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Tips on playing the Blues

Mesotech

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Sep 4, 2003
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To me, playing the blues has nothing to do with being sad, specifically. It does however have quite a bit to do with emotions and feelings of all types. To play the blues, one needs to almost be in a Zen state and play without 'attempting to play', if that makes any sense. It is a feel, a moment in time, a 'lost in a purple (sic) haze" kind of thing. It's where you walk away without remembering a single thing you played, but overhear some kid leaving the gig saying "Oh my fucking god, did you HEAR that? The friggin hair on my neck just stood on end."

That's when you know you've got it down pat.
 

whippost575859

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You're not going to be a good blues player by throwing fancy licks over chord changes. You're going to be a good blues players by playing what you feel. If you play what you feel, it sounds good. Technical skill has very little effect on your ability to play blues. It helps to know a few tricks, but you can do alot playing what your heart wants you to.
 

Zhangliqun

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BUTTERSCOTCH: I still think you've got a simplistic view of what the blues is.

ZHANG: I don't.

BUTTERSCOTCH: People have to get beyond that the blues is sad. The majority of blues I know and listen to are filled with incredible playfulness and joy.

ZHANG: I know that not all blues is sad. I wasn't disputing or implying that for a moment. They couldn't be sad all the time, there had to be a way to let off steam in the other direction. But the majority of it is. Read the lyrics. It's not called "blues" by accident or whimsy.

BUTTERSCOTCH: You dont have to be sad to play the blues. That's the collegiate education of what blues is.

ZHANG: I never went to college.

BUTTERSCOTCH: And it isn't correct. I will admit that because of the hard times these men suffered, it allowed them to be transported when they did sing or play their instruments, and to the extent that incredible hard times allows one to find joy in a variety of everday situations I will buy your theory. But most blues I know makes me incredibly happy...and it is cathartic to play....

ZHANG: I'm with you on being transported, etc. But I don't get your point here. What is the difference between being "transported" and being "incredibly happy" and having a "cathartic" experience with blues? You're presenting these ideas as contrary when they're exactly the same.

BUTTERSCOTCH: But you must resist the temptation to say that "to play authentic blues", you've had to have suffered such misery or hardship....that is just bullshit.

Blues, isn't about sadness necessarily, it isn't only about being black either....it is a window into your soul however, and that requires a great deal of honesty and sincerity in one's playing. You need to be able to shed the typical cloak of bullshit that covers most of us.

ZHANG: I'm not sure what your point is in that paragraph. You seem to be putting words in my mouth. I didn't say you had to be black or suffer this or that particular hardship. You can be from outermost Siberia or Antarctica but if you've had tragedy in your life, you've got the emotional goods for it.

This does not mean you have be sad AT THE MOMENT YOU ARE PLAYING IT every night in the club, that's obviously impossible and mentally unsafe even if it was. But when you write the song (again, read those lyrics) you obviously have to remember what it was you're writing about. And remembering it will not make you happy. Playing it, releasing it, having the cathartic experience, etc., can make you happy, and thankfully so, otherwise it would be too much. That's the point of writing even a sad blues song to begin with. It is ultimately supposed to make you feel better. If it made things worse, blues -- or any music of any genre expressing a sad experience -- would not have lasted very long.

BUTTERSCOTCH: Honesty and sincerity dont just reside within a certain group of sad black men....but within all of us. It is about finding that place within yourself that's deep, honest, sincere and humble.

Perhaps we can agree on that.

ZHANG: We can and we do. But I thought that was already clear.
 

hottub

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Dec 24, 2001
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I learned alot about the blues in the movie Crossroads, that dude from the karate kid was in it. I'm surprised no one has mentioned that.....
 

Unmensch

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Today must be pissing match Tuesday. There's one going on my other discussion board too. :p Me personally, I like to paint myself blue when I play the blues. It helps me "be the blue."
 

FatStrat

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Dec 14, 2001
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I honestly didn't start this thread for the sake of finding out how best to emotionally play the blues. For me, playing the blues is FUN...it's fun cause it's soulful, toneful, sad and happy and has groove. It gets my attention.

Everyone has a philosophy. Personally I don't adhere to the "blues is just soul"...there needs to be a degree of understanding of the "rules" of the genre and a respect for where it is coming from to play properly. None of us on this board can duplicate the feelings of those great innovators cause frankly we have no freaking clue what life as a black man in the 30's was like (70 year old black memebers of this board excluded).

I think I have a grasp on what blues is in Canada. I just wanted to know some neat tricks I can use to spice it up a bit. I'm listening to the masters and gettting some ideas from that. I think it's silly this thread ever became an argument. Opinions are like assholes....so lets agree to disagree and get back to pickin' and grinin' :)
 

Weldaar

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Feb 7, 2003
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Amen

I like the Blues without words, Mike Bloomfield says it best on Super Session ;)
 
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Matt3

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Jan 13, 2003
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I agree with your last post FatStrat. I think something that we sometimes forget is that most if not all of the old bluesmen were incredibly talented guys. Many times they could get away with less technical knowledge and just play from the heart or soul or whatever and it would sound great. Most of us aren't as talented as they were so a little extra knowledge is a good thing (and necessary in some cases, like mine!).

Matt
 
F

fantom1

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Too me the best way to go about it is start out listening to oldest recordings ie: robert johnson, blind lemon jefferson, blind willie mcray, blind boy fuller, john hurt, charlie patton, lonnie johson, fred mcdowell, tampa red and Im sure there are more. This will help you develop a style that is more yours and not so much just directly copying other people, which I think is important in any music, but escpecially the blues.

Also a neat anecdote about Mississippi John Hurt. He was playing at a small bar after they re-discovered him and after he had finished his set he was drinking some coffee. There was a bowl of sugar cubes on the table, and he turned to the other person at the table and asked if he thought if the manager would mind if he took one of the cubes for his coffee, or if he should ask him 1st. He'd been sharecropping and never left the one area his entire life except to record some songs before he was forgotten.
 
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Zhangliqun

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I dont care to debate your every point...

You're still wrong my friend. There are many blues songs whose subjects have nothing to do with misery. They have to do with joyous or even mundane subject matter.

Geez, man did you even read any of my posts? This will be the THIRD time I say this. I KNOW that not all blues songs are sad. Go back and RE-READ...

You strike me as someone who is very studied and politically correct...

You need to check your "strike" sensor. I'm a Republican. From North Carolina. And Scotch-Irish. White Southern conservative males are by definition the Anti-Christ to the politically correct crowd.

...but also as someone who has never really played in a blues band.

I haven't played in a strictly blues band, but I do currently play in an all-black (other than me) gospel band with ex-touring pros and they often tell me that I play "with a lot of soul".

You have a "been in the burbs all my life" "read a lot of books on blues"....granola sort of mentality.

Again I'm from North Carolina. I'm country, not suburban. Haven't even ONE book on the blues. Since you don't actually read posts but just skim for buzzwords to fit your agenda (so you can accuse me of saying the opposite of what I said), I'll repeat it: I've never read a book on the blues. Not one. Let me also repeat that I KNOW not all blues songs are sad. One more time, since the first 4 times probably won't be enough. I KNOW...I say, I KNOW...(call and response)...I KNOW not all blues songs are sad.

You're "granola" comment must be based on seeing that I currently live in L.A. What I'm telling you is how I've heard blues, how I've experienced them, and what seems to really work for me to such a degree that people who know blues tell me I do it very well.

I really dont mean to put you down,

***But you did in nearly every post anyway, including this one, right? Just can't stop yourself, I guess. You couldn't just respectfully disagree, you had to crap on me at every opportunity.

...and you do seem sincere

You're right about that.

...so I'll not reply further.

Perhaps that's for the best.
 

Hans-Peter Jantz

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Jun 23, 2002
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You have to live to play the blues

Besides scales and progressions etc...
suffer , struggle ,love , hate , forget , forgive, smile, cry, scream....anything you do in life has an imput for your musical creativity. The more you are honest and straight ahead , the better you play the blues. ;)
 

RW Foster

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Dec 15, 2001
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butterscotch said:

Blues, isn't about sadness necessarily, it isn't only about being black either....it is a window into your soul however, and that requires a great deal of honesty and sincerity in one's playing. You need to be able to shed the typical cloak of bullshit that covers most of us.

Honesty and sincerity dont just reside within a certain group of sad black men....but within all of us. It is about finding that place within yourself that's deep, honest, sincere and humble.

Perhaps we can agree on that.

Amen, butterscotch and well said. It's nice to have someone around that shares my views on Blues.
 

dukeofblues

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Jan 17, 2003
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Alot of good things have been said here....

You have to "feel" it..plain & simple.

Blues can be happy as well as sad...its all in the phrasing of your playing as to how well you pull it off.

I think that a good similarity to relate to is actors/actresses who can cry on demand and/or truly bring the audience into that particular moment of sadness or happiness when viewing a film. When you believe that moment and share that person's joy or pain.....the performer has done their job so to speak.

I try to think of a sad or joyous moment in my mind when really laying into it..the rest just flows, if you are consciously "thinking' about your playing you are selling yourself short ---i find the best moments come from those moments when my eyes are closed and the gates open.

When you believe that moment and can convey that to yourself and your audience, then you have hit your mark:yah

:fiend
 

Johnny B.

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Mar 8, 2002
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Sad or not, playin' the blues make me feel good.

And isn't that what it's all about?
 

6L6

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'Scuse me if someone already said this but the best advice I can think of is 1, find the coolest way to play to coolest notes in the chord. E.g. bend up to the root note from the 7th. 2, Always end with some resolve, like telling a good story. 3, Sing it, then play it. 4, Get a good vibrato. 5, OWN the notes, which means practice. 6, Watch Freddy King, the Beat!!! video and the rest will become evident.
 

guitfiddlin

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Sep 30, 2003
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You guys rock!

I just want to say hello as a newbie here and give a big right on to all the bluesmen out there. My love for the blues has always been driven by the emotional aspect that I feel when listening and playing. And thus far in my guitar playing experience that emotion has kept me glued to the guitar, even though my theory royally sucks. I've come to somewhat of a crossroads though, where I have realized that if I don't get smart on some theory I'll just be spinning my wheels in the same place instead of realizes my true potential.

Thanks for the inspiration!
 

Bill M

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Jul 31, 2001
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Speaking of Stormy Monday, I've been playing this song badly for 30 years. Lately I've been obsessing over it trying to get it right. I'm about 70% of the way there on Duane's lead although some of the remaining licks I'm just going to need to fake. But to me the hardest part is getting the same feeling with the rhythm. The only approach that works for me is breaking the song down into a hundred little pieces and going over and over it.

Of course this is just memorization and not improvosation but I'd rather know a few songs well. Maybe one of these days I can translate that into my own style.
 

roadrunner

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Aug 25, 2001
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Speaking of T-Bone, Stormy Monday and the Blues... I would say listen to T-Bone and then go back to the Delta guys. If you learn the Country (acoustic, Delta...) blues style you've already just about nailed the early Chicago style of Muddy and those cats... it's just country blues played electrically.

Most important thing to do... listen... listen a LOT! Buy everything you can get you hands on to listen. Check out people you've never heard of. Go to a bar that has good blues and check the guitar players in different bands, to see what style turns you on. Talk to the guitar player who makes sounds that you like and find out where he got his from. Take something that's someone elses, learn how to copy it... exactly, 'til you can do it in your sleep... notes, feel, touch, phrasing, tone... everything! ... and then learn how to make it your own...

"A good musician borrows... a great one steals"!
 

FatStrat

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Dec 14, 2001
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interesting....well I know I dig SRV but I don't want to steal from him...that just gets you nothing bust disrespect...go figure. I guess cause I love SRV I dig Albert King I'm finding....i dig Duane Allman's playing but not his tone....I also love Clapton....all of Clapton....
 
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