The history of the blues in America is fascinating. Almost all the music made in the U. S. A. since the birth of the blues in the late 1800s has been firmly rooted in this tradition. Whether it is the chord progression, the lyrical style, the blues guitar riffs, or the general feel – the Blues reign supreme in their influence.
The first thing to be mentioned is the meaning of the expression “the Blues.” This is a shortened version of the expression “I’ve got some Blue Devils sitting on my shoulder, ” which was a long way of expressing a sad or down feeling.
One of the most interesting aspects of the blues is the harmonic texture of the music. While blues guitar riffs are based on a major tonal scale – the melodies and guitar licks themselves are based upon a minor tonal scale. This modal mixture is what makes the blues so special.
For example, in the key of G: The accompaniment part will be based mostly on a dominant scale (G, B, D, E, F). At the same time, the melody and all the guitar licks will be focused on a minor pentatonic scale (G, B flat, C, D, and F).
The mix of these two tonal landscapes gives us what we describe as a “bluesy sound.” This sound can be heard in the melodies of modern artists from the likes of Shakira, Lady Gaga, Mac Dre, and Muse.
Another element of the blues that has lasted into modern music is the rhythm. This Blues rhythm is often felt as being in “swing time” rather than in “strict time.” What this means is that the in between beats are delayed or moved backwards in time rather than being played exactly in the middle. This is where the term “backbeat” rhythm comes from. This type beat is felt as the swing in jazz music and can also be found in R&B music. It can certainly still be heard in modern guitar riffs.
This “bluesy” feel is the hallmark sound found in many of today’s lead guitar licks and solos. These blues guitar riffs have influenced many of the greats of the past – from Elvis, to Chuck Berry, through to Eric Clapton. The legacy of the blues has been passed down through generations of lead guitar players. Many of the young musicians of today still play these riffs and this musical style is sure to influence many more generations of guitar players.