Progressive Rock

Progressive rock, or prog rock, is a subgenre of rock music that emphasizes innovative studio experimentation, extended song lengths, and complex instrumentation.

The genre’s origins can be traced back to the first progressive bands like Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Soft Machine, and Yes. Early prog artists were influenced by the psychedelic rock and jazz fusion of the late 1960s and drew on those genres for inspiration.

Progressive Rock

What Is Progressive Rock?

Progressive rock (sometimes called prog rock or prog) is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid-to late 1960s.

Initially termed “progressive pop”, the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favor of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music.

Some examples include symphonic keyboard parts played by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Syd Barrett-influenced guitar playing by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd; and vocal harmonies from Yes, all of which were common features found in progressive rock songs.

Although progressive rock is not easily defined, it may be described as having a high level of instrumental technique and compositional complexity. The genre often features odd time signatures, lush arrangements, and extended pieces.

Progressive musicians have experimented with different forms, tempo changes, irregular rhythms such as 7/8, 5/4 and 9/8 time; chromaticism; atonality; dissonance; formless song structures (e.g., jamming); repeated sections or themes in songs (including through-composed pieces) as well as diverse instrumentation, such as flutes being used instead of guitars for melody lines across genres like jazz fusion or heavy metal.

With its focus on instrumental technique and composition rather than simple song structures, progressive rock is arguably considered both an artistic movement and a musical genre within popular music today.

A Brief History of Progressive Rock

Let’s keep this simple: progressive rock (or prog for short) is a musical genre that started in the late 1960s. You could say it’s a mix of classical, jazz and hard rock music.

It’s characterized by complex song structures, long songs and extended instrumental passages. It also uses electronic instruments such as synthesizers and tape loops, which is why it’s sometimes called symphonic rock or art rock (an even more obscure term).

Characteristics of Progressive Rock

At its core, Progressive Rock is a very experimental form of music. Its main trademark features include:

  • The use of unusual time signatures, meters and key signatures;
  • Long compositions with complex arrangements;
  • Orchestrated or symphonic arrangements;
  • Lyrics which often have a fantasy or science fiction theme;
  • Use of non-rock instruments like the Mellotron and the ondes Martenot.

What are Examples of Progressive Rock?

If you have an image of Prog Rock as a nerdy, self-indulgent genre, it’s time to rethink your prejudice. The truth is that many artists have blended elements of art rock or progressive pop into their music.

So, whether you’re a fan of the Beatles or Billy Joel and are interested in learning more about the history of Prog Rock or just want to explore some more challenging music, here’s your chance. Start here for the best examples of each:

  • The Beatles
  • The Moody Blues
  • Pink Floyd

What is the Difference Between Rock and Progressive Rock?

The main difference between rock and progressive rock is that progressive rock features a higher level of complexity than typical rock music. The genre was originally inspired by psychedelic rock, which in itself was inspired by psychedelic drugs (e.g., LSD).

This influence was reflected in the musical themes of the time, which often included space travel, intergalactic warfare, or explorations of otherworldly dimensions and realities.

Progressive rock first gained mainstream popularity in the late 1960s with bands like Pink Floyd and Rush leading the way, but it was also popularized by artists like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. Some have even considered these groups to be prog-rock’s “Big Five”.

Although progressive rock is associated with a specific period (primarily the 1970s), its sound has been continuously influential on subsequent generations of musicians.

It has even evolved into some other forms of contemporary music; for instance, Styx’s “Come Sail Away” (1977), while being a notable example of prog-rock during its era, is still heard regularly on classic hits radio stations today.


Progressive rock is a rewarding genre to immerse yourself in. There are so many artists out there that the possibilities are endless, and your musical journey can lead you in any number of directions.

We hope that this article has at least given you some starting points, and that you’ll start exploring more prog-rock bands soon.

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