What is Funk Music? - Definition & Characteristics

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  • 0:00 A New Musical Style
  • 0:36 Characteristics
  • 2:29 Legacy & Influence
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever listened to a piece of music that made you want to get up and dance? Could you feel the pulse of a strong bass line? Maybe you were listening to funk! In this lesson, you'll learn about the definition and characteristics of funk music.

A New Musical Style

Funk music is a style of popular music that emerged in the late 1960s as an outgrowth of R&B (rhythm and blues). African-American musicians created it by combining elements of soul and jazz with R&B and amping up the moving beat. Funk features strong bass lines, or music lines played by low-pitched instruments and has a heavy syncopated beat, meaning a beat with emphasis changed from strong beats to off beats and accents. Funk music also possesses a distinctive groove, or sense of rhythmic movement that makes you want to get up and dance.


Funk music has more complex rhythms than soul music. It often involves lots of drums and provides a more starring role for electric bass, an instrument that, prior to funk's development, hadn't been featured as prominently in popular music. It's the continual groove of the bass line in funk that makes you want to move. Melody is less important than the beat in funk. The music often has extended vamps, or repeated bars of music that can be played as many times as necessary or until the group decides to move on, of a single chord rather than many different series of chord progressions.

Sometimes funk groups also included horns, such as saxophones and trumpets, which were used for emphasis, almost like percussion instruments. When you listen to many funk songs, you can hear horns pop out aggressive bursts of notes. To make music funky, it was syncopated and had displaced rhythms. Instead of a standard straight beat (for example, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4), funk threw beats off the regular stroke and placed them on the and of the beat, such as 1 and 2 and 3 and 4).

Funk also had a distinct social dimension. Its lyrics often involved social or political issues. It tended to be urban music and with its infectious, danceable beat, it didn't shy away from commenting on inequality, racial issues, or other social challenges. Funk singers and groups in the early 1970s also adopted a similar type of style: wild costumes, exuberant flair with feathers and bright colors, oversized sunglasses, and platform shoes.

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