Monday, March 20, 2006

Schoolin' in the blues

"Brother Blues" by Cbabi Bayoc

I'm learning something new every time I practice with Big Mike and the guys. I won't pretend to know all there is to know, but tonight I "felt" it more than I have in past practices.

According to WikiHow, here's How to Become a Blues Musician:
1. Listen to some of the "greats". These include Albert King, Willie Dixon, John Ledbetter, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, and many many more. You may be able to find "best of" style compilation albums at your local record store.

2. Learn the basic "twelve bar blues" chord progression. In degrees of scale, the first four bars stick to the first degree. The next two bars are the fourth degree, and then two bars of the first degree. The last four bars are the fifth degree, fourth degree, first degree, and fifth degree, respectively, and then the progression repeats. (This is often referred to as a I:IV:V or just 1-4-5 progression.) The most common keys for 1-4-5 blues songs are A, E, D, C, and G, but blues can be played in any key.

3. Learn to play a few different songs that use the 1-4-5 progression. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is a 1-4-5 in A, Tracy Chapman's "Gimme One Reason" is a 1-4-5 in C, and Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" is a 1-4-5 in E. Each song follows essentially the same chord progression, but each sounds unique because of the tempo and the style in which it is played. Playing a variety of 1-4-5 blues will help you understand what they have in common and how they differ, which will in turn help you build a solid foundation in blues while still encouraging your own creativity.

4. Jam the blues with other musicians and experiment with the style.
This is actually pretty basic and pretty accurate, in my estimation. I'm working from what sounds right, and what I came up with was that it's loosely based on a pentatonic scale. What's interesting to me is that the pentatonic scale is such a widespread phenomenon among cultures all over the world. I wonder why? I mean, what about it makes it such a staple? Something to think about, certainly. I'll probably do a little research on it just to see what the ethnomusicologists have to say about it.

And in the meantime, I'll keep practicing and listening and trying hard to NOT be a liability to the rest of the band. I don't harbor any delusions of becoming a skilled blues pianist by the time the Blues Challenge happens, but I'd at least like to NOT stink, yanno?

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