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The Blues: An American Art Form

Welcome to The Blues: An American Art Form. This course is intended for those who want to learn more about the history of the blues, as well as those who want to learn to play the blues themselves!

This course is drawn from the lectures of Dariusz Terefenko, presented by the University of Rochester through Coursera. You must create a FREE account with Coursera to view the videos for this course. You must be logged in to Coursera to watch the videos for this course! Days marked with an asterisk (*) have something to print.

Along with history, this course includes practical jazz theory and is intended for students who play an instrument.

Day 1

1. Watch the video, “What is the Blues?
2. Before we proceed to the nuts and bolts of the blues, we are going to spend some time learning about the history of blues in America. Today, listen to “Got Them Blues: A History.”

Day 2*

1. Print the Blues Family Tree*. (Keep this page for later.)
2. Watch the video about the origins of the blues in the 16th and 17th century. If you have difficulty understanding the accent of the narrator, turn on the subtitles. They are of good quality.
3. Add “African Work Songs/Field Hollers” after #1 on the Blues tree. These styles are the basis for the music to come.

Day 3

1. Watch the video about the evolution of blues in the 18th and 19th century.
2. Watch the (much shorter) video about gospel and minstrelsy and vaudeville.
3. It is important for you to know that minstrel shows and ‘blackface’ (a white actor painting their face to appear black) are both considered extremely racist today.
4. Today you have some songs to listen to. These songs are called “spirituals.” Some of these recordings are more modern, but it will let you hear examples of this style of music.

Listening:

Day 4

1. Watch the video about ragtime and jazz.
2. Watch the video about “proto-blues” music.
3. Add “Blues” after #2 on your Blues Family Tree.

Listening:

Day 5

1. Watch the video about the blues in the early 1900s. NOTE: A racial slur appears in this video in the title of a music publication. When studying this topic it is important to remember that some of the language that was used 100 years ago is unacceptable today. That doesn’t mean we can’t study it. We just have to remember the context of our history.
2. In the video they referred to “Downhome Blues.” They are also known as country blues, backwoods blues, folk blues, and rural blues.
3. Add “Rural Blues” to your Blues Family Tree as #3.
4. There were many different offshoots of rural blues. We are only going to list “Delta Blues” (#5), “Memphis Blues” (#6), and “Texas Blues” (#7). Add them to your blues tree.
5. Unlike the singers of rural blues, who were usually men, blues singers in big cities tended to be female. Add “Urban Blues” to your tree as #4. Add “Chicago Blues” as #8.

Listening:

Day 6

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1920s.
2. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You will be writing a one-page biography about them that we will finish tomorrow.

  • Charley Patton
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Lonnie Johnson (If you choose him, make sure you research the musician and not the inventor of the Super Soaker.)
  • Arthur “Blind” Blake
  • Son House
  • Big Bill Broonzy

3. Today begin writing your biography. Be sure to gather information such as when and where they were born, any notable events in their life, songs they were known for, and when and where they died.
4. Today’s listening list is long, but you can listen to it while you write!

Listening:

Day 7

1. Today, finish your biography of the 1920s blues artist you chose.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 8

1. Watch the video about the evolution of blues in the 1930s.
2. Add “Boogie Woogie” to your blues family tree as #9, and “Big Band Blues” as #10.
3. You are going to write another one page biography! Choose one of these artists from the 1930s to write about.

  • Howlin’ Wolf
  • Robert Johnson
  • Skip James
  • Thomas A. Dorsey (Georgia Tom)
  • Charlie Christian
  • T-Bone Walker
  • Lead Belly
  • Eddie Durham

4. Today begin writing your biography. Be sure to gather information such as when and where they were born, any notable events in their life, songs they were known for, and when and where they died.
5. Today’s listening list is long, but you can listen to it while you write!

Listening:

Day 9

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 10

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1940s.
2. Add ‘Jump Blues’ to your blues family tree as #11. Add ‘Rhythm and Blues’ as #12.
3. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You have today and tomorrow to write a one page biography about them.

  • Muddy Waters
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins
  • Louis Jordan
  • Little Walter
  • Hank Williams
  • B.B. King
  • Otis Rush

Listening:

Day 11

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 12

1. Watch the video about blues in the 1950s and how it helped create rock and roll.
2. Add ‘Rock and Roll’ to your Blues Family Tree as #13. Add ‘Electric Blues’ as #14.
3. Choose a blues artist from the list below. You have today and tomorrow to write a one page biography about them.

  • Elmore James
  • Junior Wells
  • Hubert Sumlin
  • Freddie King
  • Albert King
  • Ray Charles
  • Magic Sam
  • Sam Cooke
  • George “Buddy” Guy

Listening:

Day 13

1. Finish writing your biography today.

Listening:
Find some more music by the artist you chose to write about and listen to it.

Day 14

1. We are done with our historical overview. Now let’s move on to the practical section of the course! Make sure you are logged in to Coursera, or you will not be able to watch the videos.
2. Watch the introductory video.

Day 15

1. Watch the introduction to lesson 1. Why do you think that it is so important to be able to improvise when singing the Blues?

Day 16

1. Watch the video about the history of the Blues. This is not the same as the history we already learned! This video discusses the different chords and progressions in the Blues and how they changed over time.

Day 17

1. Watch the video about generic blues chords.
2. Tomorrow we are going to try playing some blues chords!

Day 18

1. Today you’re going to try making blues chords on your own instrument. Here are some videos for piano and guitar. Try them out, and try to learn their names!

2. If you play a different instrument, try finding blues chords or notes for your instrument.

Day 19

1. Watch the video about basic blues progression.
2. As you watch, make some notes. Which chords do you need to learn?

Day 20

1. Watch and learn some blues chord progressions. (You only have to watch videos for your instrument!) Practice with your instrument.

Day 21

1. Watch the video about minor blues. Which chords are different in minor blues?

Day 22

1. Practice minor blues chord progressions, based on your instrument.

Day 23

1. Watch the video about AA-B structure in the blues.

Day 24

1. Take a look at this video analyzing the AA-B blues format.
2. Go back and listen to some blues songs from earlier this year. Try and find at least 2 that use an AA-B structure.

Day 25

1. Watch the introduction to blues scales.
2. Listen to some blues scales!

Day 26

1. Watch the video about blues scales.

Listening:

Day 27

1. Watch the video about jazz notation and rhythm.

Listening

Day 28

1. Watch the video about blues riffs.

Day 29

1. Watch the video about call and response.

Listening:

Day 30

1. Watch the video about on scale improvisation.

Day 31

1. The next section of the class will talk specifically about using the keyboard for improvisational jazz.
2. Watch the video.

Day 32

1. Watch the video about guide tones.
2. Can you try it?

Day 33

1. Watch the video about invertible counterpoint.

Day 34

1. Watch the video about the Charleston Rhythm.

Listening:

Day 35

1. Watch the video about four part chords.

Day 36

1. Watch the video about five-part chords.

Day 37

1. Watch the video about comping texture.

Day 38

1. Watch the introduction to the next unit.

Listening:

Day 39

1. Watch the video about progression in “Now’s the Time.”

Day 40

1. Watch the video about ear training strategies.

Day 41

1. Watch the video about the progression in “Billie’s Bounce.”

Day 42

1. Watch the video about rhythmic displacement.

Day 43

1. Watch the analysis of the progression of “Blues for Alice.”

Day 44

1. Watch the video with practical tips for playing these blues progressions.

Day 45

1. Watch the video about more improvisational tools.

Listening:

(Proceed to Part 2)