“People keep asking me where the blues started and all I can say is that when I was a boy we always was singing in the fields. Not real singing you know, just hollerin’, but we made up our songs about things that was happening to us at that time, and I think that’s where the blues started.” As quoted by Son House, one of the first most important blues artists of all time.
In our Kindermusik for the Young Child class, the students are introduced to the cultural music of the African American people, spirituals, blues, jazz, and more. This article is designed for children, to showcase the development of blues, and how people learned to play the blues… by listening, by being a part of it, by playing around with it, by feeling it. This was not music to be learned from reading sheet music. Although we teach students to read and write music, and to play music they learn from sheet music, we also want them to be aware of other styles, and the ability to really listen, to be a part of it, to play around with a melody, and to FEEL it. In our class, we enjoy playing around with SCAT, and improvising with a pentatonic scale as a group on our glockenspiels to get a little taste of this expression.
This next video showcases just a bit of his blues, as Son House talks about his experiences with Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson learned from all the musicians he encountered and took this Blues style of music to a whole new level – to the point that he is called the Grandfather of Rock & Roll. But in this video, I love the way Son House speaks of Robert’s earliest musical moments.
Of course, there were generations of slaves who never learned to read or write – they simply were not allowed to. So music was simply learned from listening, and learning techniques from family and friends, then playing around with it enough to develop a personal style. The previous video dialogue illustrated that Robert Johnson spent hours listening to his musical mentors as they played on Saturday nights, and traveling to the Delta to learn the Blues.
The next video is a short history of the blues, showing how it started with the slaves, grew out of the South, and into the world of rock music, and so much more. It is 7 min. long, but Grayson Goga does a great job of telling the story with a wonderful slide show of authentic people taking this blues music to the next level in many ways.
Of course, Blues is certainly not the only style that was passed down to generations of musicians personally, without written form – MANY cultural styles from around the world use this learning method. But the focus here is African American music, and I hope you find these video clips really bring out this point.
Blues is a fabulous style to experiment with, esp. for following the basic blues chord progression and having fun improvising different melodies and lyrics through these familiar chords. Watch for a future article with more about group improvisation in the next posting. Group Improvisation is a fun way to Musically Interact. I’ll link it when it’s done.