July 1, 2024

About the Author: Arwen

Arwen is a keen piano enthusiast and loves the instrument. She is also a student of marketing and loves creative work!

Many often use the piano, or any instrument for that matter, as a way to deal with sadness.

Feeling Blue is an idiom used to describe the experience of sadness or melancholy. There are endless possible reasons as to why one might feel this way…

Do you know that this feeling sparked a whole new music genre?

That genre is none other than the Blues.

Blues is a popular genre that can be played on various instruments. The piano is the perfect instrument for playing this music style. Whether it is part of a band or solo.

Let us dive into the history of the blues.

Black man playing guitar

History and Origin

This genre is deeply rooted in social and political history. According to Open University, The Blues emerged from the oppressed, economically disadvantaged African-American communities in rural southern states of America. These people would gather together to listen to music and dance to express emotion. The music provided freedom, if only for a moment.

This is when a new genre was born. Born from the heart and soul of African-American communities during the 20th century. The name Blues is given to this genre because it describes states of depression and sadness. It also was used to tell stories of love, hardship and the quest for freedom and equal rights. It was used as a powerful form of expression, voicing personal and collective struggles while sparking other genres to life, having influenced musical styles like jazz, R&B, rock and so on.

The blues embodies a rich tapestry of emotional depth, virtuosity, musical brilliance and cultural significance. It continues to evolve and develop, leaving influence wherever it goes.

Characteristics, Elements and Structure

Just like the idiom, feeling blue, the Blues is known for its ‘sad’ sound. It has a distinct melancholic and sombre tone. Here are a few characteristics which make up the genre and more.

The blue note

Blues Scale

Probably the most distinct characteristic is that the blues scale is a six-note scale that includes a flattened third, fifth, and seventh. It is often formed by adding an out-of-key ‘blue note’ to an existing scale. The blues scale is also known as the pentatonic scale plus one note.

The degrees are as follows:

  • Root
  • Minor 3rd (often becomes a sharpened ninth on a dominant seventh chord)
  • Perfect fourth
  • Diminished fifth (the blues note!)
  • Perfect fifth
  • Minor seventh
  • Full formula: 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7

12 Bar Blues

This sequence is the most used chord progression in blues music… It is predominantly based around and on the I-IV-V chords of any given key. It builds increasingly as we get towards the end of the twelfth bar, then release back home to the start again!

Lyric Structure

Following the 12-bar blues, traditional blues consists of three lines, following an AAB format. The first and second lines are repeated, and the third line responds to them.

Man playing guitar

Call and Response

The Blues uses a lot of call and response in its genre, reflecting the African musical tradition. It makes sense since the genre originated from the African-American people. Call and response is a compositional technique where two distinct phases work like a conversation. the phrases can be either vocal, instrumental or even both!

Repetition

Repetition in blues is when lines or phrases are repeated. It allows the themes and emotions to be reinforced, strengthening their impact on the listener.

Rhythm

Blues is known for its offbeats and irregular rhythms, which are called syncopation. Syncopation is a rhythmic pattern where notes are laced off-beat. This emphasises a swing to the rhythm, adding to the ‘blues effect’.

Improvisation

Many of the blues musicians did not have the required skills or technique to play the necessary notes. Thus, blues musicians looked toward improvisation as a solution. Improvisation also had to do with playing with your ‘soul’ and feeding that bluesy feeling into every note.

Bessie, BB King and Howlin

Famous Blues Artists

Blues music has produced many exceptional artists who have risen above their situations and become famous for their influence on the genre. Here are a few of the most popular blues musicians:

Bessie Smith

Bessie was an African-American blues singer and was widely renowned during the Jazz Age. Her virtuosity and influence lead to her being nicknamed the empress of the blues. Bessie grew up in poverty, being raised by an aunt. Yet despite her circumstances, she rose above it, using her talent to beat the odds against her. She was known as a brave, bold and fierce woman with a rich contralto voice. Bessie has composed many blues songs and is truly an inspiration.

B.B. King

One of the most famous blues artists of all time, B.B. King was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and record producer. King had a major influence on the development of the blues. He worked for a time as a disc jockey in Tennessee, earning the nickname Blue Boy King. King made a hit record and, ever since then, has been touring the country and then the world, inspiring many with his exceptional skills. King released countless songs and albums, which were a big hit. He also claimed his title of the undisputed king of blues.

Howlin Wolf

This man was an incredible American blues singer and composer. He started singing professionally at a young age and continued to pursue his dream and improve his skill. He released his first record which became a hit almost instantly. Wolf had a major impact and influence on the blues as a genre and was inducted into both the Blues hall of Fame and the Rock and roll hall of Fame.

The blues genre is one of my favourite genres to play on the piano. To me, the piano allows the creation of a whole band without even adding instruments. Although it is a rather challenging genre to play, it still remains one of the most beautiful genres to exist, in my opinion.

Wrap Up

I must say, it is incredible to think that something so unique and exciting was born out of social and political struggles. A true diamond formed in the rough. These people rose above their struggles, proving that you are not limited to your circumstances. I guess a bit of music can always help bring people and hope together!

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