The first “blues” I ever wrote was a song I concocted for my primary school friends to sing one lunchtime – it turned into a song in my first ever musical. And while it sounded utterly authentic in terms of groove and blues licks, it actually wasn’t a blues. All the uber-cool walking bass lines in the world couldn’t change the fact it was an 8, not 12, bar structure!
It took me a few years to wrap my head around the reality of a blues – I know I still hadn’t really internalised the structural shapes until I was about 17, as much as anything because the Kiwi-Polynesian musical communities of my childhood didn’t really feature the North American blues structures (other formats that connected more directly to local experience were used), and also, importantly for me, because musicals didn’t feature the blues, as a rule. Not, you know, REAL blues. And I was totally the wrong era.
But by the time I was in my late 20s (and had started writing educational piano music) I’d internalised the blues to such a degree that I found myself writing blues in my easy piano pieces, and not even realising they were blues until the book was nearly at the printers already.
So – how do you know that each of these pieces listed below really is a blues?
First and foremost it’s that three-phrase, twelve-bar structure, most simply outlined by the traditional blues progression of 7th chords, a four-bar phrase of chord I, a four-bar phrase split down the middle between IV and then I, and a four-bar phrase of V IV I I. Now, not every piece here keeps it that simple – there are substitutions, even in the ‘easy’ pieces (complex harmony can be incredibly easy to play!).
Not every piece swings (although the blues is pretty much wont to do that). And it might even take you a few moments to ‘see’ the shape, because it just never occurred to you before that that piece might actually be a blues. Watch out for places where the 12-bar structure is stretched over a 24-bar notation – it’s the same shape, just notated in 3 8-bar phrases; or for places where there’s an intro that changes the final total of measures in the piece! It’s still a blues. Oh, yes.
Elissa’s Blues, Getting to Preliminary New Mix
Willy-nillly, Getting to Preliminary
Cockatoo, Very Easy Little Peppers
Sunshower, Easy Little Peppers
Groovy Movie, Easy Little Peppers
Cat’s Whiskers, Easy Little Peppers
Convertible, Little Peppers
Brolga Stroll, More Little Peppers
Bumbleblue, Even More Little Peppers
Ashes, Even More Little Peppers
Wombat, Pepperbox Jazz 2
Ninety-nine, Pepperbox Jazz 2 (duet)
And the larrikin in me is dying to know – did any of these surprise you?! Please do feel free to chat about any of these pieces in the comments section below!