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World Music Research

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Joseph Bohatch

Don Miller

World Music Mus 14

5 December 2017

Research Paper


        Are you sad because your wife left you? Are you sad because a friend passed away? Are you sad because you are sick? Odds are there is thousands of Blues songs just based on the these simple questions. The history of blues is quite interesting and so are some of the lyrics that make blues songs a blues song. Also since the beginning of Blues music from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s it has seen many changes to the instruments playing the music and even including the musicians who play the music.

The Blues has very deep roots with African American History. “The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves—African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields” (A Brief History of the Blues). Since the slaves and soon to be ex-slaves have nothing to do with their spare time besides working in the field as they normally do. They started to create music. No one person is the solo person who created Blues, but it was multiple people coming together to form this new music form. “The blues grew up in the Mississippi delta just up river from New Orleans” (A Brief History of the Blues). Once the Blues made it up the Mississippi river to the urban areas in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the music evolved into electrified Chicago Blues and other hybrids. And about a decade later rock and roll started taking some of the blues and importing it into their genre.

        “The harmony of blues music mainly focuses on the first, fourth and fifth chords of a combination. So, if the musical piece starts in the A chord, next chords will be fourth D and fifth 'E' chord” (Melodyful). Playing the blues is weird to understand at first, but after a bit of practice and messing around with the cord changes in gets a bit easier to understand and can start with any different starting cords. Once you get started messing with the blues chords you hear them everywhere, listening to 1970’s rock, or even the elevator music. When it comes to the melody or even soloing the basic scale you have to be comfortable playing in is flat third, fifth and seventh note of a major scale. For context, the B flat scale on a B flat instrument is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. But now you want to play a B Flat blues scale it would be C, E flat, F, G Flat, G, B flat.

        The rhythm to blues is also very unique to the blues. It is on twelve bars repeat pattern. The first chord is played for four measures, the fourth chord for two measures, the back to the first chord for two measures, then one measure of the fifth chord, one measure of the forth again and coming back to the first chord for two measures. On a sheet of blue music, it would look something like E, E, E, E, A, A, E, E, B7, A, E, E. Each different note is a scale you would playing over it and connecting it to the next chord. This can be played once, played over for ten minutes or even be passed back and forth with a different person in the band.

        The lyrics to a blues song has its own characters that lets you know you are listening or playing blues if you can’t hear the twelve bar changes. “The verse of a conventional blues song comprises three lines. The first two lines are more or less the same, followed by the third. Most of the time, the first two lines are the same, and have question-like lyrics. The third line, is the response to the first two lines. So, the lyrical structure becomes in the AAB pattern. Singing first two lines is divided among eight measures in twelve bars, whereas the rest four measures consist of singing the third line” (Melodyful). Since the form of lyrics are in a more question and answer form the topics tend to be more sad or disappointing stories, such as poverty, death, racism and even more sad topics.

        The original form of blues you found the banjo as the main instrument. But as the blues “grew up” it adapted. In the early 1900’s guitar and piano were added. Now there can many different instruments be playing together, such as saxophones, trombones, trumpets, drums, and even harmonicas. If you go back the original area where blues was founded, you can hear an old man playing his banjo and singing the blues on his front porch to pass the time away.

        Blues helped many in the darkest of America’s trouble. The Great Depression. In the late 1920’s and into the 1930’s America was in its worst economic collapses. Millions of people lost their job, lost their house, and land. Many didn’t have enough money to buy the basic necessities to survive including food and water. The Great Depression nearly killed the record business. But when people had nothing to their names, they had music to bond people and encourage them that the there is light in the end of the tunnel. And that is what saved the record business. The rise of Blues is from the difficult times in the rural life. When farmers couldn’t afford to grow crops or sell cant sell the crops because no one had the money to buy the product.

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