Blog #4

Blog #4: Genre of the week
The Blues
The Blues
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Background

The blues is a form of music that started in the United States during the start of the 20th century. It was started by former African slaves from spirituals, praise songs, and chants. The first blues songs were called Delta blues. These songs came from the area near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Many African Americans were taken to the north esp. in the northwest of the United States, to find work. They took the blues with them and developed it into new styles. The most important is the Chicago Blues, which is played with electric amplified instruments. But other cities and states have their own form of Blues developed from the Delta Blues (f. e. Texas Blues, West Coast Blues and others).

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Blues harmony

With the numbers next to each note below tell us which note in the scale they, and the letter next to them is the note if we start on C:


   C=1
   B=7
   A=6
   G=5
   F=4
   E=3
   D=2
   C=1

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Below, we take those numbers and put them into the basic 12 bar blues, with each group of 4 being 1 bar:

     1 1 1 1  |   1 1 1 1   |   1 1 1 1    |   1 1 1 1
     4 4 4 4  |   4 4 4 4   |   1 1 1 1    |   1 1 1 1 
     5 5 5 5  |   4 4 4 4   |   1 1 1 1    |   1 1 1 1
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Listen below to what is written above, the basic outline of the harmony, and the bass line:


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Next we hear the same thing, but with the added chords on top:




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Blues Melody

Like other scales, the blues scale is a collection of notes, but what is important in any scale is the distance between each note.  In the blues scale we see that the notes are spread out quite a bit, with the exception of the three notes right next to each other.
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Here is what a blues scale sounds like (above) and looks like (below) starting on C
C blues scale
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Here is what a blues scale sounds like (above) and looks like (below) starting on F
F blues scale
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And here is what a blues scale sounds like (above) and looks like (below) starting on G
G blues scale
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Now when I put it in the same structure as the harmony it sounds like this:


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Then when we put it all together, with the bass line and the chords, it sounds like this:


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All of these are just the basic structures to get us started, but when playing the blues, you can relax a little bit and have some fun by mixing up the notes here and there and taking the scale to make a solo melody:


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Blues lyrics

The lyrics of the blues follow an AAB pattern meaning that they state a line, then repeat that line again, followed by another line that completes the verse.  The lyrics were usually about a sad event that had happened to the singer, such as their girlfriend leaving them, or losing their job, but also had a bit of humor to it in the resolution of the third line.

Verse Samples:

I lost my dog blue, he aint with me no more,
I lost my dog blue, he aint with me no more,
He packed up his things, and just walked out the door.

My dog was my best friend, now I'm here all alone,
My dog was my best friend, now I'm here all alone,
Maybe I'll get a cat, I can call my own.

The cat doesn't like me, not like old blue did,
That cat doesn't like me, not like old blue did,
I've got scratch marks all up and down, my big bald head.

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Listenings


Robert Johnson
"Me and the Devil Blues" by Robert Johnson


Bessie Smith
"St. Louis Blues" by Bessie Smith


Muddy Waters
"Manish Boy" by Muddy Waters


B.B. King
"Lucille" by B. B. King
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Respond

Click this link to respond to the questions below

Why do you think African-Americans might be singing the blues in the late 1800's/early 1900's?

Can you write your own blues verse? (all you need is one line, that repeats, then another line that rhymes with those lines to complete the AAB form)