About The Blues
When you hear musicians talking about “the blues” they are referring to a style of music that is characterized by certain musical forms, progressions and sounds. But where did “the blues” really come from? Most people know that the blues, as we know them today, originated in the late 1800’s from African-Americans that lived in the deep south of the United States. The phrase “the blues” often refers to a kind of sadness or sense of being down and out. Considering the horrors of slavery, it is no wonder that the music that was born out of the every day lives of late 19th century African-American communities would reflect such sad or “bluesy” emotions.
Although it did not start out this way, the most common form of the blues is the 12 bar blues progression. You will also see 8 bar, 9 bar and 16 bar blues as well as several other common blues forms. The chords used in the standard 12 bar blues progression are usually the 1, 4 and 5 chords. It is quite common for the 1, 4 and 5 chords in any blues progression to be dominant 7th chords. The flatted, or minor, 7th note in dominant 7th chords really helps to give the blues its signature sound. You will also find blues progressions in minor keys. The song “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King is a great example of what a minor blues song sounds like.
Blue notes are the special notes in the blues scale that really give the blues its soulful moaning sound. The flatted 3rd, flatted 5th and the flatted 7th all work together to give the blues it’s unique “bluesy” qualities. You can start on the flatted 3rd, 5th and 7th and slide or bend up to the non-flatted 3rd, 5th or 7th, respectively, to conjure up the sounds that the blues is know for. It is almost like the blues is a cross between a major and a minor key. That is one of the things that makes the blues tonality so unique.
The lyrics of early blues songs were mostly about people expressing the trouble of their souls. Just go read some lyrics to an older blues song and you will see that it is no wonder why the melancholy state that most of these songwriters were in became know as “the blues”. The typical form for blues lyrics in a 12 bar blues song is AAB, but that was not the standard until the early 20th century. You sing the first A over the first four bars of the 12 bar blues progression, repeat that A over the second four bars and then sing the B over the last four bars. This lyrical influence has carried over into the phrasing and playing of modern day blues guitar players.
The blues permeates pretty much every genre of western music including rock, metal, country and pop. Blues guitar players throughout the years seem to have a huge influence on guitar players as a whole. Players such as Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page all had a heavy background in the blues These players have all had a monumental amount of influence on the guitar players of today. Robert Johnson became so good in such a short time that it was rumored that he sold his soul to the devil at "The Crossroads" to acquire his unearthly blues guitar abilities.
The blues has evolved over time and has become part of the foundation for just about every style of western music. The blues has become a very social and self-expressive style in the modern guitar community as well. There are blues jams all over the country where anyone can go and start playing with fellow musicians. The fact that you can pretty much learn one simple scale on the guitar and jump right in to expressing yourself musically has made the blues very popular with guitar players of all skill levels. I encourage you to use the blues guitar lessons on GuitarLessons.com to help you find your own unique blues voice. Start digging into the blues for yourself today.
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