The term "garage rock" comes from the perception that many such performers were young and amateurish, and often rehearsed in a family garage. Some bands were made up of middle-class teenagers from the suburbs, but some were from rural or urban areas, while others were composed of professional musicians in their twenties.
The performances were often amateurish or naïve, with typical themes revolving around the traumas of high school life and songs about "lying girls" being particularly common. The lyrics and delivery were notably more aggressive than was common at the time, often with growled or shouted vocals that dissolved into incoherent screaming. Instrumentation was often characterised by the use of guitars distorted through a fuzzbox. Nevertheless, garage rock acts were diverse in both musical ability and in style, ranging from crude one-chord music (like the Seeds and the Keggs) to near-studio musician quality (including the Knickerbockers, the Remains, and the Fifth Estate). There were also regional variations in many parts of the country with flourishing scenes particularly in California and Texas. The Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon had perhaps the most defined regional sound.