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Acoustic Blues Primer with Terry Robb

 

Blues you don't need a psychiatrist to remedy ...

 

by Chris Loeffler

Blues are a not only a feeling, but they are a style unto itself. Lots of people can cry the Blues, but not everyone can play the Blues.

 

It's not easy to get a definition of Blues. If you hear Robert Johnson singing “Ramblin’ On My Mind” or B.B. King playing “The Thrill Is Gone,” it’s easy. That’s Blues, no doubt. But what about Cream’s version of “Crossroads”? Can Pavarotti sing the Blues? No – everyone can, if there's the right feeling for it.

 

The characteristics that most identify a Blues song are the 12-bar form, the call-and-response structure, dominant 7th chords, the I-IV-V progression and the shuffle rhythm. But Eric Clapton, the latter-day Blues hero, says it best:

 

My definition of Blues is that it’s a musical form which is very disciplined and structured coupled with a state of mind, and you can have either of those things but it’s the two together that make it what it is. And you need to be a student for one, and a human being for the other, but those things alone don’t do it.” – Eric Clapton (interview 1998)

  

 The Art Of The Blues Guitar Turnaround

 

Turnarounds create intros and endings that both set the mood and resolve (or not) the song, making the turnaround the two most important parts of a song. Now let’s make them interesting and memorable!

 

Nearly all Blues songs have one of seven different kinds of intros. The following intros are the most common ones:

 

No Intro at All, a/k/a ‘Starting from the Top’

 

A very common intro is to start right from the top of the 12-bar Blues progression. This first chorus could be an instrumental chorus (solo) or with vocals.

 

The following songs are famous examples of this kind of intro:

 

I Can´t Quit You Baby’ – Otis Rush

Dust My Broom’ – Elmore James

 

Starting with Four Bars on the I-Chord

 

This intro starts with four bars on the I-chord with no turnaround. This intro lends itself to a song with a strong riff.

 

Green Onions’ – Booker T & The MGs 

I´m Ready’ – Muddy Waters

 

Starting with the Turnaround

 

A common way to start a Blues song is to play the turnaround as an intro and return to the top of the progression, either with an instrumental chorus or with a chorus with vocals.

 

Key To Love’ – Gary Moore

 

Starting from the V

 

Possibly the most common Blues intro of all time, starting with the last four bars of the Blues progression, then playing throught the V and IV before the turnaround. 

 

Listen to the following songs for this kind of intro:

 

Tell Me’ – Stevie Ray Vaughan

I´m Tore Down’ – Eric Clapton

 

 

Four-Bar-Intro with Turnaround

 

This is a variation of the previous intro. Instead of playing V-IV-turnaroun, two bars of the I chord are played and then the turnaround. Sometimes this intro goes I-IV-turnaround.

 

Here are some classic songs with this kind of intro:

 

Before You Accuse Me' – Eric Clapton

Sweet Home Chicago’ – The Blues Brothers

 

 
Endings

 

Songs have to end eventually, and the best ones end with something that stays with the listener long after the song is over. A typical way to end a Blues song is some variation of the turnaround used throughout the song. Just play a turnaround till the first beat of bar two, then use embellishments on the root.  -HC

 

 

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

 

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