Origins of The Blues

The blues are one of those mystical elements of life that seems to have appeared out of thin air. Not much else is able to tug at our heartstrings like a meaningful, deep blues riff. It seems to awaken all the thunder and storm within us. So, who gets the credit for gifting us all of this style? Whether it’s the soul of the sound, the scale or the sensitivity in the lyricism - the influence of blues is woven within so much of the history of music. This genre is a funny thing. It’s so embedded within varying musical cultures that many times it goes unnoticed and underrated, but you might be surprised to find that, if you really think about it, just about every genre in today’s musical trends has roots and foundations in none other than the blues, aside for the obvious opposites such as classical, folk and so many others. However, links to the blues trace all the way to the genres of today that find their roots in blues music include rock, r&b, jazz and just about every single form of their derivatives. 

So, how far back does this gorgeous art form go exactly? “Blues is a music genre and musical form which originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in African-American work songs and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballad”  as told by Wikipedia, one of our favorite sources. Specifically, It’s been said that this art form was born during the American Civil War between the years of 1861 and 1865. As for who was the very first pioneer, this is always up for debate, but the father of blues music is most widely agreed upon as William Christopher Handy, who originated for Alabama. In 1912, he created and published the song “Memphis Blues” which is now known to be famed as the very first blues song. Mr. Handy is also credited for the organization of the very first blues concert, as well. Quite the accolades!

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So what exactly makes blues music sound like the blues? Have you ever heard of a little thing called the “blue note”. One of our very favorite quotes by Marvin Gaye goes a little something like this ““There’s got to be other notes some place, in some dimension, between the cracks on the piano keys.” - enter the Blue note. The blue notes of a song are often the vague, mysterious notes that seem to teeter between two clear notes. These notes create a hypnotic trance-like effect on the listener, as they are unable to decipher the traditionally clear notes that they are used to hearing in many other genres. These blue notes make up so much that embodies the personality of this sound, as it creates an effect of grit, uncertainty and raw emotion. 

Something that can often go unnoticed, or perhaps misunderstood within the category of all things blues is the freedom that comes along with the song, felt by both the performers and the audience. Blues music is often a very personal piece, typically emitting an emotion of yearning, pain, heartache or true, dizzying love. Funnily enough, even if the lyrics aren’t strung with tough feelings, the style of the song almost always appears to be so. Even the most silly of lyrics sung within the frame of blues characteristics, ends up taking on a heavy and undeniable quality.  

A very favorite aspect of the blues is that it’s simultaneously a predictable yet also enigmatic style. If you’re looking to learn how to sing or play this style, it’s best to learn the blues scale, alongside a few of your favorite famous riffs and chord progressions, which typically center around just a few. Once you know how to play “within” this genre, you can explore with limitless potential and this is where you can really pour your heart into it - and this is what makes blues oh so very special.