Electric Blues (Part 7)
Edgar G Roover once more joins forces with the Heavenly duo. This month, we're programming the blues.
Pauly and Joe Ortiz team up once again with Edgar G Roover to prove that anybody can program the blues.
Lost your job? Wife's left you? Daughter's run off with a rock musician? Well don't get uptight, 'cause this month we're going to tell you a bit about the blues — the music that just seems to ooze melancholy with every chord and lyric. You can't be in a jolly mood if you're gonna play the blues, so wipe that grin off your face — then we'll begin.
For consistency, we are keeping to the by now familiar grid system for displaying the patterns, though to save repeating the drum parts more than necessary, we've put those on a separate grid to the piano and bass lines. But before getting in too deep, we should explore the use of chords in a typical 12-bar blues progression. Chords for this type of riff are usually of the jazzy variety — for example, a dominant seventh with a sixth thrown in for good measure. Looking at a chord from the bottom up on a keyboard, it can look like the following chord of G: G1 on the left hand as a bass or root note and F2 as the dominant seventh, B2 as the major third, and E3 as the sixth, which adds that touch of 'seriousness' to the chord. For the purpose of this article, all chords named in the grid will be this style, but do feel free to experiment with different inversions for even more variety. The patterns will use a basic drum, bass and keyboard part, with the drum sounds being very acoustic — no gated drum sounds or TR808/909 this month; just a nice, round, solid-sounding bass and snare drum, though you can also use a rim shot to replace the snare. The bass sound should be not unlike what you'd use in a reggae groove — something pretty fat and round. You could also use an upright or chorused fretless bass sound to good effect. The keyboard part can be an acoustic or electric piano sound of either the bright DX7 or dull but moody Rhodes type, which might also benefit from a touch of chorusing or phasing.
Pattern 1 is in the key of G and carries the basic feel or groove of the pattern, which is two bars in length with a crash cymbal at the very beginning. This cymbal crash should not appear at the beginning of every repeat of the pattern throughout a 12-bar cycle, as it would just sound repetitive and monotonous, so use a closed hi-hat on the first beat of all repeated patterns after the first. The pattern will be repeated five times, with Pattern 2 ending the 12-bar cycle, with a fill into the next 12-bar cycle.
Hi-hat beats 1, 2, 3 and 4 should be accented in every bar. As this is a slow blues, the tempo we recommend is between 50 and 60 beats per minute, although with a little modification, tempo settings of between 140 and 150 beats per minute can transform this blues progression into the likes of Johnny B Good, the well-known classic 12-bar blues song. The bass drum falls on beats 1 and 3, with the hi-hat playing triplet eighths, accented on the first of every set of triplets. The snare falls on beats 2 and 4. A nice longish reverb low in the overall mix will work well because of the slow tempo setting. Pattern 2 is identical to Pattern 1 except that a fill occurs in bar two. The bass part is mainly played as straight quarter-notes with the occasional passing triplet eighths, while the keyboard plays simple block phrases. Last month we emphasised that the chords in reggae should be kept fairly simple as it doesn't like fancy chords. No such restrictions here — blues loves fancy and exotic chords, so experiment with raised ninths, augmented and diminished chords, as they all work well used in the right places. As always, space is very important, so try not to overplay a part and remember that in music, as in any other art, less is more.
Now we'll examine a typical chord progression of a 12-bar blues. Blues music is usually based on the 145. No, it's not a song about a late train — 145 refers to the chords as they would appear in a major scale. The major scale in the key of G is: G A B C D E F# G. Simple enough, but now let's look at them another way : G1 A2 B3 C4 D5 E6 F#7 G8. Going back to the 145, what it means is that in the key of G, the chords will be G, C and D (the first, fourth and fifth chords in the scale).
You already know what shape of chord it's going to be, so the 145 method just lets you know where you are going to be playing these shapes. Let's take the 145 to the key of E — E would be 1, A would be 4 and B would be 5.
Now we'll look at the whole 12-bar progression as follows, in one bar blocks: 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 4, 1, 1, 5, 4, 1, 5 (there's usually a little build-up and fill back to the start of the cycle). Translated into chords, it would read : G, G, G, G, C, C, G, G, D, C, G, D. For the sake of simplicity, we have kept the chords to two bars each.
Slow blues tends to follow the structure: 1, 4, 1, 1, 4, 4, 1, 1, 5, 4, 1, 5, which is what you'll find on this month's grid. The only difference is that bar two goes up to the '4' rather than staying on the '1'. We've included two variations on the bass line, and you could use a bit of each if it suits you — just don't play them both at the same time! This should provide a perfect backdrop for your wailing blues guitar riffs collection, and though we could devote an entire series to suitable faces you could pull while soloing — we won't!
Feature by Edgar G. Roover
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!