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Until mid-1990s, "rock" and "heavy metal" music were generally songs (usually anthems or ballads) with an "in-tro", a first verse, chorus (usually in 2 or 3 part harmonies), a second verse, a solo, perhaps a third verse, a final chorus with, sometimes, a reprise for the "out-tro," or song ending, which either ended cold or would fade out, running around 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes. Speaking in terms of composition, arrangements range from a relaxed to energetic tempo of about 80 to 160 BPM (beats per minute) in 4/4 or "common" time signature with the emphasis on the downbeat (i.e., snare drum). Like most rock styles, a characteristic sound in melodic rock are the distorted, "high gain" guitars parts over relatively simple bass guitar lines--and usually keyboard synthesizers--to maintain the melody structure of the song. During the 80s, the recording techniques incorporated greater signal processing involving gated reverb on the drums and reverb, echo on vocals to reproduce a "live concert" sound with, sometimes, chorus or other effects, and similar effects on the guitar parts, all for a "bigger," arena or stadium-like sound.

This was a sharp contrast to emerging styles such as punk, grunge, or alternative which became increasingly popular during the middle-1990s. These forms of rock eschewed dramatic effects on guitars, drums and vocals along with solos. Rock bands entering the 21st century focused more on power, aggression and speed than melody, giving rise to a new term "Melodic Rock" to distinguish between the two styles without using the Radio-borne "classic rock" term, which refer to the actual recordings and performances made during the 1970s and 80s, as Melodic Rock also refers to newly produced music as well as the classic recordings of the 70s and 80s. Related styles of music include "Christian Rock" and modern Country.

Melodic Rock is a stylistic "cousin" of progressive rock, which incorporate the instrument-focused approach of Melodic Rock, but with greater emphasis on technical performance complexity, timing changes, longer compositions (5-10 minutes), key changes and other avante garde elements. Heavier melodic rock (perhaps "melodic metal") also shares the terms glam rock, glam metal, sleaze and (more pejoratively) "hair metal." .

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