Understanding the Blues


Blues music came from people born of African descent, who were slaves or descendants of slaves. The songs were about the sad life that slaves led and the conditions in which they worked and lived. Often the music was sad, describing their longing for freedom. That sadness and pain was heard in the emotions of the blues music they wrote. In some early literature about African gospel music, there are comparisons made to the worship style of the Native American dances and chants. Blues music gave the slaves who worked on the plantations a much-needed reprieve from the back-breaking work they were forced to do under slave owners. African chats, drum music, and gospel hymns were all part of the beginning of most of the music we listen to today. In the south, there were hundreds of bluesmen and woman who created the genre. Some famous blues musicians from the time included Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, & Leadbelly. Later, in the 1940’s, there was John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters just to name a few.

There are a lot of sounds and styles of blues today. But the blues genre is mostly written in (don’t’ get lost here – slight theory alert) the chord pattern of 1, 4, 5 – meaning the 1st chord of the scale, the 4th chord of the scale, and the 5th chord of the scale - played in a 12-measure pattern. Since its inception there has been many great additions to the genre, but generally fans of the blues know it when they hear it. Traditionally, they are sad songs with a lot of emotion and not much has changed.

Blues music is best heard on the guitar and piano because of the versatility of those instruments being utilized to play chords. Chords are needed to express the dissonant or sad feeling the musician is trying to convey. The use of minor, major, 7th, and diminished chords play a big role in achieving that blues sound and feeling.

The first published blues song was called “I Got the Blues”. It was a ragtime blues number written by Anthony Maggio in 1908. A decade later, record companies started pursuing woman blues singers like Alberta Hunter and Clara Smith. You can search blues music online and you’ll be able to hear the distinct nature of the sound.

YourSongmaker would like you to check out a Blues song that was produced by us!

Phoenixville Blues Fest



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David Hawkins