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The basic rock beat is 4/4, so you count 1-2-3-4. And to create the rock rhythm, you have to place the emphasis on the off-beats, which 2 and 4. So it goes like this: one, TWO, three, FOUR. At least that I was taught.

But I personally think this rhythm exist in basically kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop, R&B and pop music and this beat, which is considered a defining characteristic of rock'n'roll, is there. Why is it called ''the rock beat'' then?

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This might help: youtube.com/watch?v=_jntqBIjVNc –  NReilingh Oct 10 '13 at 2:58
    
It's not quite right anyway. In the rock beat, the snare accents are on 2 and 4, and the snare drum happens to be the (at least perceptively) loudest instrument in the band. The other instruments usually don't emphasise 2 and 4 particularly. –  leftaroundabout Oct 10 '13 at 9:26
    
All the genres you mention are descendants of rock... –  Ulf Åkerstedt Oct 10 '13 at 21:54
    
@NReilingh Thanks for the link. It was enlightening. –  Tim Oct 11 '13 at 13:11
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2 Answers

I think the progression of 2&4 accents in Western (American) popular music probably starts with Swing, Jazz, Big Band where the drummers emphasized these beats and played 2 & 4 with the High Hat.

Next I think this moved over to the snare drum in very early Rock n' Roll and Blues. Once it was on the snare drum, virtually all styles of American popular music using drums feature snare on 2 & 4.

I think calling this a "Rock" beat is probably just a historical nod to the early rock n' roll.

If you ask a drummer for a "Rock" beat you will probably get straight eighths, but if you ask a drummer for a Hip Hop beat you might get swung eighths or swung sixteenths.

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p.s. this is way over-simplified... –  Matthew Briggs Oct 10 '13 at 20:40
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The word also has a descriptive character and is not merely a historically appellation. The beat has a rocking feel because the even accents make it syncopated.

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