feature their house version. It is also used in pop and hip-hop.
4 Characteristics of House Music
Although house music can be divided into many subgenres, some common characteristics provide a guideline.
Steady, propulsive beats
House music is known for its steady, propulsive beats. House music has a funky edge thanks to its offbeat hi-hat patterns, handclaps, and other rhythmic elements.
Most house music is between 120-130 beats per minute. This makes it easy to dance.
Emphasis on early synthesizers
The 1980s synthesizers are the most important: House musicians often use synthesizers from the 1980s like the Roland TR-808, Roland TR-909, and Korg Poly-61. These instruments can be heard on Jesse Saunders’ seminal house track, “On and On.”
Disco and soul influences
House was born out of soul and disco, but it still uses the live instruments of these genres. It often embraces their soulful, funky style. This is especially true for early house music like the 1986 hit, “Can you feel it?” By Mr. Fingers.
The subgenres of house music
House music is the original electronic music genre. There have been many musical offshoots to it over the years. Below are some of the most well-known sub-genres of house music, some of them so beloved that they are now considered to be a legitimate genre.
In the mid-1980s, acid house (or acid) was first popularized in Chicago. It draws heavily on the Roland TB303 synthesizer’s deep basslines and squealing tones. It gained popularity after its initial success in the United States.
Then it began to gain ground in Europe and the United Kingdom. This allowed for a new kind of house music to be heard by a wider audience. Phuture’s Acid Tracks is often regarded as the first acid house album.
It is interesting to note that Acid House was a British cultural movement. The name was also used as a catch-all term for various genres played in clubs and illegal raves. These included hip hop, Chicago techno, Detroit techno, and Belgian new beat and dance tracks from Italy and Germany.
Acid house is a term that refers to music played in clubs during the 1980s rather than tracks recorded through the Roland TB-303. This was the moment when dance music began to explode in the United Kingdom. The ’90s saw acid house continue with tracks by Richie Hawtin, Hardfloor, and others.
As its name suggests, Afro-house blends traditional house music elements with African drums and lyrics/vocals steeped in African culture. Afro-house has a more tribal feel than traditional house music. Kwaito is a South African music style that originated in Johannesburg. It was trendy in the country in the ’90s.
Bass house, one of the youngest sub-genres on this list, is a mix of many genres. It’s a bit of a melting pot. While it is a lot more traditional house music, it often adds sound effects and fills from other genres such as dubstep’s wobble or “eccentric” fills. It’s house music with heavy bass and some cross-genre flavor.
Big Room House
A big room, or big room house, was originally a subgenre within an electro house. It rose to prominence through well-known acts like Martin Garrix and Swedish House Mafia in the early 2010s. Its high-energy sound, minimalist melodies, and electro-house-style drop are ideal for peak-time events.
This is why it quickly became one of the most popular sounds at many of the biggest dance music festivals around the globe.
In the paragraph on house music history, we already briefly mentioned Chicago house. Many consider the Chicago house to be the true heir of the house music throne. It is the first type of music that can be regarded as house music.
Jesse Saunders’ “On And On,” Marshall Jefferson’s “Rock Your Body,” and Frankie Knuckles’ rework of Jamie Principle’s Your Love are all examples of Chicago houses.
The two views on deep houses that exist in electronic dance music have been discussed before. Here’s the summary:
Deep house is a relative to Chicago House, but the house purists see it as a more soulful and slower style. However, many new-gen dance music lovers attach the deep house label with the radio-friendly, pop-magnetized sounds of house artists like Lost Frequencies or Felon.
This is not a battle between the two; we acknowledge they share a name. It doesn’t matter if people like deep house music.
Electro house was influenced mainly by techno house and electro. It emerged around the turn of this millennium (between the late ’90s to early 2000s). This is a precursor to bass house as it features heavy saw bass and pounding drums.
Tracks like Felix Da Housecat’s ‘Silver Screen Shower Scene’ (a 2001 track that spearheaded Electro House), Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction (2002), Fedde Grand’s Put Your Hands up For Detroit’ (2006), and recent productions like Dave Winnel’s ‘Smoke Machine’ (2019) all fit the electro house bill very well.
Hard house (also known as UK hard house) was born in London’s Trade club in the 1990s. It was a unique form of fast-paced house music that drew on the Eurodance driving beat and stripped out the moving parts of dance music.
Then, the hard-hitting beats were played at breakneck speed (around 140 bpm). Although it gained huge popularity in the UK house music, it didn’t gain much traction abroad. If you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping house music, it’s the right subgenre.
The future house was a term that Tchami, a French producer, coined when he named his SoundCloud uploads. It combines funky house music with primary stage arrangements from the golden age of the big-room house.
Although there is much debate over where the other sub-genres of house music end and where future house begins, we can safely link the term future to the minimalistic tracks of house artists like Oliver Heldens and Don Diablo.
House music that combines Latin American music with Latin American flavor. That sums it all, we think. Although it’s more of an artistic and cultural designation than a description or sound, we cannot deny Latin American music’s influence on this sub-genre of house music. It’s very similar to afro-house in this sense but from a slightly different culture and region.
If you take out the fancy labels and bells and whistles, piano-based house music is best known as keyboard-based music. This track, Rhythim Is Rhythim released in 1987 under Derrick May’s acclaimed pseudonym, “Strings Of Life,” is often one of the earliest Techno tracks.
Since then, the euphoric staccato piano riffs have permeated almost every age and genre of dance music. It’s been used to describe piano-driven, accessible house music such as Low Steppa’s ‘Wanna Show You,’ Kisch’s Bright Lights,’ and Dale Howard’s Real Love in recent years.
These and many other tracks can be found on our brand new Piano House playlist and our forthcoming Piano House album. Both of these albums can give you an idea of what a piano house is.
Progressive house is another name that can confuse, just like deep house. Progressive house, or advanced, is a mix of house music and trance music. According to some, its roots lie in the UK’s rave and club scene of the early 1990s. This was around the time that trance music began rising in prominence. Think John Digweed, Sasha, and others.
On the other hand, Progressive house is the music that most people mistakenly refer to as EDM. They refer to music similar to the big room house, features radio-friendly vocals, and are more melodically outspoken but cross effortlessly into the pop world.
This style of progressive house is represented by songs like Zedd’s “Clarity,” Afrojack’s “Take Over Control” and Avicii’s “Wake Up”, which all went on to dominate the mainstream, more pop-dominated charts.
You’d likely end up listening to tracks by artists like Hardwell or DubVision without the pop hook.
It’s not surprising that tech house is considered the “love child” of techno and house music. The minimal sound of tech-house draws heavily on both genres and slightly overlooks the original progressive house.
Many elements are shorter and stubbier than the traditional house sound and have a darker feel associated with techno music. It’s one of the most popular styles of house music today. Think artists such as Jamie Jones, Solardo, and Fisher.
The tribal house is similar to the deep house but has an ethnic edge that can also be heard as an afro or Latin house. It’s very percussion-heavy, with beats often made from indigenous drums from Africa and South America. There is rarely a melodic hook.
Other influences differ between artists in this music genre. Tribal house is the main term for house music with a complex percussive rhythm derived from world music.
How to make house music
There are a few core elements that you can use to create a house beat in Ableton or any other DAW. These tried-and-true methods will help you unlock many house music production secrets. You can create your own unique sound by experimenting with different interpretations of the music.
Your BPM should be set to somewhere in the 115-130 BPM range. The sweet spot for house music is usually around 125 BPM. However, it depends on the subgenre. Although other music genres have greater flexibility in terms of BPM, house music is more rigid.
Because of its four-on-the-floor nature, it is essential to keep the BPM within a narrow range. Now it’s time for you to build your house drum kit.
Roland TR-909 is the king of house music history. This will provide a great source of inspiration as you start to select your kick, hi-hats, and claps. Your hi-hat design is the first place you should start when building your beat. A closed and open hi-hat are the best choices.
A groove should have sixteenth note relationships. A division of one-sixteenth notes should separate your hi-hats. Next, open Ableton’s groove library and select a good swing groove to apply to your hi-hats. The pattern will not have the house feel you want if it doesn’t include a swing.
Next, add your kick drum. It will be just a four-on-the-floor pattern. Your beat will be built on your kick and hi-hat. All other percussions, including claps and snares, will support your beat. Drum-wise, however, you will hear the drumbeat first.
A powerful vocal sample is a great tip for house music production. A good gospel sample is usually a good choice.
Although you can pitch bend the vocal, most house music doesn’t have heavily processed vocals. You will need to spend a lot of time searching for the proper vocal sample. Then, you’ll only be using minimal effects such as delay and reverb.
You will need a rhythmic pattern to match your chords to make your house music. You can make a chord progression by using just a few minor seventh and major seventh chords. To jazz up their chord progressions, deep house producers use Add 9 variations. Your progression should be as simple as possible.
To preserve the power of all your sounds and get effects, set them to delay on a returning track. This will give your chords a more dynamic feel and spatial depth.
Many house songs have short staccato chord stabs. However, using extended chords can create an ambient, dramatic effect. It all depends on what subgenre of the house your track is in and how you want it to feel.
An excellent technique for producing house music is to mirror your bass with chord stabs. Your bass should be following the same rhythm as your chords and have a similar tightness.
Mirroring your chords or bass will allow you to change the groove at any time. Both work together, so you might want to let go of the chords and let the bass do the talking at specific points in the track.
Syncopation between your chords or bass line can create a unique rhythmic movement.
General tips for house music production
A sustained string track is a simple way to give your track more depth and color. You can use one note or more: a root, a fifth, or a third. It doesn’t matter what you prefer. You will get a more classic house sound by adding a sustained note.
To make your track more energetic, you can add a syncopated kick to your beat later to create new rhythmic variations. Make sure you use the same swing settings for your snare and hi-hats. The whole track should work together as one unit.
You can only use one oscillator for your bass and choose a square wave and roll your cutoff down. Turn up your resonance and add some envelope activity.
This will give you a powerful and stab-y bass. You will experience phase cancellation when more than one oscillator is used. This can cause the low-end to become lost.
Variation is the key to a good arrangement. Once you have a solid foundation of drums and chords, bass, vocals, and other samples, you can add more parts to flesh out your track by simply duplicating the main loop multiple times, dropping them out, and adding them back in a different order.
Good pacing is key, and you should not let one sound become too repetitive.
Since its inception, house music has evolved over the past several decades. Its prominent place in dance music is not likely to change anytime soon. This article covers all you need to know about the history of house music, meaning, characteristics, subgenres, as well as how to make house music. If you’re looking for more information on this topic, Fidlar hopes that this post helps clarify some things!