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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Vocal Music - Blues

Continuing our alphabetical look at vocal music we come to Blues.


The blues originated in the United States, primarily in the African American communities of the Deep South during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What started out as singing to take their minds off the monotonous work (often using antiphony (call & response)) over time this was combined with European music and chords.


It is characterised by its distinct musical structure, lyrics, and emotional expression. The lyrics would often be about being sad (or blue - see where the name comes from!).


In the early days blues would be played entirely acoustically as electric instruments hadn’t been invented. Often you’d find a harmonica, guitar, banjo, fiddle, piano, double bass, and voice.


The blues often features a 12-bar musical progression, which consists of three four-bar segments. It typically follows a I-IV-V chord progression. The most common is:


Bar 1 - Bar 2 - Bar 3 - Bar 4

I I I I

Bar 5 - Bar 6 - Bar 7 - Bar 8

IV IV I I

Bar 9 - Bar 10 - Bar 11 - Bar 12

V IV I I (V)

The V in bar 12 would often (but not always) be played if the sequence was being repeated, it would finish on I at the end of the song.


Blues is often played in a specific blues scale.


The blues scale is made by using the major scale and flattening 3, 5, and 7. Note you’d also play the natural 5 as well. You’d omit notes 2 and 6 as well.


Blues Scale in C
Blues Scale in C

As I wrote earlier, the melodies and lyrics of blues songs often reflect themes of sadness, loss, heartbreak, and struggle. The lyrics are usually straightforward and deeply emotional, often expressing personal experiences or societal issues. However, the blues could also be extremely funny (or perhaps ironic).

By the early twentieth century black Americans started to perform in bars and clubs all over America and by the 1920s, it was being enjoyed by white and black people alike.


Over the next couple of decades or so the blues sped up and electric guitars and electric basses were introduced. This saw the birth of Rhythm and Blues.

The blues has had a significant influence on many other genres of music, including rock and roll, jazz, and soul. It has also inspired countless musicians and continues to be an important part of the musical landscape.


Lyrics of the blues often follow a similar structure. The call and response would be used with the call being sung and the response being played - though sometimes it’d be sung too.


Take a listen to this song by B.B. King to hear the structure. The lyrics for the first half are here.


[Intro]

[Bars 1 - 4] (Chord I)

Well, I woke up this morning

Couldn't find my shoe

[Bars 5 - 8] (Chord IV - I)

Yes, I woke up this morning

And I couldn't find my shoe

[Bars 9 - 12] (Chord V - IV - I - I)

Although the right one is here

I need the left one too

Yes, I do


[Bars 1 - 4]

I can hear my mama calling

She says it's time to go

[Bars 5 - 8]

Yes, I can hear my mama calling

She says, "Really now, it's time to go”

[Bars 9 - 12]

I say, "Mama, I can't find one of my shoes"

And she says, "Oh no, not again”


(A short chromatic link to the chorus)

(Chord IV - I)

I've got the one shoe blues

It seems they're never gonna stop

(Chord IV - I)

Yes, those one shoe blues

Oh, they might never ever stop

(Chord V - IV - I)

Mama says, "Just come along now"

One shoe, do you expect me to hop?

(Back to the original 12-bar blues)

Did you look in the closet?

And under the bed?

Yes, I did

Did you look carefully in the closet?

And under the bed?

Yes, yes I did

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