What’s So Important About the Blues?
Whether you realize it or not, the blues is the foundation of nearly all the most popular styles of music listened to today.
The blues isn’t just about the blues. Jazz, rock, country, soul, R&B, funk, and even ska all descended from, developed out of, and were influenced by the blues. The blues has served as the backbone of all these styles and probably for many styles yet to come.
What Do All of These Musicians Have in Common?
In no particular order, here’s a short list of some familiar musicians and bands who studied, played, and often recorded blues music early in their development:
- Louis Armstrong
- Duke Ellington
- Charlie Parker
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Miles Davis
- John Coltrane
- Chuck Berry
- Little Richard
- Fats Domino
- Ray Charles
- James Brown
- Jimmie Rodgers
- Hank Williams, Sr.
- Bill Haley
- Buddy Holly
- The Beatles
- The Rolling Stones
- Bob Dylan
- Janis Joplin
- The Who
- Jimi Hendrix
- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- The Allman Brothers
- Led Zeppelin
- and many, many more… (don't get mad if I skipped one of your favorites)
From that important blues background, many of these musicians and bands went on to expand on it and create new sounds and ideas in the world of music. You might recognize many of these musicians as founders and pioneers of your favorite musical styles. If not, you need to read up on your music history and listen to more music!
That Inner Foundation
It’s difficult to pinpoint, but somehow you can always hear something missing in players who lack this basic blues foundation. I think a big problem for younger musicians is they impatiently skip past developing their basic blues skills. Ironically, they’re not even that hard to develop.
I’ll give you an analogy in the world of art. For some reason new artists are avoiding learning the basic skill of drawing the human figure. (Some art departments don’t even offer the class anymore!) They want to paint abstract paintings and think that skill is useless and a waste of time to study since it's not exactly what they plan to paint. But, when someone has skipped over this essential skill (and probably others), even in his or her abstract artwork you will clearly see a lack of form, basic artistic sense, and skill. Something is missing and the same sort of thing happens to musicians especially those without any guidance. So, even if you don't plan on playing the blues outright, the skill is still essential.
Hopefully you don’t need any more convincing about how important it is to learn the blues, but I’m going to offer one more big reason:
The Blues as a Learning Tool
If you’ve read over the harmony lessons and learned about the I-IV-V chord grouping, you should realize that these three chords are incredibly important in virtually all music and show up somewhere in just about every song. Well, guess what? The blues is based on those very same three chords the I, IV, and V chords.
Thoroughly studying the blues means to thoroughly study the I, IV, and V chord relationship. By practicing the blues you will practice the harmonic foundation of millions of non-blues songs, too. Hopefully you can see the incredible value in that!
Even More Reasons...
Yet another reason to learn the blues is because just about everyone else learns the blues on their respective instruments. One day you may meet up with a guitarist or a saxophone player to play, but you don't know any of the same songs. Chances are he or she knows the blues. Knowing the blues will give you something in common to play. You certainly wouldn't want to admit you don't know how to play one of music's most common musical structures.
Still another reason is that many, many songs are just variations of the blues. Once you learn the blues you'll have a head start on learning numerous other songs.
I can’t stress enough how essential learning the blues is to your musical development. I’ve never heard anyone regret learning it. I suggest you give it a lot of time and attention. It will really anchor and guide your playing and creating of music for your entire lifetime just like it did for many musicians before you.
As you’ll see in forthcoming blues bass lessons, the basics of the blues are not that difficult to learn. And, one can really explore a lot of bass playing and music with the blues as a vehicle. Stay tuned for more lessons on the blues in this category…