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Blues Guitar Lessons: Blues Tonality

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Now in our last lesson we
completed the blues family.
We brought in the sixth and the ninth and
integrated them with the core blues sound,
so now we've got a whole range of emotions
that we can explore from being tough and
down home and kind of rugged,
to being very sweet and romantic.
And you know, if you think of blues as
always being about guys in the bar room,
drinking and fighting, well okay,
there's some of that, true.
But a lot of the greatest blues songs ever
recorded are love songs, plain and simple.
And it might be, you know,
love song mixed with a little heartbreak.
But nonetheless, it's very romantic and
it became more so as time went by, as
blues moved from the country to the city,
it softened a little bit and
took on some of those aspects.
So B.B. King, boy, he's a lover.
He's not gonna fight you.
He'll just put his arms around you,
give you a big fat hug.
His playing is like that.
You sense that.
So how do we know that feeling?
How do we get that feeling
from B.B.'s playing?
Well, a large part of it is his touch and
his tone, and
the sensitivity with
which he hits the notes.
But it's also his choices melodically,
and he chooses,
more than Albert King, for
example, who's kind of a hard guy.
He's a big, rough guy.
You wouldn't wanna mess with him.
B.B. is using, in very technical terms,
very limited ideas but still valid,
he uses the major third and
the sixth, a combination of the two.
it's sweet.
Whereas Albert is more of
the minor pentatonic,
Now, it's not to say that Albert can't
tell a love story through his guitar.
He certainly did many times, but
it's a different kind of a story.
So, anyway, without getting too much into
the artistic aspects of it at this point,
let's keep it on the practical level and
what we're gonna do is
we're going to take a song that's
an actual blues song, living,
breathing blues song, in fact,
one of the greatest classics of all time.
It's called St. Louis Blues and
we're gonna interpret St. Louis Blues and
do the same sort of thing that
players have done for generations,
which is taking a song as the foundation
and putting a personal twist on it and
saying, okay, here's what the song says,
the lyrics and so forth.
Now here's my take on it musically and
here's how I'm gonna comment
on that with my guitar.
[SOUND] Now St. Louis Blues was a song
that was written by W.C. Handy.
Now again, like a lot of blues songs,
did he actually sit down and
dream up the idea from scratch,
or did he take verses that he had heard
and combine them into an arrangement?
I really don't know, but
he gets credit for it and St.
Louis Blues was the first big blues
hit back in the sheet music days.
And it contains all of the just
the classic elements of blues that we've
come to know now as extremely familiar,
at the time,
they were kind of groundbreaking and
very contemporary.
And so he's got the twelve bar form,
he's got lyrical ideas, you know,
I hate to see the evening sun go down.
You know, it's telling a classic story.
So what we're gonna do is take that song,
that song is in the public domain,
meaning that it's been around for so
long that you can explore it without
denying W.C. Handy or his heirs
of their well-deserved royalties.
[SOUND] We're gonna take that song and
we're gonna learn the melody,
I've written the melody out for you,
and use that as kind of a skeleton.
And say, okay, here's what
the song's about, here's the melody,
here's what he chose.
And here's what he wrote down and this
was the fixed version of St. Louis Blues.
Then we're gonna do
an interpretation of it, and
we're going to interpret it using the
tools that we developed all the way along,
but by adding in the sixth and the ninth
we've kind of increased our range, okay?
So first of all, if you can refer to St.
Louis Blues in the key of A,
it's arranged in our familiar key.
That's a quick change and
the melody really follows
the contour of the harmony.
There's the four chord.
Almost an arpeggio.
And then the next line,
actually he emphasized
the ninth, right?
I sort of automatically gravitate to the
minor third, but he emphasized the ninth.
the arpeggio of
the five chord.
So, classic,
classic phrasing.
We hear the melody outlining the changes.
We hear the singer is talking about,
man, the evening sun goes down,
I get so sad cuz I just think about,
my baby has left town and
I think we've all had feelings somewhere
in that range at some point in our lives
where we could just relate to that.
Now you can approach that as a soloist and
say, I wanna bring out the sadness.
Now, you're gonna do that not just
with melody, but with touch, you know?
Soft, leave a lot of space in there,
let people kind of think about it.
Or you could think about it like this
like yeah, my baby left town and
I'm gonna find another one right away,
let's go out partying.
I'll show her.
So these are in general terms kind
of the emotional qualities that you
can choose to get across.
We'll call them sweet and salty.
The sweet is kind of sad and romantic,
and the salty is, nah man, I'm over it.
Let's move on.
So what I want you to do is to give me
a solo that illustrates the sweet and
the salty using all the tools
that we've developed so far.
This is kind of a big project.
It might take you a little while to put
together, but I'll give you an example.
I'm gonna play over the Shuffle in A.
And I'm gonna play one chorus of
what I feel as being sweet and
I'm gonna switch gears
in the second chorus and
I'm gonna make it a little bit saltier and
just sort of give you an idea of how
I would take the tools that we have
to express those different feelings.
And I encourage you to do it in your
own way, completely differently.
But this will give you at least
something to kinda go by.
Okay, here we go.
Now, you could do that a million different
ways and depending on your mood and
the time of day and how you feel at
the moment, it's gonna be different.
That's the beauty of the blues thing, is
that when you integrate the notes, you can
really just try to capture the moment and
interpret the same song a million ways.
But I did it, I hope,
in a fairly straightforward way,
where you can hear in the first
chorus I played very restrained.
I didn't play loud and
aggressive, but rather kind of
quoted the melody a little bit.
Now, I noticed I used the sixth.
That adds a little bit
of that sweet quality.
Use the chord tones.
echoing the melody.
There's the sixth.
And so forth, right?
Without going into great
detail about every phrase,
I think you understand the ideas
that are at work here.
So anyway, mess around with that and
just think about how you're gonna
express yourself using two sides of the
blues spectrum, because we got all those
colors laid out on the table now, and you
can paint that picture any way you like.
And it's gonna be interesting to see how
you think about it, how you feel about it.
And I look forward to hearing it and
giving you my own reaction.
Have fun with that one.