Blues is one of the most established genres that music has to offer, and it has influenced countless legends of music in Rock, Jazz and many other genres. The truth is, that every genre has to come from somewhere, for blues, it came from North America, and it was black music to the core.
It all begins with ex slaves and family from slaves from the southern plantations in the United States, mostly in Missisipi, and it came together as a blend of different affrican music, drums, folk and country.
This was all around the 19th century.
When you think of the blues, you think about misfortune, betrayal and regret. You lose your job, you get the blues. Your mate falls out of love with you, you get the blues. Your dog dies, you get the blues.
While blues lyrics often deal with personal adversity, the music itself goes far beyond self-pity. The blues is also about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.
That was the hook of blues, the pure emotion and the energy it evoked which while it could be extremely personal at times, it was also the kind of music that would make you dance.
Pioneers: Son House
The blues started to solidify around 1920, with great artists such as Son House, who actually did not like the sound of guitars at first: ” “I didn’t like no guitar when I first heard it; oh gee, I couldn’t stand a guy playin’ a guitar. I didn’t like none of it.”
Eddie James House, Jr. was born on March 21, 1902, in Riverton, MS. He was not very fond of his time working in the plantations and was unhappy about many things that surrounded him including the guitar which he eventually picked up a the age of 25 because of his place in gospel, but wasn’t really into the blues after some incidents in his life which included killing a man and serving two years in jail.
After his release, he truly began his life as a blues man and until his death, he was the king of the blues, for some, he still is.
There were many branches of music affected from the Blues around the mid 1920s and 1930s, from jazz, to gospel but one that gained a lot of popularity was Jug Blues, or Jug Bands, which were bands that used homemade instruments and regular instruments.
It was an interesting idea because sometimes many of these people with musical talent didn’t have access to radios or musical instruments, and this represents the fact that you could just tense a string on the wall and make music, use a sink as percussion, and of course jugs.
Chicago Blues: Buddy Guy
The blues is also al about feeling, and there are many great blues players and singers that were self taught, like Buddy Guy.
I’m self taught and used to playing music how I feel it. That’s the one way old blues guys from anywhere are the same. [laughs] For instance, a lot of people say they can’t play with John Lee Hooker because there’s no pattern, but I have no problem playing with John. You can hear in his voice when he’s getting ready to make a change because he plays it the way he sings it and sings it the way he plays it. You get a groove and play off that and change when you damn well feel like it. People think blues is all about 12-bar patterns, but it’s not like that and never was.
Buddy guy played with many big names, and became very popular because of his great talent playing the guitar which was both agressive and full of that blues feeling.
At this point blues had was beginning to earn the spotlight, and Chicago was the place to enjoy this type of pure honest music that came from Mississippi and New Orleans, along with Punk, but that’s another story.
“Can I hear your progress on that song we were working on last week please?”
He just shrugged his shoulders and looked at me sheepishly!
“Oh okay then. How about those exercises we were doing? Can I hear how you got on with them?”
He just looked at his feet!
“Oh dear! What HAVE you been practicing?”
Suddenly a mischievous grin appeared on his face.
“I’ve been playing the blues ALL week!!! It’s been driving my mum crazy. I play it before and after school. I can’t stop!”
It never ceases to amaze me how much fun students have at learning to improvise the blues. And not forgetting the kudos it earns them when they can use it to entertain friends and family. Best of all, it’s just so easy to learn!
So this month, here are some free resources to get you started or to add to the ones you use already. I’ve tried to make the sheet music universal to whatever instrument you play or teach (treble & bass clef/guitar & bass tab). I’ve also recorded a slow blues backing track (in G) that you and your students can “jam” with.
Introducing the coolest scale on the planet! Whatever instrument your student plays, they will love learning the [···]
6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists
When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!
Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!
“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.
“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.
“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!
I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.
Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!
Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…
“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!
Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.
Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for [···]