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Discovering music: the blues
Discovering music: the blues

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12.4 Primary chords: building blocks of tradition

You have now learned about some fundamental elements of music as well as a little bit about the history of the blues. The 12-bar blues demonstrates how the three primary chords are used to create a musical structure. Although the materials making up the primary chords are simple, they are some of the basic building blocks of music and they can form the basis of quite extended pieces. Primary chords are a bit like fundamental elements of a language such as nouns and verbs. You may not be aware of using them or hearing them, but without using them nothing quite makes sense. The music of Mozart for example, although it is distant in time from the blues, similarly makes use of primary chords to create its characteristic sounds and structures.

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Figure 10 Playing the blues

Primary chords and the scale patterns from which they are derived are fundamental to the musical language of the Western tradition. Without these three chords, the sense of progression through music, of beginning, middle and end, would be lost. The term Western tradition is another important use of the term tradition in the study of music. The Western tradition includes jazz, popular music, art music, blues and European and American folk music. Indian classical music, Chinese music and many other musical traditions from around the world do not use these scale and chord patterns, which sets them apart from the Western tradition.

One further element of the music that you have studied thus far is repetition. You have encountered repeated chord structures, repeated rhyme patterns in lyrics, and repeated melodies for different verses of lyrics. Repetition is an important part of music that helps us to recognise structures at many levels. Like primary chords, repetition is fundamental in the Western tradition. We recognise the familiar, build on it, change it and interact with it, thus aligning or breaking with, tradition.