A brief history of musical ensembles

When you think of a “band”, you might think of Nirvana, Aerosmith, The Foo Fighters – but people have been playing music together for nearly as long as music has existed! Over time, the purpose and function of musical ensembles has shifted based on social movements and structures, technology, and other factors. 

Here’s a brief history of musical ensembles: 

Ancient Times (before 4th century CE) 

 [[File:Ancient Egyptians playing music.png|Ancient_Egyptians_playing_music]]

Ancient music was recorded in Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Persian, Mesopotamian, and Middle Eastern societies. African music was first recorded by Egyptian musicians in the 3rd millennium BC. The Egyptians used a wide variety of musical instruments, including harps, flutes, drums, and cymbals. Music in ancient Greece and Rome often involved ensembles for religious ceremonies, entertainment, and theatrical performances. Instruments included lyres, aulos (a type of reed instrument), and various percussion instruments.


Medieval Period  (500 to 1400 CE) 

Much of the recorded music we have from the medieval period is religious music – since religion was one of the most pervasive forces in people’s lives during that period, and most of the record-keeping was done by members of the clergy. 


Members of medieval church choirs performed plainchant or plainsongs – chants that were annotated with simple sheet music in books that were up to three feet tall.

Secular music also existed during this time period. Troubadours and minstrels formed small ensembles to play in royal courts or in cities. They often played instruments like the lute, vielle (a precursor to the violin), and various wind and percussion instruments.


Renaissance (1400 to 1600 CE) 

The Concert/Gerard van Honthorst

The Renaissance period saw a flourishing of new musical styles and genres, as new instruments were invented and new ideas about harmony, rhythm, and notation were born. Chamber music, developed for small groups of two to eight people, originated in the 15th century. They often played music with accompanying dances. Bands as we know them originated in 15th century Germany and were made up mostly oboes and bassoons. These German musicians joined other groups in France and England before spreading to America.

By H.G. Hine (1811-1895) – Illustrated London News [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18249538

“Waits” were a staple of British towns and cities from the medieval period to the end of the 18th century. They were watchmen who patrolled throughout the night, using instruments to mark the hours. They also woke people up during the dark winter months by playing under their windows and welcomed guests at the city gates. The term “band” was first used in England to refer to King Charles II’s “king’s band” of 24 violins. He reigned from 1660 to 1685.

Charles II/Public domain


1700s to 1800s

Storming of the Bastille/Anonymous. Public domain.

The 1700s and 1800s were marked by upheaval, including the Industrial Revolution, the American and French revolutions, the Haitian Revolution and the Irish Rebellion, and the Age of Enlightenment. Musical groups often served a practical purpose during this period. 

“The Turkish Janissary band provided entertainment at the Abide commemoration” by Priceypoos is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

During the Industrial Revolution Near the end of the 18th century, a style of band music called Turkish, or Janissary music became popular. It was inspired by the Turkish occupation of Eastern Europe. Medieval Turks  have been credited with developing the first truly military bands.  Turkish band music was characterized by shrill flutes and large drums, jangling triangles, cymbals, and Turkish crescents.

During the French Revolution, large wind bands of as many of 2,000 musicians played at the revolution’s large open air festivals. Each regiment in the British Army maintained its own military band. Drummers summoned men from their farms and ranches to muster for duty. Musical instruments were the only means of commanding the men to advance, stand or retire. In England at the end of the 18th century, brass (or “silver”) bands began to replace the waits. Throughout the 1800s, groups were formed to represent towns, factories, social clubs, and religious organizations such as the Salvation Army.

Pori Workers’ Society Brass Band/Public domain

In the United States, town bands performed at parades, concerts, balls, and other social events. They often played marches or polkas. Many were original compositions of the band leaders or members and were never published. Bands brought music to the public who might not have had access to orchestras. John Phillip Sousa helped bands present “serious music” by hiring top-notch musicians and writing original works for bands that included suites.

“John Philip Sousa, ca. 1880-1892” by Archives Branch, USMC History Division is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


20th century 

During the Jazz Age of the 1920s, bands and band music underwent more changes. Jazz developed in the Black communities of New Orleans, Louisiana during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Its roots were blues and ragtime music. Bands like Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band played in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. The advent of music recording and radio broadcasting in 1919 made it possible for more people to hear music of all kinds, including jazz. The 1930s belonged to popular swing big bands, with band leaders like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway. 

“Duke Ellington Big Band” by Hans Bernhard (Schnobby) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the 1930s and 1940s, country music became popular thanks to the romanticization of cowboy culture in films. 



Chuck Berry

The 1950s saw the birth of Rock and Roll Music as electric guitars, designed to be heard over other band instruments, became popular. Chuck Berry, , Little Richard, and Buddy Holly helped pioneer the genre that broke away from the more conservative music of the past. 



Public Domain: Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at 1963 March on Washington by USIA (NARA)

The 1960s saw more musical revolution. Folk music, which used more traditional acoustic instruments, became a major movement with socially-conscious lyrics. 

The Supremes/Public Domain

Detroit-based label Motown put out pop-influenced soul music including The Four Tops and The Supremes. 

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport.

British Invasion: Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arrived in America in the 1960s, shaping how pop music sounded. 



“1977 Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page – Robert Plant #1 70s Rock Concert” by Whiskeygonebad is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Rock groups like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Queen were popular.

“Kool & the Gang – Leverkusener Jazztage 2017-1963 (cropped)” by Foto: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

 The 1970s also saw the emergence of disco music with groups like The Bee Gees, KC & The Sunshine Band, and Kool and the Gang. 

Jackson 5/Public domain

Pop bands like The Carpenters, the Jackson 5, and Hall & Oates were also popular. 

“Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five” by Kevin Andre Elliott is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Hip hop/rap music originated in African American communities in New York City in the 1970s (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang). 



Digital recording gained in popularity in the 1980s, and synthesizers started to be used to create synth-pop and electronic music. 

Another huge change for music was the advent of MTV. MTV played music videos 24/7. Suddenly, bands rose to fame quicker and became famous for their fashion and personas as well as their music.

Metallica in a press photo dated to 1983/Public domain

Hard rock bands like Guns ‘n Roses, Def Leppard, and Metallica were popular. 

Jeff Pinilla, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Hip hop/rap music became more mainstream and part of popular culture in the mid to late 1980s, like Run DMC, Public Enemy, and Salt + Pepa. 

Billy Idol. From the 1984 yearbook from the Rochester Institute of Technology, titled Techmila. Public domain.

“New wave” artists emerged – creating a new sound using different sounds and textures, thanks to electronic synthesizers and beats. Examples are Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Billy Idol. 



The 1990s saw the emergence of grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. Grunge is a style of alternative rock characterized by distorted guitar and angst-filled lyrics. 

Alice in Chains, 1988 promo photo. Public domain.

The Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s led to a wave of woman-led punk bands like Bikini Kill, Calamity Jane, and Babes in Toyland who sang about topics like sexism and female rage. 

Bikini Kill in 1991/jonathan charles, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The “Golden Age of Hip Hop” was happening from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. It was considered to be golden because of the huge innovations happening within the genre. Significant groups of the 1990s included A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, and Wu-Tang Clan. 

A Tribe Called Quest/WRBB 104.9 FM, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Teen pop had a huge resurgence in the 1990s with groups like The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC. 

Spice Girls/cw from USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons



The early 2000s saw a new interest in pop rock and pop-punk, with bands like Blink-182, Newfound Glory, and Sum 41 rising to popularity. 

Blink 182/Sony Music Entertainment Sweden, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

A new form of metal called “nu metal” incorporated electronic sounds and sometimes rap. Examples are Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Slipknot. 

Korn/Sébastien Paquet, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The subgenre of Southern hip-hop reached the peak of its popularity in the mid-2000s with groups like The East Side Boyz (led by Lil Jon) that started the dance craze movement in hop-hop. 

Lil Jon/Gamerscore Blog from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Emo music, defined by confessional lyrics and raw instrumentation, became popular in the 2000s with bands like Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance, and Taking Back Sunday. 

My Chemical Romance/Jimack32, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Indie rock bands like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and Arcade Fire put indie rock on the map in the 2000s. 

Death Cab for Cutie/deep ghosh, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons



The 2010s saw a huge wave in popularity for electronic music and EDM (electronic dance music), although electronic music got its start in the 1970s/1980s. Groups like Disclosure, Swedish House Mafia, and Daft Punk helped to popularize the genre. 

Daft Punk/Minyoung Choi, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Folk rock saw a resurgence in popularity with bands like The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons coming onto the scene, using traditional instruments like mandolins and banjos. 

Mumford and Sons/Roostertopgun, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

K-pop made a splash into Western markets with groups like BTS, Blackpink, and Twice hitting the U.S. airwaves. 

BTS/Divine Treasure, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Songs to learn on guitar for your next summer party

Do you have summer get-togethers coming up? Learn these summery songs on guitar and you’re guaranteed to get everyone singing! 

School’s Out

Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit about school being out for the summer is a no-brainer for summer parties (bonus points if your friends are teachers!) 

Watermelon Sugar

This 2019 jam from Harry Styles is bound to make a sweet impression at summer parties for years to come. 

Summer of 69

Summer of ‘69 consists of an easy chord progression, making it a great choice for beginner or intermediate players.

Island in the Sun

Want to transport your guests to an “Island in the Sun”? Break out this 2001 Weezer classic, with its instantly recognisable chorus.

Proud Mary

Whether your guests prefer the original 1969 version of this song or the faster Tina Turner version, they’ll love singing along to the catchy chorus.


Hotel California

“Hotel California” brings to mind beaches in Malibu, summertime heat, and long drives – perfect for a party on a warm night! 

How to make sure your gig is a success 

So you have a gig booked – what can you do to make sure it’s a success? Here are some tried-and-true tips to make sure that your show goes smoothly. 


Always the most important rule – practice your set until you feel completely comfortable with it. The more “second nature” your songs feel, the better you’ll be able to perform them on stage. Extra practice also helps safeguard against the distractions a live performer can face. If you’re playing cover songs, guitarists Tom Harrison and Sean Bishop of the UK-based band Tigress recommend playing along with the song to really lock in your rhythm. 


Promote it 

You definitely want people to show up to your gig. At least a few weeks before the show, start promoting it on social media, with flyers, or by word of mouth. 


Scope out the venue

If you’ve never been to the venue you’ll be playing at, it’s a good idea to stop by on another night to meet the staff and sound people, look at the stage setup, and see what the sound situation is like. That way, you can be sure to know what types of pedals, amps, and other gear you’ll need. 


Check your gear ahead of time 

Do your strings need to be changed? Is your amp in good working order? Making sure all of your gear is functioning ahead of time will prevent any headaches at gigtime. It’s a good idea to put all of the pedals, chords, and other accessories you need together ahead of time so that you’re not scrambling to find an XLR cable 20 minutes before show time. 



If you’re playing with other bands, reach out to them ahead of the gig to talk about set length, gear sharing, and anything else you might need to communicate. If the gig is set up by a promoter or venue staff, stay in communication with them about load-in time and set length, as well as what type of sound equipment (if any) you’ll need to provide. 


Print your setlists 

Make sure you and your bandmates are on the same page with what songs you’ll be playing by printing out the setlists ahead of time. That way, you can spend more stage time playing music and less time trying to figure out which song is next. 


Expect the unexpected

Stuff happens during live shows – so be prepared for anything! Bring backup strings, extra picks (or drumsticks, etc), give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue, and most importantly, have fun with it! Check out singer/songwriter XIMXIA’s tips for beating stage fright. 

Little-known facts about AC/DC

Australian rock band AC/DC is one of rock’s most successful groups of all time. Their 1980 album Back in Black is the second-highest selling album of all time (after Michael Jackson’s Thriller). 

“AC/DC” by New York + Philly Live! is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


Here are some electrifying facts about AC/DC you might not know: 

They got their name from a sewing machine

Brothers and band founders Malcolm and Angus Young got the name “AC/DC” when their sister Margaret pointed out the symbol on the adapter of her sewing machine. AC/DC is an acronym for “Alternating Current/Direct Current,” which means a device can use both types of power.


The band name is pronounced “Acca Dacca” in Australia 

While most of the world pronounces AC/DC as “A-C-D-C”, in their native Australia, they go by “Acca Dacca”. 


Angus Young dressed up as Zorro, a gorilla, and more. 

“Angus Young, Barcelona Spain, 2009” by Edvill is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

While trying to find a gimmick costume before settling on his iconic schoolboy look, guitarist Angus Young tried on a lot of different alter-egos – including a superhero called Super-Ang. 


A couple sued the band over “Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap” 

“Dirty Deeds” almost ended up not being dirt cheap for AC/DC. The song’s lyrics “36 24 26 hey” were interpreted by some fans as being a phone number (with the “hey” being an “8”), resulting in a seven digit phone number which a lot of people called. The phone number’s owners, a couple from Libertyville, Illinois, said that they were getting hundreds of calls a day, and sued the band and record label for $250,000 in damages (also demanding that they re-record the part in the song with the numbers). However, the judge in the case found that accidentally using someone’s phone number is protected under the First Amendment. 


Apparently, sharks love AC/DC 

According to Australian Geographic, an Australian tour operator has reported that playing hits like “Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black” underwater draws sharks toward the boat. He said that he tried several bands to no effect, but when the great whites heard the AC/DC songs, they swam up and rubbed their faces against the source of the music.  


Rockstar dads and their musical kids

Does talent come from genetics? The jury is out on whether musical ability is nature vs. nurture – however, lots of famous musicians do have children who are also successful musicians! Here are some famous musicians whose kids are also finding success in their musical careers. 


Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen

“Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2” by Carl Lender is licensed under CC BY 2.0.




Wolfgang Van Halen, the son of legendary Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen and actor Valerie Bertinelli, performed in Van Halen (playing bass) alongside his dad until Eddie’s death in 2020. He has played in heavy metal band Tremonti, and also put out two albums under his solo project, Mammoth WVH.

John and Jason Bonham

“John Bonham – Led Zeppelin – photo: Dina Regine” by Dina Regine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Jason Bonham 2009” by Toglenn is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, is a drummer himself, and has played on several occasions with the band’s surviving members. He led the group Bonham in the 1980s and 1990s, and is a member of supergroups Black Country Communion and Sammy Hagar and the Circle.









John, Julian and Sean Lennon

“Julian Lennon” by Greg2600 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Sean Lennon” by Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.













Julian and Sean Lennon are two of late Beatle John Lennon. Julian, who inspired Beatles songs like “Hey, Jude”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Good Night”, has put out seven solo albums as well as fine art collections of photography and children’s books. 

Sean Lennon has put out two solo albums and played with bands including Cibo Matto, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, The Claypool Lennon Delirium and his parents’ group Plastic Ono Band. 


Glenn and Deacon Frey

“The Eagles in concert – 2010 Australia – Glenn Frey” by jeaneeem is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When The Eagles’ Glenn Frey died in 2016, his son Deacon stepped in for guitar and vocals on his dad’s songs at only 24.

Lenny and Zoe Kravitz

“Actress Zoe Kravitz (L) and musician Lenny Kravitz with the LG Electronics Kompressor Vacuum on The 25th Spirit Awards Blue Carpet held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on March 5, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.” by LGEPR is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Lenny Kravitz’ daughter Zoe is an actress and model, as well as a musician. She’s the front person for R&B and electropop duo LOLAWOLF, which has put out three albums .

Bob and Jakob Dylan

“Bob Dylan (Bring it All Back Home Sessions)” by ky_olsen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

“Jakob Dylan Minnesota” by SydKat is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.





Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, the youngest of five, is a singer/songwriter who rose to fame in his band The Wallflowers. He also has a solo career of his own.




Some of the most iconic album covers of all time – and their stories

A truly iconic album cover can define an album and its place in musical history. Some album covers become so recognizable over time, they can define an entire genre – or generation. 

Here are some of the most iconic album covers of all time, and the stories behind them. 

The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

“the velvet underground & nico 1967” by oddsock is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Andy Warhol designed the banana graphic that adorns The Velvet Underground and Nico’s debut album. The band had been featured on Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia event tour, and recorded the album while on the road. The original album art included a sticker version of the banana that could be peeled back to reveal the fruit underneath, although that version required a special machine for printing.


The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)

“Abbey Road- The Beatles” by beatles maniac11 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The album cover for The Beatles’ eleventh album has inspired many parodies and recreations. It was taken outside of EMI studios on Abbey Road in northwest London. The photographer of the shoot only had ten minutes to get the shot, as traffic was being held up behind the shoot. After the album was released, the license plate of the white Beetle seen in the background was reportedly stolen. The car itself was later sold at auction and is now in a German museum! 


Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975)

The cover art for Pink Floyd’s ninth album depicts two businessmen shaking hands, one of whom is on fire. The photographer for the shoot was inspired by the idea of people hiding their feelings for fear of “being burned”. “Being burned” is also a common music industry phrase. To get the shot, the photographer used two stuntmen, one of who was wearing a fireproof suit under a business suit and a hood underneath a wig. 


Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

Nevermind’s cover features a baby swimming toward a dollar bill on a fishing lure, just out of reach. Kurt Cobain said he came up with the concept while watching a documentary on water births. The photographer on the shoot, Kirk Weddle, took a picture of his friend’s four-month-old son, Spencer Elden, which ended up becoming the cover. In 2021, Elden filed a lawsuit against Weddle, Cobain’s estate, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic, saying that the use of his likeness was made without his or his legal guardians’ consent and that it “violated federal child pornography statutes”. A lower court ruled in 2022 that Elden had waited too long to file, but that decision was overturned by the 9th US circuit court of appeals in 2023. 

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

Possibly one of the most recognizable album covers of all time, Dark Side of the Moon features a prism with a beam of white light going into it, dispersing it into colors. Designer Storm Thorgerson was inspired by a photo in a 1963 physics textbook of a prism, according to a 2023 article in Mojo Magazine. The design studio offered a choice of seven images for the cover, but the band unanimously decided on the one that made the cover. “There were no arguments,” said Roger Waters in the Mojo article. “We all pointed to the prism and said ‘That’s the one’.”


David Bowie: Aladdin Sane (1973)


The lightning bolt makeup David Bowie wore for the cover art for Aladdin Sane is one of his most recognizable looks ever. Bowie described his alter-ego of Aladdin Sane as an extension of his Ziggy Stardust persona, but “Ziggy Stardust goes to America”. Alongside the blue and red “flash” lightning bolt on his face, Bowie’s hair was dyed red and his skin was painted purple. A silver teardrop completes the look. Aladdin Sane was the costliest album cover of its time – Bowie’s team wanted to spend a lot of money on it to ensure that his label, RCA, would promote it extensively.