Welcome to the "well" of American music. Do you mean like a water well? Yep. Where is this "well of blues" located? Well, some say at the juction of routes 61 and 49 just outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. Really? Well, according to legend ...
In theory, American blues music is created from unique combinations of cultural diversity, societal interaction and musical resources. It combines elements from two distinctly different worlds, one mostly rural, one mostly urban. The rural element contributes the pitches known as the blue notes. These pitches are of a somewhat indeterminate tuning or pitch and come to us originally from the human voice, there to be imitated by other familiar instruments and date from the dawn of humankind. These blue notes are the basic group of pitches from which we create our blues melodies. The urban contribution was initially European, which added a highly organized system of precisely tuned musical resources called equal temper, which dates to the mid 16th century or so. From this finely tuned resource come the blues chords. These two musical resources of potentially different tuning are perfectly blended and recreated on the guitar, by far the second most historically significant and common of the blues instruments, the first instrument of course being our own voices.
Combining these rural and urban pitches together provides present day blues players with an in tune chordal harmony created from the well tuned system of equal temper with variably tuned melodic lines created from the blue note pitches.
Thus, a totally secure harmony to support melodies that have essentially no tuning boundaries? Exactly. Rather a bit unprecedented in the history of music n'est pas? Usually motored by 4 / 4 time, the combined overall effect rarely fails to get feet tapping or folks a dancing, connecting listeners from all walks of life with some of the common roots we all share. Is the blues color a part of the basis of nearly every major American style of popular music that has emerged from the 1850's to present? And if so, can we benefit creatively by internalizing some of these colors, expanding our palette and mixing the blues into our own style and artistic direction? The following topics allow the reader to explore the blues color from various theoretical and artistic perspectives, so depending on your interest, needs and curiosity, simply pick and click and off you go. And as always, a simple top to bottom examination of the topics as presented insures a thorough look at the ideas within this text.
A note of caution for the thorough reader, that the basic music theory rules of chords from scales are bent severly at times throughout these discussions. And secondly, that the distinction between blues music created in either the major or minor tonalities is often clearly pointed out, which in the everday reality of playing the music is virtually nonexistent. I make this major / minor distinction here to try to remain consistent with the discussions of the theory as it would relate to the more diatonic compositions of American composers and their European ancestors. So depending on your needs and level of playing ... explore the following discussions. Reference texts.
|blues challenge||putting it all together|
|blues chords||dominant harmony rules the day|
|blues chord substitutions||swapping one chord for another|
|blues form||examines the 12 bar blues cycle|
|blues history||origins of the blues|
|blues lines||ideas for creating melody|
|blue notes||not just the name of the band anymore|
|blues players / composers||looking at some of the influential blues voices|
|blues scale||the essential group of American pitches|
|blues song||commence to jammin|
|blues tunes||a short list of blues tunes|
|blues on the gig||what happens on the stand|
|new tasks||beyond the blues|
|play the blues||fun blues melody for the beginning learner|
"There's a color, cadence, timbre and tone in Mississippi that contains all our memories, dreams, fears and hopes," she said. "My mother sang to me, communicated to me in every color imaginable. That's what the Africans brought to this land. It's all they had." Cassandra Wilson.
From an article in the March 7th 2002 N.Y. Times titled "Jazz Diva Follows Sound Of Her Roots" by John Leland.