Characteristics of the Blues Music Style

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The blues is a music style that originated in the African-American communities of the southern United States. It is characterized by a simple, repetitive form with a few chords and often a call-and-response pattern.

What is the blues?

The blues is a style of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blues is characterized by a call-and-response format, where the singer sings a line and the band responds. The blues is also known for its use of blue notes, which are notes that are played at a slightly lower pitch than usual.

The history of the blues

The blues is a genre of music that has its roots in African American culture. The term “blues” refers to the feeling of sadness and melancholy, and is often associated with the hardships faced by African Americans in the early 20th century.

The first form of the blues was known as field hollers, which were work songs sung by slaves while they worked in the fields. These songs usually had a call and response format, and often included impromptu lyrics about the singer’s current situation.

The blues began to gain popularity in the early 1900s, when it became known as “barrelhouse music” or “piano blues.” This new style of music was influenced by both European and African musical traditions, and was commonly played in bars and nightclubs.

One of the most important figures in the history of the blues is W.C. Handy, who is credited with popularizing the genre with his song “St. Louis Blues.” Handy’s song helped to make the blues more mainstream, and it influenced a number of other artists, including Bessie Smith, who is often regarded as one of the greatest blues singers of all time.

The blues continued to evolve in the mid-20th century, when artists like Muddy Waters and BB King brought electric guitars and amplifiers into the genre. This new sound helped to make the blues more popular than ever before, and it paved the way for other genres of music like rock ‘n’ roll and soul.

The elements of the blues

The essential elements of the blues are, first, a predominant12-bar chord progression played on the piano, guitar or both, originated byusage in the black churches during worship services; secondly, a call-and-responsepattern featuring the singer alternating (“Callin'”) with either the guitar or some other soloist (“Response”), as used in field hollers and work songs; and thirdly, improvisation. Other important characteristics include blue notes (sliding or “bent” notes played at a lower pitch than that of the major scale), polyrhythms (occasionally) and especially soulful singing.

The characteristics of the blues

The blues is a music genre that originated in theAfrican-American communities in the Deep South of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The genre developed from the folk music and field hollers of the rural South and the spirituals, work songs, and port city music of the people who moved to urban areas in the 1920s.

The 12-bar blues

The 12-bar blues is the most common blues form. It is usually played in 4/4 time, with three chord changes per measure. The chords used are almost always the I, IV and V chords of a major key. For example, in the key of C, the I chord would be C, the IV chord would be F and the V chord would be G.

The basic structure of a 12-bar blues is as follows:

I – I – I – I
IV – IV – I – I
V – V – I – I

The first two bars (the “A” section) are usually sung by the lead vocalist. The next two bars (the “B” section) are usually sung by a backup vocalist or instrument soloist. The last eight bars (the “C” section) are usually sung by the lead vocalist.

In addition to the three chords, there are also two other important elements of the 12-bar blues: the blues scale and the shuffle rhythm. The blues scale is a modified version of the pentatonic scale that includes a flat third, fifth and seventh note. This gives it a distinctly “bluesy” sound. The shuffle rhythm is a swung eighth-note rhythm that gives the music a very catchy and danceable feel.

The blues scale

The blues scale is a six-note minor pentatonic scale with an added flat fifth degree, or blue note. The blues scale is commonly used in blues, jazz, rock, and pop music. The flat fifth degree is also known as the “blue note”.

The blues scale can be traced back to West African music, specifically the griot music of the Mandinka people. This music was brought to America by slaves who were forced to work on plantations. The slaves would sing songs and play music to help pass the time and to cope with their difficult situation.

The instruments that were used in griot music included drums, whistles, and string instruments. These instruments would be played in a call-and-response style, with the lead instrument playing a phrase and the other instruments answering.

The lead instrument would often improvise using the notes of the blues scale. This improvisation became known as “blues” playing, and it was how the genre got its name.

The blues scale is made up of the following notes: root (1), flat third (b3), fourth (4), flat fifth (b5), fifth (5), and flat seventh (b7). These notes can be played in any order or combination, but they will always sound “bluesy”.

The root note is the key that the song is in, and the other notes are based off of that root note. For example, if a song is in the key of C, then the root note would be C, and the other notes would be E♭ (the flat third), G (the fourth), G♭ (the flat fifth), B♭ (the regular fifth), and D♭ (the flat seventh).

The blues chord progression

The blues chord progression is one of the most important aspects of the blues. It is what gives the music its distinctive sound and feel.

The chord progression is usually twelve bars long and consists of three different chords. The first chord is called the “tonic” or “root” chord, the second chord is the “subdominant” chord, and the third chord is the “dominant” chord.

The tonic chord is usually played for four bars, the subdominant chord for two bars, and the dominant chord for one bar. This makes up what is known as a “four-two-one” progression.

The tonic chord typically resolves to thesubdominant chord, which in turn resolves to the dominant chord. The dominant chord then resolves back to the tonic chord, creating a feeling of resolution and closure.

The resolution of the tonic chord back to itself also creates a sense of repetition and familiarity which is another important characteristic of the blues.

The blues shuffle

The shuffle is the most commonly used rhythmic pattern in blues and is often referred to as “The Shuffle Beat” or “The Shuffle Groove”. The basic rhythm of a 12-bar blues shuffle feels like
“1-2-3, 1-2” or “4&1, 4&1”. This means that there are 3 beats in each bar and the first and third beats are accented. Although the basic rhythm feels like triplets, it is actually comprised of two eighth notes followed by one quarter note. The two eighth notes are commonly referred to as the “swing 8th’s” because they are played with a swing feel. When playing the shuffle pattern on guitar, it is common to “boogie back” on the sixth string during beat four while still maintaining the triplet feel. This helps to create a more driving rhythm and is often referred to as a “boogie bass”.

The artists who popularized the blues

The pioneers of the blues were mostly African American musicians living and working in the American South at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The style of music they created was a new and unique departure from the music of the time.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson is often referred to as the “Father of the Blues.” He popularized the genre in the 1930s with his recordings of songs like “Cross Road Blues” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” Johnson’s music was a mix of Delta blues, ragtime, and early jazz, and his guitar playing was characterized by its use of bent notes, slide guitar, and string-bending.

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters was an American blues singer-songwriter and musician who is often cited as the “father of modern Chicago blues”, and an important figure on the post-war blues scene. His style of playing was very influential, and his recordings in the late 1940s and 1950s helped to popularize the genre. He was born in Mississippi in 1915, and became one of the first performers to bring the blues to Chicago in the 1940s. He recorded a series of successful albums in the 1950s and 1960s, including At Newport 1960, which featured his now-famous rendition of “Hoochie Coochie Man”. He died in 1983, but his music continues to be popular.

B.B. King

B.B. King was born on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He began performing in churches in the surrounding area when he was just a young boy. When he was 12 years old, his mother died, and he was forced to find work to help support his family. He worked in the cotton fields and as a musician in local bars and brothels. In 1943, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he found work as a disc jockey at WDIA, one of the first radio stations to play black music.

In the early 1950s, King began touring with his band throughout the United States. He quickly gained a large following among black and white audiences alike. His guitar playing style was unlike anything that had been heard before. He combined elements of blues, jazz, and swing to create a unique sound that would come to be known as “the blues.”

King’s recordings became extremely popular in the late 1950s and 1960s. Hits like “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Sweet Little Angel,” and “How Blue Can You Get?” helped to bring the blues to a wider audience. In 1969, King performed at the legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco with an all-star lineup that included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones.

In the 1970s and 1980s, King continued to record and perform live concert dates around the world. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. In 2015, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. B.B. King passed away on May 14, 2015 at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 89.

The influence of the blues

The blues is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the Deep South of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The style of music is characterized by blue notes, call-and-response patterns, and a repeating twelve-bar chord progression. The blues has had a major influence on other genres of music, including jazz, rock and roll, and country.

On rock and roll

The blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in rock and roll, rhythm and blues, pop, jazz, and country music, as well as conventional pop songs and even marches. Folklorist Alan Lomax wrote that the blues “is probably the single most important factor in the making of modern popular music.” British rock band The Rolling Stones have said that they owe their success to Muddy Waters and other Chicago bluesmen. American rock and roll pioneer Elvis Presley was exposed to the music ofblack sharecroppers and black work songs while living in Tupelo, Mississippi. In a radio interview shortly before his death, he reflected on how blues singer Arthur Crudup’s song “That’s All Right” inspired his own career: “The first time I heard Arthur Crudup was on a 78 rpm record that my mom had. … I heard that voice coming out of my bedroom speakers with its own soul force for the very first time. It hit me right between the eyes.”

On jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as ” America’s classical music “. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression.It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. English dictionary definitions of jazz include: “a style of music originating in New Orleans around 1900 and subsequently developing through various increasingly complex styles, generally marked by improvised sections featuring expressions of individual feeling or mood within an ensemble harmonic framework”.

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