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Blues…Blues…Blues

A study guide by MATT JENSON www.mattjenson.com

The blues is about human suffering and hope and should be played with intensity,
in the spirit of such suffering and hope!

“Blues is roots music, always radical: the root or essence of other musics. Many music genres have
blues, including jazz, rock and R&B. Blues is pure food for fusion and many musics ground themselves
in feelings through their bluesy elements. And yet blues is still fresh – untouched. That is because blues
is a singularity rather than itself a fusion with something else. It is indivisible-recursive, the root of the
blues is the human experience and psyche itself. We owe a great debt to African Americans for
delivering this great treasure to the world in the form we have it now, but blues is not a matter of color
or form. It’s root is the human experience itself – for all times and in all cultures. Blues is a sincere gift
of the African American tradition to the world.” - Michael Erlewhine, AMG Guide

What may appear to be an obsolete and less sophisticated/interesting style to some musicians, is an
endless realm of creative improvisation to many others. The quintessential component of the blues is
story telling steeped in emotion. The story is told with passion as the performer emotes. If the emotion is
diminished the story becomes mundane, thus the challenge of the blues is to maintain its integrity and
energy while you convey your story. The limited framework of the blues forces the improviser right to
the heart of playing with feeling and soul. Blues does not demand virtuosity or deep harmonic
knowledge, its essence is feeling. It can serve as a grounding element in more sophisticated
improvisational genres, allowing the “story” to be coherent to the listener. It can also be an excellent
study for the student improviser on their way to more harmonically sophisticated styles. The phrasing of
the “story” becomes the basis of logical well-shaped phrasing in all styles.

Some Characteristics of the BLUES


1. Repetitive rhythmic backgrounds – endless variations of the shuffle, straight eights, 12/8, rhumba,
swing, funk, swamp, etc.
2. Blues calls, field hollers, phrases – major and minor pentatonics, blues scale, mixolydian, dorian, etc.
3. Usually one key center – mixolydian environment, or dorian for minor blues. Occasional V chord
scale, occasional implied or actual secondary dominants
4. Limited harmonic vocabulary – some blues have only one chord, but most have 3 (I IV, V), and some
times add sub V and secondary dominant chords.
5. Intense stylistic integrity – purpose and expression in playing repetitive background parts (comping),
deep interaction with other instruments and vocals, maintained high energy level.
Scales used in the Blues
** fingerings shown for the key of C only. Fingerings for different keys are shown at the end of this study guide.

!
"!Practice!the!blues,!minor!&!major!pentatonic!scales!in!all!keys,!but!start!with!D,!F,!G,!Bb,!Eb,!E!and!A!
because!these!are!more!commonly!used.!
!

!
"!The!mixolydian!scale!is!used!with!dominant!7th!chords.!Practice!in!different!keys!!
!
!

!
"!Practice!the!basic!12!bar!blues!in!all!keys,!but!start!with!D,!F,!G,!Bb,!Eb,!E!and!A.!To!start!use!!
!!!this!basic!blues!shuffle!figure!(below)!in!the!left!hand.!Watch!the!fingering!!!

Left Hand Comping Patterns

…one more, next page…


!
!
Some Blues Licks
There!are!many!many!blues!licks.!These!are!but!a!few!to!get!you!started.!Once!you!learn!them!as!
written,!experiment!with!playing!them!in!many!different!rhythmic!variations,!and!different!keys.!
!(Note:!The!names!for!these!licks!are!NOT!standard!names!used!by!musicians.!!I!made!them!up!for!the!use!of!this!hand!out!only.)!
!
"!The!“b3#on#the#IV#chord”!rule:!Whatever!lick,!or!scale!you’re!using,!if!it!utilizes!the!natural!third!of!the!
I!chord,!when!you!go!to!the!IV!chord,!you!can!use!the!same!exact!lick!or!scale!(NOT!transposing!it!to!the!
IV!chord),!but!you!must!lower!the!3rd!degree!a!½!step!of!that!lick!or!scale.!!!
!
"!The!blues!“101”!lick.!!Many!other!licks!are!derived!from!this!elemental!pattern!by!altering!the!!!
!!!rhythm!and!order.!Once!you’ve!got!it!down,!experiment!with!it.!Try!playing!it!in!minor!key.!
.!

!
!
"!The!‘drone’!lick.!You!repeat!the!top!note!(usually!the!root)!while!playing!the!blues!scale!under!
!!!it.!!Again,!mess!around!with!it!rhythmically!and!switch!the!order!of!the!blues!scale!notes.!
!

!
"!The!‘3#voice#mixo’!lick.!!A!parallel!motion!voicing!based!on!the!C!mixolydian!scale.!!
!

"!‘Mixo#6ths’!lick.!Starting!with!the!root!on!top,!play!a!parallel!mixolydian!scale!in!6ths.!!
!

!
!
"!Three!cliché!variations!on!the!mixolydian!6th!lick.!!!

!
!
"!‘Super#slick’!variation!on!the!mixo!6th!lick.!!

!
!
"!The!‘Chromatic#6th#chord’!lick.!!Root!position!with!1st!&!2nd!inversions.!Great!for!funk!comping!!

!
!
!
"!The!‘Guide#tone#chromatic#approach’!lick.!Find!the!guide!tones!(the!3rd!and!7th!degree)!of!each!
!!chord!and!approach!them!from!a!½!step!below.!
!

!
"!The!‘Super#triplet’!lick.!
!

!
!

!!Dr.!John!
!
"!The!‘Cascade’!lick.!!As!originated!by!Professor!Longhair!of!New!Orleans!fame.!

!
"!The!‘Country#6@3’!lick.!Based!on!the!major!pentatonic!scale,!this!lick!can!be!used!in!practically!
!!!any!style!of!music.!!The!target!notes!are!the!6th!and!3rd!degrees!of!the!(major)!scale.!
!

Blues Turn Around Figures


(…played in the last bar or last two bars of the 12 bar blues form.)

"!The!most!basic!turn!around,!played!in!the!12th!(last)!measure!of!the!form.!

"!A!little!more!complicated.!Played!in!measures!11!and!12!(the!last!two!bars)!of!the!form.!!

!
!
!
!
!
!
"!Even!more!complicated.!Played!in!measures!11!and!12!(the!last!two!bars)!of!the!form.!

9th / 13th Voice Leading


"!These!are!incredibly!well!used!voicings!that!every!piano!player!should!know.!Each!form!can!
!!!have!a!thicker!jazz!sound!by!adding!an!inner!tension.!!

Professor!Longhair,!“Fess”
Call and Response Phrasing
A!large!part!of!sounding!good!not!just!in!blues!but!in!any!style!is!about!your!ability!to!‘speak’!to!your!
audience,!to!really!communicate!what!you!are!feeling.!There’s!no!better!way!to!do!that!than!to!use!
simple!CALL!AND!RESPONSE!phrasing.!!Here!is!an!example!using!the!first!4!bars!of!Ray!Charles’!
“Georgia!on!My!Mind.”!

Other Common Blues Progressions


Blues Scale Fingerings
It’s!critical!that!you!can!really!RIP!the!blues!scales!well.!For!this,!you!gotta!have!good!fingering.!Here!
are!suggested!fingerings!for!the!more!popular!keys!you!may!find!in!a!blues!or!jazz!group.!Even!though!
these!are!listed!in!one!octave!only,!make!sure!you!practice!at!least!2!octaves!ALWAYS.!!!
!

created by Matt Jenson www.matjenson.com!


The “Gospel” Scale
Even%though%this%is%what%many%people%call%the%“gospel”%scale:%

%
But%for%the%purposes%of%this%hand%out,%I%am%using%the%scale%below%and%calling%it%the%“gospel”%scale.%
%
%

–%Drop%2%harmonization%for%an%OPEN%sound.%

–%Minor%gospel%scale%harmonized%adding%some%7ths%for%a%fuller%sound.%(This%it%the%lick%used%on%the%Billy%
Preston%tune%“Will%it%Go%Round%in%Circles.”)%
–%Simple%IV%to%I%gospel%walk%down%resolution.%

–%Cadence%harmonized%in%10ths.%

created by Matt Jenson


www.matjenson.com
The Roots of the Blues
Griots Work Songs Gospel
West African Music Field Hollers
1920’s Minstrel, Medicine & White Appalachian,
Jazz and Ragtime Vaudville presentations Folk & Country Music
W.C Handy Songsters
Early Delta
Mamie Smith Jug Bands Blues Practitioners
Records “Crazy Blues”
1920 - 1st Blues Record
Various Artists, Negro Work Songs and Calls (Library of Congress)
6 Recommended Recordings Various Artists, The Sounds of the South (Atlantic)
Various Artists, Blues Masters, Vol 10: Blues Roots (Rhino) Eddie “One String” Jones, One String Blues (Gazell)
Various Artists, Afro-American Spirituals, Worksongs and Ballads: Blues Roots (Library of Congress) Ali Farka Toure, The Source (Hannibal)

Lester Melrose & Early Chicago Blues


Lester Melrose ‘50s Blues Producers Recorded & Produced
Producer & Talent Scout Leonard & Phil Chess, Sam Phillips Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Jazz Gillum
Willie Dixon, Bihari Brothers Sonny Boy Williamson 1, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup
14 Recommended Recordings Kansas Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie
Magic Sam, West Side Soul (Delmark)
Blues Record Co’s Bukka White, Washboard Sam
Muddy Waters, The Best of Muddy Waters (MCA-Chess) Chess Records, Sun Records,
Otis Rush, 1956-1958 (Paula) Cobra Records, Vee-Jay Records, Post War Chicago Blues
Little Walter, The Best of Little Walter (MCA-Chess) Modern Records Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter,
Paul Butterfield, Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Elektra) Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon,
Jimmy Reed, Speak the Lyrics To Me Mama Reed (Vee-Jay)
Howlin’ Wolf, Howlin Wolf / Moanin’ in the Moonlight (MCA-Chess)
Jr. Wells, Elmore James, Walter Horton
Various Artists, Chacago/The Blues/Today! Vol 1-3 (Vanguard) Hound Dog Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers (Alligator)
Elmore James, The Best of Elmore James-The Early Years (Ace) Various Artists, Blues Masters, Volume 2: Postwar Chacaga (Rhino)

Delta Blues
Charlie Patton Johnny Shines, Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, John Lee Hooker,
1st great star of the Delta Blues Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Mississippi Fred McDowell

10 Recommended Recordings Sun House, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson,


Various Artists, Blues Masters Vol 8: Mississippi Delta (Rhino) Tommy McClennan, Ishmon Bracey, Robert Johnson,
Robert Johnson, The Complete Early Recordings (CPS)
Various Artists, Roost of Robert Johnson (Yazoo) Skip James, Bukka White, Missippi John Hurt
Charley Patton, Founder of the Delta Blues (Yazoo) Muddy Waters, The Complete Plantaion Recordings
Tommy Johnson, Complete Recorded Works (Document) Son House, Delta Blues: The Original Library of Congress Sessions from Field Recordings 1941-42
Bukka White, The Complete Bukka White (Columbia) Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mississippi Delta Blues

Memphis Blues
W. C. Handy wrote “Memphis Blues” in 1912
Jug Bands Memphis: Late 40’s early 50’s Sun Rockabilly
Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Gus Cannon, Joe Hill Louis, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Walter Horton, Memphis R&B 1954-1968
Robert Wilkins, Memphis Willie Borum, Hot Shot Love, Jimmy De Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Stax Records, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins,
Noah Lewis, Will Shade, Joe McCoy, Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker, Pat Hare, Johnny Ace, Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert King,
Memphis Minnie, Jack Kelly, Walter Horton Willie Johnson, Sammy Lewis, Little Milton
Memphis Soul Scene
Classic Women Blues Singers Booker T & the MGs, Willie Mitchell,
Bill Black Combo
Ida Cox, Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Bogan, 10 Recommended Recordings Mamie Smith, In Chronological Order, Vol. 1 (Document)
Bessie Smith, The Collection (CBS) Alberta Hunter, Young Alberta Hunter (Vintage Jazz)
Alberta HunterEthel Waters, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey (Milsetone) Ethel Waters, Jazzin’ Babies’ Blues, 1921-27 (Biograph)
Slippie Wallace, 1923-29 (Alligator) Barious Artists, Women’s Railroad Blues: Sorry But I Can’t
The Queens Bessie Smith & Ma Rainey Victoria Spivey, 1926-31 (Document) Take You (Rosetta)
Bonnie Raitt, Tracey Nelson, Janis Joplin Lucille Bogan, 1023-35 (Story of Blues) Various Artists, Blues Masters Vol. II: Classic Blues
Women (Rhino)
Lousiana Blues
New Orleans Jazz Scene 1900 to late 1940s
Country Zydeco New Orleans Guit. & Piano
Robert Pete Williams Clifton Chenier, BooZoo Chavis Guitar Slim, Smiley Lewis, Professor Longhair,
Snooks Eaglin James Booker, Earl King
14 Recommended Recordings Excello Swamp Blues
Various Artists, Bloodstains on the Wall: Country Blues From Specialty (Specialty)
Robert Pete Williams, Those Prison Blues (Arhoolie) Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan,
Guitar Slim, Sufferin’ Mind (Specialty) Jimmy Anderson, Lonesome Sundown, Katie Webster
Professor Longhair, Fess: Professor Longahair Anthology (Rhino)
Slim Harpo, Hip Shakin’: The Excello Collection (Rhino) Silas Hogan, Trouble (Excello)
Snooks Eaglin, The Complete Imperial Recordings (Capitol) Katie Webster, Katie Webster (Paula)
Lightnin’ Slim, Rooser Blues (Excello) Clifton Chenier, Zydeco Dynamite: The Clifton Chenier Anthology (Rhino)
Lazy Lester, I hear You Knockin’ (Excello) Various Artists, Alligaror Stomp Vol 1-2 (Rhino)
Lonseome Sundown, I’m a Jojo Man (Excello) Various Artists, Crescent City Soul: The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 (EMI)

West Coast Blues


T-Bone Walker moves to California, popularized jazz style that becomes the West Coast Sound.
Pee Wee Crayton, Charles Brown, Roy Milton, Percy Mayfield, Suggie Otis, William Clarke,
Lowell Fulson, Amos Milburn, Nat “King” Cole, Johnny Otis, Johnny Heartsman, Canned Heat,
Johnny Guitar Watson, Ray Charles, Roy Brown, Rod Plazza, Joe Louis Walker,
Jimmy McCracklin Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston, Jimmy Liggins Ted Hawkins
15 Recommended Recordings
T-Bone Walker, The Complete Capitol/Black & White Recordings (Capitol) Charles Brown, Driftin’ Blues: The Best of Charles Brown (EMI)
T-Bone Walker, The Complete Imperial Recordings (EMI) Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Three Hours Past Midnight (Flair)
Pee Wee Walker, Rocking Down on Central Avenue (Ace) Lowell Fulson, San Francisco Blues (Black Lion)
Amos Milburn, Down the Road Apiece: The Best of Amos Milburn (EMI) Johnny Otis, The Johnny Otis Show (Savoy)
Floyd Dixon, Marshall Texas Is My Home (Specialty) Jimmy McCracklin, Everybody Rock: Let’s Do It! The Best of Jimmy McCracklin (Domino)
Roy Milton, Roy Milton and His Solid Senders (Specialty) Johnny Heartsman, The Touch (Alligarot)
Percy Mayfield, Poet of the Blues (Specialty) Ted Hawkins, Happy Hour (Rounder)

Texas Electric Blues


T-Bone Walker - first Texas Bluesman to play amplified “Stormy Monday”.
Blind Lemon Jefferson - first Texas Blues guitarist. Lightnin’ Hopkins plays both electric and acoustic guitar.
Pee Wee Crayton, Amos Milburn, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Jimmie Vaughn
Gatemouth Brown, Clarence Garlow Freddie King, Hop WIlson Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons
10 Recommended Recordings
Various Artists, Blues Masters Series, Vol 3: Texas Blues (Rhino) T-Bone Walker, The Complete Black & White Recordings (Capitol)
Various Artists, Texas Music, Vol 1: Postwar Blues Combos (Rhino) Bobby “Blue” Bland, I Pitty the Fool (MCA)

Piano Blues Stylists by Region


St. Louis Texas New Orleans
Lee Green, Roosevelt Sykes, Alex Moore, Dr. Hepcat, Cousin Joe, Archibald, Smiley Lewis,
Peetie Wheatstraw, Henry Townsend, Rob Cooper, Dave Alexander, Sammy Price Jack Dupree, Prof. Longhair, Fats Domino
Walter Roland, Walter Davis
Indianapolis - Leroy Carr California
Chicago Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield
Kansas City
Willie Mabon, Otis Spann, Detroit Jr.
Jay McShann, Count Basie, Pete Johnson Memphis & the Delta
Henry Gray, Eddie Boyd, Art Hodes
Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnyland Slim,
16 Recommended Recordings Cecil Gant, Rock the Boogie (Krazy Kat) Booker T. Laury, Memphis Slim, Jab Jones,
Cow Cow Davenport, Alambma Strut (Magpie) Memphis Slim, Rockin’ the Blues (Charly) Piano Red, Mose Vinson
Roosevelt Sykes, Roosavelt Sykes (1924-41) (Story of Blues) Sunnyland Slim, Sunnyland Slim (Fliright)
Leroy Carr, Naptown Blues (Yazoo) Otis Spann, Otis Spann is the Blues (Candid) Other Major Players
Albert Ammons, King of Boogie-Woogie (1939-49) (Blues Classics) Camille Howard, Vol 1: Rock Me Daddy (Specialty)
Speckled Red, Ray Charles
Meade Lux Lewis, Complete Blue Note Recordings (Mosaic)
Jimmy Yancey, Vol1 (1939-40) (Document) Professor Longhair, Fess: Professor Longhair Anthology (Rhino)
Big Maceo, King of Chicago Blues Piano, Vol 1&2 (Arhoolie) James Booker, New Orleans Pianno Wizard: Live! (Rounder)
Amos Milburn, Down the Road Apiece: The Best of Amos Milburn (EMI)
Floyd Dixon, Marshall Texas is My Home (Specialty)