Blues basics

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Blues is one of the truly American modern art-forms. The blues is related to all the other major American branches in popular music, especially jazz. Though the blues form is associated with ballads, it does have a vast corpus of fast up-tempo songs.

The Foundation[edit]

The Blues is built around a chord progression known as the 1 • 4 • 5 progression, also written in Roman numerals as I - IV - V. This chord sequence has been around in folk songs, ballads and in hymns since antiquity and is derived from a chord relationship model known as the circle of fifths. The most common forms of Blues are played on guitar accompanied by at least some representation of bass and drums. The mystique and charm of the Blues comes from its simple familiarity and its feel. Relax.

The Twelve-bar Blues[edit]

The twelve-bar blues is familiar and fairly easy to learn. It is as common as dirt to play it in the key of E and in 4/4 time. What makes it 12-bar is that there are twelve 4-count bars also called measures before the pattern repeats. We're playing E, A, and B7. We have rhythm and lead guitars, walking bass and drums doing a 'shuffle' beat. Listen.

Transcript: E, A, E, E, A, A, E, E, B7, A, E, B7 ...E


The Blues Scale[edit]

The blues scale has the following harmonies: R, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7. The number of steps b/w each note is: 1.5, w, h, h, 1.5, w. (or can also be: 1.5, t, s, s, 1.5, t) The blues scale is basically the Pentatonic Scale with a tritone mixed in. A tritone is a very dissonant interval used in the blues scale as a "color note."

The following is a sliding scale for guitar of the blues scale: File:Blues Sliding Scale for Guitar.jpg

For your first time using the scale, the different colors are meaningless except for the black circles. The black circles indicate the root notes. If you wanted to play an E Blues scale then you would imagine the black circle on the E string in at the twelfth fret. Two octaves of the blues scale would be as follows: low E 12th fret, low E 15th fret, A 12th fret, A 13th fret, A 14th fret, D 12th fret, D 14th fret, G 12th fret, G 14th fret, G 15th fret, B 12th fret, 15th fret, E 12th fret

The different colors do serve a purpose. For a given scale the interval of a note (half steps b/w note and root) determine its sound. For example all the red notes represent a fifth (7 half steps), so all the red circles will have the same feel to them. As you learn what the feel of the different notes of a scale are, you can more easily make your guitar make the sounds you want it to.

This is the blues scale based on the pentatonic minor scale. It is the pentatonic minor scale with a flat fifth added in which is known as the blue note. This is the blues scale that is used for blues progressions in minor keys, (this is not always the case, search modulation).

You can also create the blues scale using the pentatonic major scale by adding in the "blue note." This would be used for playing playing over chord progressions in the major key.

Blues has a long and great tradition of improvised playing. Once you learn the scale for a particular key you should get some backing tracks and start jamming! It's the best part about playing guitar and its a lot of fun and you can jam with other musicians and meet new people and discover new ideas and approaches to the instrument, go nuts!

Your First Jam[edit]

This is a backing in the key of E.

The I:
e|--------------------
B|--------------------
G|--------------------
D|--------------------
A|-2-2-4-4-2-2-4-4----
E|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0----

The IV:
e|--------------------
B|--------------------
G|--------------------
D|-2-2-4-4-2-2-4-4----
A|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0----
E|--------------------

The V:
e|--------------------
B|--------------------
G|--------------------
D|-4-4-6-6-4-4-6-6----
A|-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2----
E|--------------------

Turnaround:

e|-----------------------------------
B|-----------------------------------
G|-----------------------------------
D|-----------------------------------
A|-2-2-4-4-5-5-4-4-2-2-4-2----22222--
E|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0----00000--

Audio resources[edit]