Some common, though not universal, elements of progressive rock include:
* Long compositions, sometimes running over 20 minutes, with intricate melodies and harmonies that require repeated listening to grasp. These are often described as epics and are the genre's clearest nod to classical music. An early example is the 23-minute "Echoes" by Pink Floyd. Other famous examples include Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" (43 minutes), Yes' "Close to the Edge" (18 minutes) and Genesis' "Supper's Ready" (23 minutes). More recent extreme examples are the 60-minute "Light of Day, Day of Darkness" by Green Carnation and "Garden of Dreams" by The Flower Kings.
* Lyrics that convey intricate and sometimes impenetrable narratives, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, history, religion, war, love, and madness. Many early 1970s progressive rock bands (especially German ones) featured lyrics concerned with left-wing politics and social issues.
* Concept albums, in which a theme or storyline is explored throughout an entire album in a manner similar to a film or a play. In the days of vinyl, these were usually two-record sets with strikingly designed gatefold sleeves. Famous examples include The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes, 2112 by Rush, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by Pink Floyd, and the more recent Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater and Snow by Spock's Beard. Aqualung, perhaps the best-known record by Jethro Tull, is often regarded as a concept album due to its recurring themes, but songwriter Ian Anderson has always claimed that the album is just "a bunch of songs".
* Unusual vocal styles and use of multi-part vocal harmonies. See Magma, Robert Wyatt, and Gentle Giant.
* Prominent use of electronic instrumentation — particularly keyboard instruments such as the organ, piano, Mellotron, and Moog synthesizer, in addition to the usual rock combination of electric guitar, bass and drums.
* Use of unusual time signatures, scales, or tunings. Many pieces use multiple time signatures and/or tempi, sometimes concurrently. Solo passages for virtually every instrument, designed to showcase the virtuosity of the player. This is the sort of thing that contributed to the fame of such performers as keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Neil Peart.
* Inclusion of classical pieces on albums. For example, Yes start their concerts with a taped extract of Stravinsky's Firebird suite, and Emerson Lake and Palmer have performed arrangements of pieces by Copland, Bartók, Moussorgsky, Prokofiev, Janacek, Alberto Ginastera, and often feature quotes from J. S. Bach in lead breaks. Jethro Tull recorded a famous cover of J. S. Bach's "Bouree", in which they turned the classical piece into a "sleazy jazzy night-club song", according to Ian Anderson. Marillion started concerts with Rossini's La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Symphony X has included parts by, or inspired by, Beethoven, Holst and Mozart.
* An aesthetic linking the music with visual art, a trend started by The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's and enthusiastically embraced during the prog heyday. Some bands became as well-known for the art direction of their albums as for their sound, with the "look" integrated into the band's overall musical identity. This led to fame for particular artists and design studios, most notably Roger Dean, whose paintings and logo design for Yes are so essential to the band's identity they could be said to serve the same function as corporate branding. Hipgnosis became equally famous for their unusual sleeves for Pink Floyd, often featuring experimental photography quite innovative for the time (two men shaking hands, one of whom is in flames, on the cover of Wish You Were Here). H.R. Giger's painting for Emerson Lake and Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery is one of the most famous album sleeves ever produced.