Development of the Blues - It's history and development
This particular explanation of the development of the blues will be rather short by comparison to what has been done in other sources, mainly because one could write a whole book on the blues alone. I will develop a short capsule of the blues development from the 19th Century to the 1950s and then describe specifically how that influenced country music.
The blues will be discussed throughout the text where that is appropriate. For more on the blues consult the bibliography.
The blues in its fully developed form (from the 1920s) was a twelve measu
re unit that had specific chord relationships in it. In order to understand the development, we must first explain what hat mans, and this will require a touch of technical discussion. However, this should not scare anyone off – or at least I hope that it does not. So stay with me.
Music is divided into units of time, and in order to understand what is happening in
any country tune or other music, we must be able to perceive those units of time. Of course, music is communicated through time and any composition takes a certain
amount of time to play.
We will start with the blues because it will provide informati
on that can be used in discussing country forms in the history of the blues.
A musical scale is a set of notes leading from one
to another. A major scale in the western world consists of eight notes, going either from a bottom note up or a note down. The first and last note of any scale has the same letter name e and is separated by a distance called an octave. The notes in a major scale could be obtained from singing the first eight notes of “Joy to the World”
Joy to the world the Lord is come.
C B A G F E D C
C B A G F E D C
Notice that C and C are notes 1 and 8 and that is the particular major scale is a descending one. There are actually very few songs that use a complete major scale in the opening eight notes.
You will notice that we are talking about the melody without considering how long each note is held. If you have not yet understood what a melody is, here is an example; the pitches themselves, without the words, form a melody, in this case a descending major scale.
The letters represent the notes as they could be played on a guitar or a piano. The numbers represents the scale degrees, which could be used to describe the different pitches in the scale and the relationships among them in the history of the blues.
The pitches of a scale have a relationship to each other in forming a melody or a progression of notes, such as the progression of notes which form the basis of the blues. A progression is a set of occurrences which happens more than once. It should not be confused with progressing from one place to another, although that is a meaning of the word as well. In music, progression usually refers to a set of chord changes which occurs over and over, serving as a basis for versed of a song or for improvisation. We will first set up the blues progression, explain a method by which to count it, and then refer to it as an example of a progression used in country music.
The basic blues progression normally consists of twelve measures, each of which has for pulsations. To produce a measure we simply clap our hands four times, keeping the distance between the claps to be the same. We can use the second hand on a clock if we wish to keep the beats even. Next, we sing the same note at the same time that we clap our hands - for instance C, C, and C, C or 1,1,1,1.
We have produced a measure with four notes and then we can go on to create groups of two, four, eight and twelve measures in the history of blues music.
The blues progression follows a certain pattern of scale notes. Using both letters and numbers, we can represent the blues progression as follows.
Although this is a scaled down version of a complete explanation of the blues progression, it should suffice as a model for understanding progression and for counting bests. As we get to the actual analysis of music, we will give more suggestions on how to do this. It is important to understand one basic progression and how it works, and the blues progression is good one to start with.
The history of the blues is significant, especially as we slowly work our way toward country music. Early blues was rural blues, performed by rural musician in rural setting, usually as a solo (with a guitar accompaniment played by the singer). It quite often followed patters which were marginally like the blues progression presented as the basic mode. Early blues forms had eight-measure length, ten-measure lengths, 12, 13, 14, 16, 24 and other odd lengths. Some were influenced by European dance forms and others were simply produced spontaneously. The only overriding consistency was that they began as simple songs and then were improvised (made up on the spot), both in lyrics and accompaniment, to fill out the remainder of the song. Improvisation is probably the most important trait of the blues.
Primitive blues was the primary form at the end of the 19th century. Classic blues (as defined by Leroy Jones in Urban Blues), the form that followed primitive blues, was the acculturated form. It was still not urban blues in the commercial sense, but it did begin to solidify the style and move toward a standard blues form, according to it's history.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, there were significant blues singers and instrumentalists, who were influential both in blues and in most other forms available: Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, MaRainey, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith. Some later musicians in the same developments are T-Bone Walker, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Muddy Waters, and B.B King. Interestingly, some of these singers continued to employ eight-bar blues forms as well as the more standard twelve-measure blues. The point is that each of these musicians did things that influenced other blues singers and, parenthetically, country music. Even when they used progressions that did not follow the twelve-bar patters, they used one to five changes and blue melodies.
The basic chronology of the blues is as follows:-
1) Primitive Blues - 1800s
2) Classic Blues - 1900-1930
3) Boogie Woogie - 1926
4) Urban Blues - 1930
5) Jump Blues - 1940s
6) Rhythm and Blues - 1940
These various form were influential in country music in the early period, during rockabilly and in various instrumental styles. Although the blues is thought to be primarily a development of black musicians. It is certain that white influences were present and that country music came from an interesting amalgam of traditional folk music, blues, and salon music of the 19th Century.