April 2018

Techniques: The Blues

Understanding the central concepts and techniques behind the blues.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Techniques: The Blues (page 24 of the student edition). The article uses four examples to introduce students to some concepts behind the blues.

Listen to a playlist of the examples from the article:

Key points in the article:

  • Despite its reputation, the blues covers a whole range of sounds and moods.
  • Its central chord progression is I, IV, V—G, C, D in the key of G; A, D, E in the key of A; D, G, A in the key of D, etc.
  • The typical form is four bars of I, two bars of IV, two bars of I, one bar of V, one bar of IV, and two bars of I.
  • Two variations on this standard form are the “quick four,” when a bar of IV is played in the second measure (instead of I), and the “turnaround,” when the V chord is played in the last bar (instead of I).

Begin: Try some of the techniques with the class, noting the tips described in each example. Lessons might include:

  • Play the I, IV, and V chords in the key of C over and over again for students until they can tell them apart by ear.
  • Play through a standard 12-bar blues progression for students.
  • Play Example 4 for students to illustrate the quick four and turnaround.

Develop: Play the following video of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”:

Have the class listen to where the blues progression comes in, then ask the following questions:
How does the song make use of the blues?
How would you describe the song’s mood?
Does Miller use a quick four or turnaround?

Expand: Now play the following recording of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”:

Ask students the following questions:
Where does the blues progression appear in this song?
How would you describe the song’s mood?
Does Johnson use a quick four or turnaround?