Just What Is Math Rock? We’ve Got Your Back

If you are a fan of rock, you may know about the different subgenres like progressive, metal, grunge, and so many others. But, if you haven’t heard of math rock, you’re about to find out what it is.

We are going to talk about this genre and also give appropriate examples. If you are a guitarist, we’ve even included a tuning guide to try it out yourself.

What is Math Rock?


Math rock is based on progressive rock. But how did it get the name ‘math rock’? The rhythm of the songs you listen to in this genre will be odd but are also tight and mathematically precise (hence the name).

If the tone and meter change all the time as opposed to one steady rhythm, that’s when you know you are listening to math rock. Also, time signatures for these songs will be 3/2 or 11/8; this is unusual compared to the usual 4/4 time signatures you’ll find in any typical rock song.

You don’t have to be a math genius or remember all kinds of equations to master playing math rock. The time signatures will usually change a lot throughout the entire song. Another commonality that you’ll notice is that the guitar riffs will be typical compared to other rock genres.

Math rock rose to prominence in the late 1980s and grew in popularity throughout the 1990s. It does take on some of the elements used by progressive rock bands as early as the 1970s. However, the progressive rock genre is very much the base of math rock, thanks to its lack of catchy hooks. 

What Are the Main Characteristics of Math Rock?

These are the main characteristics you should look for if you are listening to math rock:

Mixed Time Signatures

Math-rock doesn’t use 4/4 time signatures like most rock songs. You will notice a lot of syncopation with math rock songs. It will be enough for you to listen to the tune until the very end.

Plenty of Long Instrumental Passages

With math rock, instrumental passages will dominate over vocals and lyrics. Don’t be surprised if math rock bands have complete albums that feature little to no vocals at all. So yes, there’s a good chance that such albums will be entirely instrumental.

Production is Mostly Minimal

Math rock will usually consist of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. One of the band members may pull double duty as the vocalist (if the song includes it). So there really is no additional personnel other than the band members playing instruments.  

Examples of Math Rock Bands


There are bands that play a heavier sound (also known as mathcore) and lighter sounds (mathpop). If you’re looking at listening to some mathcore, we highly suggest listening to bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan or Botch. If you want mathpop, bands like Colour, Sharks Keep Moving, and Tubelord may be more of your speed.

Most math rock bands have originated from the Mid-Atlantic coast and the Midwestern United States. The epicenter of math rock is believed to be in Chicago, although the scene has also gained popularity in places like Louisville, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Not to be forgotten, the West Coast also has a math rock scene in places like Seattle and Los Angeles. But it’s not as prominent as their counterparts on the other side of the country.

Math Rock tuning for guitarists

We found this tuning to be very useful:


The entire channel where you can find this video is strictly focused on math rock. After reading this article, you should check out Let’s Talk About Math Rock on YouTube, especially if you want to play a little math rock yourself the next time you want to jam out on a guitar.

The DAEAC#E is the best tuning pattern to start with. All you need to do is tune it until you get the right notes. We highly suggest using a guitar tuner (be it online or with an app).

Otherwise, if you can recognize the notes by ear, tune it that way. Once it’s properly tuned, you can practice a few riffs and change up the speed a bit if you feel more comfortable.


Math rock may be one of the most exciting genres for you to listen to. Now is your chance to dive in and perhaps go down a completely different rabbit hole. If you like it, you might want to play it yourself.