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Discovering music: the blues
Discovering music: the blues

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1 ‘Feeling blue’

The phrase ‘feeling blue’ is one we have probably all heard, even if we don’t use it ourselves. The word blue is often associated with feelings of sadness or melancholy. In this course you will be investigating a type of music dating from the early twentieth century known as the blues. You will use the blues to think about what constitutes a musical tradition, considering its history and how it has been performed as well as some of the technical elements of blues music.

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Figure 1 B. B. King performing c.1968. Photo Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images (via Britannica Image Quest)

Before you start, take a couple of minutes to reflect on what you already know about the blues and about musical traditions. If you do an internet search using blues as a search term, you are likely to find lists of the ten most famous blues singers which will include B. B. King (see Figure 1), but also references to ‘blues rock’ and ‘rhythm and blues’. So what do we mean when we put the words ‘blues’ and ‘tradition’ together? What do you think ‘tradition’ means in relation to music? How have you encountered the word ‘tradition’ in your own experience of listening to, talking about or perhaps even performing music? Do you know any specific songs that you think might be examples of blues?