The Shape of the Blues #MusicMonday

You have likely heard a blues song at some point in your life. And even if you haven’t you’ve probably heard a rock and roll song. In the 1950’s musicians like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, and others created the rock and roll sound by transposing, speeding up, and transforming through new technologies the sound of blues. If you’re intimately familiar with the sound of the blues, listening to, say, the Rolling Stones can be a strange experience, as if a favorite family dish has been re-made by a English rapscallions using their own ingredients. But just what do we mean by “the blues”? Here’s more from music scholar Ethan Hein:

Twelve bar blues famously uses the I, IV and V chords. If you are unfamiliar with Roman numeral notation, it’s easier than you would think. Pick any key, say, C. The I chord will be C. Simple! Now think of the C major scale. The IV chord will have its root on the fourth scale degree, F. The V chord will have its root on the fifth scale degree, G. If you are in the key of A, then the I chord is A, the IV chord is D, and the V chord is E. If you are in the key of E-flat, then the I chord is Eb, the IV chord is Ab, and the V chord is Bb.

You can use the circle of fifths to quickly find the I, IV and V chords in any key. Pick any slot on the circle as your I chord. The IV chord will be one slot counterclockwise, and V chord will be one slot clockwise.

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