Is Blues the Mother of All Modern Music?

Okay, I have a question for you. Listen to these clips from three different songs and try and guess what they all have in common. (jazz music) (country music) (rock music) Could you figure it out? Whether directly or indirectly, all of these songs were inspired in some way by blues music. But how are all these songs that sound so different influenced by the same music, and what makes blues music the blues? (soulful music) – Because if you don’t like the blues, you don’t like your mama.

‘Cause it’s the ruler of music, man. It’s like cooking potatoes. You may fry ’em, you may bake ’em, you may cut ’em up, you may smash ’em, but they’re still potatoes. – Gritty guitar solos, wailing harmonicas, and soulful lyrics about life’s hardships are all part of what makes people love the blues. But how did this music start, and why is it so important to American music? The answer to this question can be found deep in the Mississippi Delta of the American south, where the blues was born some time in the late 1800s. – Even after slavery officially ended, poverty and unjust laws kept people from full freedom. Many former slaves stayed in the south and continued to work in difficult conditions. People sang spirituals at church and work songs in the field to help deal with the daily struggles. Over time, this music developed into what people now call the blues. – Most blues musicians were farm workers by day and would play at blues bars called juke joints by night. The earliest form of the blues was often referred to as country blues or Delta blues, and this style usually had a solo singer who would also either play the harmonica or bottleneck slide guitar.

Bottleneck slide guitar is when a musician presses a hard object across multiple strings on a guitar and slides it down the fingerboard. Sometimes they would use a steel bar, a knife, or a bottleneck, and this would create a smooth, wailing type of sound. (guitar music) The Delta blues also emphasized rhythm, finger-style guitar, and reflective lyrics about the hard lives of African American farmers in the South. As blues music grew in popularity, some musicians like Charley Patton, Eddie James “Son” House, Jr., and Robert Johnson became famous and toured around the delta region. Later, blues musicians started performing in Memphis, Tennessee to establish their careers. This included famous blues men like B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. – During what’s known as the Great Migration, from 1910 to 1970, millions of African Americans tried to escape the racism and Jim Crow laws of the south by moving to northern cities.

Many moved to the city of Chicago, in particular. (blues music) Blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters made this journey and brought the blues with them. They also developed a new Chicago blues sound. Chicago blues was basically the same style of blues played in the delta, except played more energetically, with an electric guitar, sometimes a bass guitar, piano, and drums. Listen to this clip from Robert Johnson’s delta blues style song, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” recorded in 1936. (“I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” by Robert Johnson) Now, listen to a 1966 version of the same song in a more Chicago style by Howlin’ Wolf. (“I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” by Howlin’ Wolf) Now the Chicago style would later have an influence on rock and roll, but we’ll talk more about that later. What gives you the blues, Nahre? When they run out of peanut butter jelly? – (laughs) Oh, wow, you know me really well now.

How much experience do you have playing the blues? – That is a very interesting question because it’s also asking me how much experience do I have playing gospel, rock and roll, R&B, soul- – Because it’s all intertwined. – Yeah. – I actually did an episode on my channel on the blues a year ago. (electronic keyboard music) And since then, I’ve learned a lot about blues, about the blues as a genre and also the form. – How would you say blues music and your realm of classical music are related? – The way that melody is formed over chords, how it’s elaborating upon different chords, different chord progression, I think that’s where the similarity is. – Wow, right. – So what is it that makes blues music sound bluesy? Well, let’s take a look at the scale that’s most commonly found in blues songs, which is a six-note scale based off of a five-note scale.

That five-note scale either being the major pentatonic scale (plays scale on piano) or the minor one (plays minor scale), and as you can hear, these five-note scales are quite different than the seven-note scales (plays seven-note scale) that you most commonly hear in western music. Now going back to the major pentatonic scale (plays scale), to that we’re going to add a flat three from the root note (plays flat). That will sound like this. (plays piano scale) To the minor one (plays scale), we’re going to add the flat five from the root note (plays flat), and that’ll sound like this. (plays piano scale) Another important part of the blues is the form, and most blues will follow a 12-bar blues chord progression, which is based around three different chords. Those chords in C Major will be C (plays chord), the one chord, F (plays chord) the four chord, and G (plays chord) the five chord. And these chords will be repeated in a specific order, most commonly with a flat seven as well.

So a C7 (plays chord), F7 (plays chord), and G7 (plays chord). And that’ll sound like this. (plays chords in succession) C7 for four measures. Three. Four. F7 for two. C7 for two. G7 for one. F7 for one, and back to C7 for two. Of course, improvisation is a huge part of the blues, and no tune is complete without it, so I’m going to give it a shot. (plays blues music) (chuckles) Is there something that is similar to what a blue note is in terms of pitches in the context of just drums? – Absolutely. With pitch, it’s like if you’re playing in between a C and a C sharp.

There’s a note in between the C and C sharp. A blue note in rhythm would be like if it’s directly on the beat or there’s notes in between the quantized beats that you can still ride with. – Ah! – Another important element of blues is its A-A-B lyrical structure. Let’s go back to the Robert Johnson track, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.” ♪ I’m gonna get up in the morning’ ♪ ♪ I believe I’ll dust my broom ♪ Now, do you know what lyrics come next? ♪ I’m gonna get up in the morning’ ♪ ♪ I believe I’ll dust my broom ♪ It’s the first line repeated.

This A-A-B lyrical structure is very common in the blues. It’s inspired by the call and response style of singing in African American spirituals and work songs. In the blues, the first line is often repeated, and the third line answers. ♪ Girlfriend the black man you’ve been lovin’ ♪ ♪ Girlfriend can get my room ♪ Of course, what the lyrics are about is also important. – Now true blues, the lyrics are absolutely true. Saying about life experience. (plays chord on guitar) Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but they didn’t lie. – As blues musicians moved from the south and took their music to different part of the U.S., the blues mixed with other musical styles from those regions and helped inspire many new genres – The 12-bar blues chord progression became one of the most popular forms for early jazz improvisation.

Jazz performers like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis were all influenced by the blues, often using a 12-bar structure for their songs. (jazz music) The 12-bar structure was also a major influence on rock and roll. Some even call rock and roll blues with a backbeat, and Elvis Presley probably had this in mind when he recorded his version of a blues song by Big Mama Thornton called, “Hound Dog.” (“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton) (“Hound Dog by Elvis Presley) – Blues also inspired other rock and pop artists, such as (“Johnny B.Goode” by Chuck Berry) (“Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles) (“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream) (“Ball and Biscuit” by The White Stripes) All of these songs use some form of the 12-bar structure or the blues scale.

The pentatonic and blues scales are even common throughout heavy metal music. (“Highway to Hell” by AC/DC) Country music, too. In fact, country is thought to be the result of blues music mixing with folk music brought by European immigrants to the U.S. Because of this, many country songs are written with a blues scale or following the 12-bar blues progression. (“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash) Blues, here we go. – Blues. – I was thinking, we don’t have to do classic blues. – We’ll just have our own twist to it. – That’s what it is. We just gotta let creation happen. – I mean, we always do. So our song contains the 12-bar blues chord progression as well as the blues scale, and some other elements of the blues were included but with our own twist.

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