Intro to the Blues

Where does the Blues come from?

One point of view says it is an American artform with roots in African singing superimposed on European harmonic structures (I-IV-V).

Another point of view says it is all about feeling and none of that intellectual type of stuff matters. (Of course, if you were THAT GUY, I'd wonder why you bother to "study" music at all).

I'm not concerned with this question, "where does it come from?" at this time, I'm concerned with the larger sub-genres, and how to "fake" a blues sound, that is, how to appropriate the larger cliches and common sounds so as to put the music into a context.

[Let's consider some major blues forms (sub-genres): country-blues, delta blues, chicago blues, western blues, english invasion, blues rock...]

Drawing on its roots in African singing, let's cconsider the practice of call and response.

I sing a line, you sing a line.
I sing a line, you respond with a line.

This type of singing used to be heard more commonly on fileds or ships wherecrews of men worked at a task. Unison, repetition, and variation. From a psychological perspective it is very comforting, it provides for our needs of Belonging (unison), stability (repetition), and surprise (variation). It also helps us understand some of the basic forms that some blues (not all) take. 12-bar, 8-bar, etc.

A common Blues form goes:
Statement/call (1 line),
repeat statement (1 line),
reply/repsonse (1 line),
repeat statement/call (1 line), or turnaround/2nd statement.

My baby left me, took my money too.
A7                              E7
My baby left me, took my money too.
B7                               A7
Says she's going back to her moma,
                   E7         B7
And that we wuz through.

If I write out the chords I get

E7   E7   E7   E7
A7   A7   E7   E7
B7   A7   E7   B7

It is a standard 12-bar blues

I   I   I   I
IV  IV  I   I
V   IV  I   V

In that last bar, the V is called the "turnaround".

Further lessons will look into blues forms (12-bar, 8-bar, etc.) as well as a lesson on turnarounds.

You may have noticed that the chords on the example were all dominant 7th chords. This is common in "dominant blues", but try taking all 6 chords instead and you'll hear a different effect (something similar to "down by the San Francisco Bay" - _______).

E6   E6   E6   E6
A6   A6   E6   E6
B6   A6   E6   B6

Certain notes are added to scales or chords called "Blue notes" to add flavor. A lesson on the "Blues Scale" (1,b3,4,b5,5,b7), and another on "blues chords" will be given.

Looking at rhythms and historical connections; the backbeat (emphasis on 2 and 4) come from drums used on slave ships, and the shuffle rythm sounds like a steam train moving. Also the train whistle typically sounds a diminished fifth (which is heard in those dominant 7th chords - between the 3 and 7). lessons on rhythm to follow.

Many Blues players start by imitating other blues players or licks. Some licks have become so popular they're called cliche (cliche licks). There will be future lessons on (cliche) blues licks, as well as technique studies on sliding and vibrato. A simple distinction between clasical vibrato, and the type of vibrato heard in blues is that classical vibrato moves the finger up and down the length of the string (in a fret), and blues vibrato bends the string side to side.

And last, we will look into the historical development of the blues, and major sub-genres of the blues. In doing so, we'll also consider some of the major players in those styles, and suggest abeginning discography (music to listen to).

Remember, this is just a beginning, where you will take it is up to you.

Below are links to other blues pages found on this site. Anything not in a link is in process to eventually be on the site.

Blues scale
Blues shuffle

Shuffle rhythm
Blues forms
blues notes
blues chords
cliche licks
History blues beginnings
Gospel to Blues
Blues to Jazz
Blues to Country
Blues to Rock
Blues Discography
Links to other Blues Lessons.

Christopher Roberts

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Last updated December 12, 2002
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