What Is Blues Music and What Makes It So Special?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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Blues music is a unique style of music that has been around for generations. It’s known for its melancholic sound and its ability to make you feel all kinds of emotions. But what makes it so special? Here are some of the main features of blues music that make it stand out:

  • Specific chord progressions that give it a unique sound
  • A walking bass line that adds a groovy rhythm
  • Call and response between the instruments
  • Dissonant harmonies that create an interesting sound
  • Syncopation that keeps you on your toes
  • Melisma and flattened “blue” notes that give it a bluesy feel
  • Chromaticism that adds a unique flavor

The History of Blues Music

Blues music has been around for centuries. It originated in the African-American communities of the southern United States and has since spread to other parts of the world. It has been heavily influenced by jazz, gospel, and rock and roll. It’s a style of music that is constantly evolving and has been adapted to fit different genres and cultures.

The Benefits of Listening to Blues Music

Listening to blues music can be a great way to relax and unwind. It can help you to clear your mind and get in touch with your emotions. It can also help to boost your creativity and inspire you to write or create something new. So if you’re feeling down or just need a little pick-me-up, why not give blues music a try?

The Basics of the Blues Form

The 12-Bar Scheme

The blues form is a cyclical musical pattern that has been used for centuries in African and African-American music. It’s all about the chords! During the early 20th century, blues music didn’t have a set chord progression. But as the genre gained popularity, the 12-bar blues became the go-to.

Here’s what you need to know about the 12-bar blues:

  • It’s a 4/4 time signature.
  • It’s made up of three different chords.
  • The chords are labeled with Roman numerals.
  • The last chord is the dominant (V) turnaround.
  • The lyrics usually end on the 10th or 11th bar.
  • The last two bars are for the instrumentalist.
  • The chords are often played in the harmonic seventh (7th) form.

The Melody

The blues is all about the melody. It’s distinguished by the use of the flattened third, fifth and seventh of the associated major scale. So if you want to play the blues, you have to know how to play these notes!

But it’s not just about the notes. You also have to know how to play the blues shuffle or walking bass. This is what gives the blues its trance-like rhythm and call-and-response. It’s also what creates the groove.

So if you want to master the blues, you have to practice your shuffles and walking bass. It’s the key to creating the bluesy feel.

The Lyrics

The blues is all about the emotions. It’s about expressing sadness and melancholy. It’s about love, oppression and hard times.

So if you want to write a blues song, you have to tap into these emotions. You have to use vocal techniques like melisma and rhythmic techniques like syncopation. You also have to use instrumental techniques like choking or bending guitar strings.

But most importantly, you have to tell a story. You have to express your feelings in a way that resonates with your audience. That’s the key to writing a great blues song.

What’s the Deal with the Blues Scale?

The Basics

If you’re looking to get your blues on, you’ll need to know the blues scale. It’s a six-note scale that’s made up of the minor pentatonic scale plus a flattened fifth note. There are also longer versions of the blues scale that add in some extra chromaticism, like flattening the third, fifth, and seventh notes.

The most popular blues form is the twelve-bar blues, but some musicians prefer the eight or sixteen-bar blues. The twelve-bar blues uses a basic chord progression of:

  • I I I I
  • IV IV I I
  • V IV I I

Plus, it’s usually accompanied by an AAB structure for its lyrics, which is where the popular call-and-response element comes in.

The Subgenres

As blues has evolved over the years, it’s given birth to a bunch of subgenres. You’ve got blues rock, country blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, and more.

The Bottom Line

So, if you’re looking to get your groove on, you’ll need to know the blues scale. It’s the foundation of most of the melody, harmony, and improvisations. Plus, it’s spawned a bunch of subgenres, so you can find the style that best suits your mood.

The Fascinating History of the Blues


The blues has been around for a long time, and it’s not going anywhere! It all started way back in 1908 with the publication of “I Got the Blues” by New Orleans musician Antonio Maggio. This was the first ever published piece of music that linked having the blues to the musical form we know today.

But the real origins of the blues go back even further, to around 1890. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information about this time period due to racial discrimination and the low rate of literacy among rural African Americans.

The Early 1900s

In the early 1900s, reports of blues music started to appear in southern Texas and the Deep South. Charles Peabody mentioned the appearance of blues music at Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Gate Thomas reported similar songs in southern Texas around 1901–1902.

These reports match up with the memories of Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, and W.C. Handy, who all said they first heard blues music in 1902.

The first noncommercial recordings of blues music were made by Howard W. Odum in the early 1900s, although these recordings are now lost. Lawrence Gellert made some recordings in 1924, and Robert W. Gordon made some for the Archive of American Folk Songs of the Library of Congress.

The 1930s

John Lomax and his son Alan made a ton of non-commercial blues recordings in the 1930s. These recordings show the huge variety of proto-blues styles, like field hollers and ring shouts.

Lead Belly and Henry Thomas also made some recordings that give us a glimpse of blues music before 1920.

The Social and Economic Reasons

It’s hard to say exactly why the blues appeared when it did. But it’s believed to have started around the same time as the Emancipation Act of 1863, between the 1860s and 1890s. This was a time when African Americans were transitioning from slavery to sharecropping, and juke joints were popping up all over the place.

Lawrence Levine argued that the popularity of the blues was linked to the newly acquired freedom of African Americans. He said that the blues reflected the new emphasis on individualism, as well as the teachings of Booker T. Washington.

The Blues in Popular Culture

A Revival of Interest

The blues has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until the 1972 movie Sounder that it got a major revival. W.C. Handy was the first to bring it to the attention of non-black Americans, and then Taj Mahal and Lightnin’ Hopkins wrote and performed music for the movie that made it even more popular.

The Blues Brothers

In 1980, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi released the movie The Blues Brothers, which featured some of the biggest names in blues music, like Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, and John Lee Hooker. The movie was so successful that the band formed for it went on tour, and in 1998 they released a sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, which featured even more blues artists, like B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Musselwhite, Blues Traveler, Jimmie Vaughan, and Jeff Baxter.

Martin Scorsese’s Promotion

In 2003, Martin Scorsese made a huge effort to promote the blues to a wider audience. He asked some of the biggest directors around to make a series of documentaries for PBS called The Blues, and he also put together a series of high-quality CDs featuring some of the biggest blues artists.

In Performance at the White House

In 2012, the blues was featured in an episode of In Performance at the White House, hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama. The show included performances by B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Gary Clark Jr., Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, Keb Mo, and more.

The Blues: A Funky Good Time

The blues is one of the most iconic music genres around, and it’s been around for a long time. But it wasn’t until the 1972 movie Sounder that it got a major revival. After that, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi released the movie The Blues Brothers, which featured some of the biggest names in blues music, and then Martin Scorsese made a huge effort to promote the blues to a wider audience. And in 2012, the blues was featured in an episode of In Performance at the White House, hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama. So if you’re looking for a funky good time, the blues is the way to go!

The Blues: Still Alive and Kicking!

A Brief History

The blues has been around for a long time, and it ain’t going anywhere! It’s been around since the late 1800s, and it’s still alive and well today. You might have heard of a term called ‘Americana’, which is used to describe the contemporary version of the blues. It’s a mix of all sorts of U.S. roots music, like country, bluegrass, and more.

The New Generation of Blues Artists

The blues is still evolving, and there’s a whole new generation of blues artists out there! We’ve got Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Gary Clark Jr., who are both part of the newest wave of blues musicians. They’re keeping the blues alive and fresh, while still paying homage to the classics. You can hear the blues influence in music from all around the world, if you listen closely enough!

So, What Now?

If you’re looking to get into the blues, there’s no better time than now! There’s a huge variety of blues music out there, so you’re sure to find something you like. Whether it’s the old-school classics or the new-school Americana, the blues is here to stay!

The Rich History of the Blues

The Music and the Musicians

The blues is a genre of music that has been around for centuries, and it’s still going strong today! It’s a unique mix of African American folk music, jazz, and spirituals that has been influencing other genres of music since the early 20th century. It’s no wonder that some of the most influential musicians of all time, like B.B. King and Muddy Waters, have been blues musicians.

The Origins of the Blues

The blues has its roots in African American culture, and its influence can be traced back to the late 19th century. It was during this time that African Americans began to use the blues to express their feelings and experiences in a way that was unique to their culture. The blues was often used as a form of protest against the oppression they faced, and it quickly spread throughout the United States.

The Impact of the Blues

The blues has had a huge impact on the music industry, and it’s still influencing musicians today. It has been the inspiration for countless genres of music, including rock and roll, jazz, and hip hop. The blues has also been credited with helping to shape the sound of popular music in the 20th century.

So, the next time you’re listening to your favorite tunes, take a moment to appreciate the rich history of the blues and the impact it has had on the music industry. Who knows, you might just find yourself tapping your feet to the beat of a blues song!


Blues Vs Jazz

Blues and jazz are two distinct musical styles that have been around for centuries. Blues is a genre of music that is rooted in African American culture and is characterized by its melancholic, sharp and slow tones. It often features a single guitar player/vocalist and the lyrical content of the song is usually personal. Jazz, on the other hand, is a much more lively and upbeat style of music that is known for its swinging and swaying movements, lively atmospheres and even abstract, unpredictable noise. It is focused on the dynamics and improvisations of an ensemble and is usually purely instrumental. While blues can be considered an element of jazz, jazz is not a part of blues music. So if you’re looking for a night of toe-tapping and soulful music, blues is the way to go. But if you’re in the mood for something more upbeat and exciting, jazz is the perfect choice.

Blues Vs Soul

Southern soul and blues music have some distinct differences. For starters, blues music has a unique note, known as the blue note, which is usually a slightly flattened 5th note on the scale. Soul music, on the other hand, tends to be major scales and owes much to the jazz background in its heritage. Soul blues, a style of blues music developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, combines elements of both soul music and urban contemporary music.

When it comes to the sound, blues has a minor scale played over a major chord progression, while soul music is more likely to have major scales. Soul blues is a great example of how these two genres can blend together to create something new and unique. It’s a great way to experience the best of both worlds.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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