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By Rhys Lett

VCE Music Group Performance – Blues

Blues is included in the 3rd category of the VCE Music Group Performance list with Rhythm n’ Blues and Roots. The style has a rich history developing in the 1900s. It influenced the styles of Jazz, Rock n’ Roll and Pop song writing. Guitarists should take particular interest in this style as much of lead guitar technique is based in blues playing. Playing this style presents unique rhythm styles as the feel of the song will often need a swing element.

Blues songs usually contain just a few chords so they can be easy to learn. Yet to play the style in a manner that is not clique does take some time and study. Melodically, singers need to embrace sliding up into notes. The vocal phrasing is often repetitive so variation of tone is important to create interest. Songs from the VCE Music Group Performance list in 2015 that would be considered blues songs are:  

The Thrill is Gone – BB King.
Love Me Like a Man – Bonnie Raitt.
Still Got the Blues – Gary Moore.
Nothing Against You – Robert Cray.
Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing – Ry Cooder.

There are a century of artists to discover and a lot of variety within the genre. Do some research and listen to musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayall, Peter Green led Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. Modern day female vocalists such as Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele all have blues influenced vocal styles.

Here are some tips for playing this style on your instrument to master the VCE Music Group Performance exam.

Blues – Guitar

  • use power chords shuffling your pinky on and off to create the typical rhythm guitar pattern.
  • string bends are used commonly when soloing, make sure you pitch them precisely by using more than one finger to perform bend.
  • use the neck pickup sound on any guitar to get the tone associated with the blues. You don’t need much distortion just an edgy overdrive sound to help with sustain.

Electric blues guitar innovator Muddy Waters

Blues – Bass

  • walking bass is associated with the blues, know how to play ascending and descending runs to create variety over the repetitive chord patterns.
  • playing with fingers is preferred as it creates a smoother, rounded tone.
  • bass plays a very important role in linking the shuffle drum rhythm, listen closely to your drummer make that groove come alive.

Blues – Drums

  • learn how to shuffle. Blues is often played in 12/8 time meaning feeling in groups of threes (triplets) unlike the usual 4/4 time signature.
  • focus on the groove and dynamics to make the style come alive. Keep the feel laid back and loose.
  • work on your hi hat tone with experimenting with open and closed sounds as well knowing where to attack on the ride cymbal.

This video gives an insight on how to make that shuffle work.

For further questions or if you are wanting to learn to play the blues, contact Eastern Suburbs School of Music on 0421 705 150 or via the contact form on this website.