How did blues guitarists of yore think?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by Larry F, Feb 26, 2016.

  1. 65 Champ Amp

    65 Champ Amp Tele-Afflicted

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    Great thread Larry.
    There is definitely a popular myth that learning music - formally or otherwise, theory, harmony, etc,and above all, serious practice, are only for us mortals without mojo.

    I'm certain that when T Bone did that little diminished chord and slid it down a half step, he knew what it was called, and why it fit harmonically with the tonic.

    It's not just the blues masters either.
    My favorite quote from Jerry Garcia is "You've got to know your arpeggios."
     
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  2. prebend

    prebend Tele-Holic

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    My guess would be that they didn't think any different than most of us that started back in the day without formal lessons. I started playing back in the late sixties. No lessons, no books. A guitar (with horrible action) and some records. Trial and error, someone shows you a few chords, patterns and idioms begin to get absorbed "slowly." Maybe you and a friend get together and try figuring things out together. No real theory involved and no real mystery to it either. After a while you can play a few songs and then more and more.

    If anything, those early Blues musicians had a lot more advantages in the beginning than I did. They were most likely exposed to a lot more live music than I was and could ask questions, watch peoples hands, etc.
     
  3. screamin eagle

    screamin eagle Poster Extraordinaire

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    Grab this and give it a listen for some insight:

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    I agree completely.
     
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  5. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

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    When you compare the fretboard to a horn I would agree with your assessment ....compared to a keyboard the fretboard comes out looking about as logical and obvious as a horn....
     
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  6. Tele Jr

    Tele Jr Tele-Holic

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    Keyboard is graphical but limited by the linear nature. Also land locked to key signatures inherent to the linear limitation.
     
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  7. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    I'm interested, but also unclear on what you're saying.
     
  8. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

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    Can you give a specific example of what you mean by "land locked to key signatures inherent to the linear limitation" and how that differs from a fretboard?

    It's interesting that you're speaking of linearity as a limitation when in the fretboard universe we are often encouraged by experienced players to get out of the 'boxes' way of perceiving, which of course is a non-linear approach, and begin to use the linearity of the fretboard (like a keyboard)...playing up and down the neck (headstock to body) as opposed to the across the neck 'boxes' (ceiling to floor)....

    As an aside, years ago as I was pondering the question "How exactly does the guitar fretboard relate to a keyboard.....is there any commonality at all?"..it suddenly dawned on me how they relate. A guitar fretboard can be conceived as being six keyboards laid side by side, lined up with each other and each beginning at different points on the keyboard. So each string (on my Tele) is a 22 note keyboard (21 frets plus the open string) and each keyboard has as it's lowest and highest note different notes than the other 'keyboards'. But of course these 'guitar keyboards' are only capable of producing a single pitch at a time which is why we need more than one 'guitar keyboard' so we can create harmony......
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  9. overlock

    overlock Tele-Afflicted

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    I don't know about linearity, but the fact that keyboards are fixed-step instruments is a serious limitation when it comes to blues and many other types of folk music - Irish, for instance. There are perfectly natural intervals in music that are crucial to the blues, like that one right in between third and fourth. You can do them on guitar by bending into them, but a piano can't go there. That's also (imo) why fiddles are the staple of Celtic (and Celtic-derived American) folk music.

    The keyboard is something of a signature instrument for Common Practice music. Not that that's inherent to the instrument itself, any more than it is to a harp, but when did you ever see a (tuned) piano in anything other than standard tempered tuning?
     
  10. ItchyFingers

    ItchyFingers Tele-Afflicted

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    Outside of the "my favourite guitarist is better than your guitarist" posts, I think perhaps we are overthinking what they were thinking.
    Blues players, in my humble opinion, in most cases know the underlying theory quite well.
    They are no different than any musician in that respect.
    They learn the scales, the notes, the chords and the progressions.
    They, like anyone who plays anything enough, knew in advance what the note they were about to strike will sound like.
    Then, to an extent, they put that aside and play what is in their heart and soul.
    Often times they don't play the song the same two times in a row.
    You cannot write that down or play it from a sheet of music.
    If you try to do that, you choke the snot out of the whole reason for playing the blues. Over-analysing the blues really boils down to not getting the point.
    Playing someone else's blues note for note is a sad thing indeed from my perspective but it has it's uses and it can be nice to dance to. If that cover hits the musician's heart while they are playing it then *Becomes* the Blues. It does not have to be that musician's original work. It does have to invoke feeling and if the musician feels it, it will be so.
    The blues comes from within. It comes from life experiences and anguish and pain. It also comes from good things often in the same song.
    Often it represents a conversation, a cry in the dark, memories that flow while they play and bring real tears and real joy. Reference BB King's "Sweet Sixteen"
    B.B. King knew his chords. His fingers did not enjoy playing them.
    One can argue all day long about who is the best blues player but BB and Buddy and many others let it flow from within. Musically correct? Within the confines of theory? First came the music, then came the theory. It is not the other way around. Just let it flow around the chord progression if you want to convincingly play the blues. The idea is simple but the execution of the idea needs to ooze feeling, invoke feelings in the musician and the audience. There should be some tears and some smiles out there in the audience as well as on stage or in the basement or the bedroom.
    Blues cover bands are great to watch and fantastic to dance to in this day and age of everone playing to a click but when you hear a great Blues musician, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that Cat has been through some chit.
    I am not trying to say that someone who hasn't been through crap cannot play or appreciate the blues but there is Blues and there is gut wrenching, mind blowingly emotion causing real live original Blues. You can't beat it.
    Just let it flow around the progression from the heart and not from the page.
    I am no guitarist in my own mind nor will I be one in most peoples minds but I know when a blues tune hits me hard, that's some great blues right there.
    I have been through some tough stuff, over and over (nothing like the OP is going through) but I'll relate one incident.
    I had not a cent but felt I should give my mother (RIP Mom) something for Christmas. She lived many miles away.
    I made a DVD of me simply having a conversation through my guitar flowing around the chord progression adding the traditional sort of things like flatted 5ths and thirds and moving in and out from the pentatonic to the minor and even major scale in the key and such. I progressed through it in one sitting without analysing, my personal anguish at the time started coming out of my amp. I no longer thought of the musical rules since my fingers naturally knew where to go for that since I played that scale until my fingers bled. Everytime I thought about my failures, my health, my multiple times lost finances and Loves lost, I thought less and less about what I was playing while loosely sticking to the chosen scale of the day without thinking about it further. Bend this note here, not because someone else did it but because bending up a half or a whole tone, my anguish dug it in. Bending and then hitting it and letting it back sounded like I was giving up on life itself. Hitting it and bending up accentuated my pain.
    I sent the finished DVD to Mom and she called me bawling her eyes out saying how she could hear my anguish and my pain through my guitar playing. She could barely speak. That's the blues.
    Theory is an important thing to learn and latch on to or one gets nowhere.
    Theory is not music. Music is music. Theory is a language, a road map, a suggestion, an excercise machine for the brain and fingers. It is very neccessary to study and analyse. One needs to be aware of the "proper" road map and then in the travel, change that flat tire, be turned away from hotel after hotel, helping someone along the way, having someone help you along the way. Having to walk the rest of the way. Finding Love and losing it.
    The Blues is all about letting that go and telling your own story through your instrument your own way.
    Dig deep down and just let it flow. There is no such thing as right or wrong.
    The ears and the heart and the soul flow through the fingers.
    "Music is what feelings sound like"
    Nuff said.
    What were they thinking? The answer is in the question and the reference and can all be summed up in one word.
    Blues.
     
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  11. songtalk

    songtalk Friend of Leo's

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    I will go ahead and agree that theory makes more sense on a keyboard because it IS like learning with one polyphonic guitar string as opposed to learning how to wrangle 6 monophonic keyboards simultaneously.

    Theory is a little bit of a head trip no matter what instrument you "use" to get it, IMHO.
     
  12. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

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    Just spent an evening with Mike Bloomfield on some live recordings... he took some basic blues ideas and runs, and turned them inside out!

    A very imaginative player!
     
  13. abrianb

    abrianb Tele-Meister

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    I'm guessing good guitar playing comes a lot easier to some than others, but natural talent won't get you far with out practice and practice will only get you so far with out the influence of other sounds be them in music, nature or dreams. I almost always hear influences when I listen to people play. To me Willie Nelson solos sound a little like the way Lonnie Johnson makes a run then stops on a single note and repeats it several times. How many were influenced by Clapton and don't even know the Freddy King influence they got thru Eric? I would guess that Scott Joplin had some classical music in his ear at one time. The way he took a simple theme thru variations and additions of wedding cake like frill reminds me of Georg Philipp Telemann.
     
  14. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

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    Okay... so what constitutes the difference between analyzing and overanalyzing?

    "Feeling the Blues" and studying/analyzing the idiom and its inherent specifics are not necessarily mutually exclusive endeavors by default. Otherwise we would not have the benefit of analysis, insight, and educational reference materials from guys such as musician/historian/author Dave Rubin, and (if he doesn't mind me saying so here,) our own Larry F.

    As a lifer musician, I really don't know any other musicians personally who've been around the block a time or two, and who are involved with improvisationally oriented music of any genre, who don't get the emotional connection to the music - and thrive on it and live in it - it's understood, a given. And yet, many would attach a considerably deeper implication of emotional content to the Blues, and further, a thing bordering on disdain, to general knowledge of the nuts and bolts and inner workings of this music. As a guy who will be interpreting at tonight's show, among other artists and styles, tunes by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bobby Blue Bland, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and others - I have to say that I don't get this at all.

    Regarding the chicken-vs.-egg thing, yes, I think that music (of many kinds) is a multi-faceted entity, of which "theory" is merely a subset, a thing that attempts to explain what has happened (like Miles said, "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later." ) - and a thing which often falls short of being able to do so, in entirety, because music is more than "notes on a page".

    The TDPRI is a wonderfully diverse and eclectic place. There are many sub-forums in which to discuss things in a general sense, which we can and often do 'here' as well. However, this is the Theory forum. We talk about this stuff. And analyze it. At length. It's what we do here.
     
  15. Pcaluaru

    Pcaluaru Tele-Meister

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    How did Blues guitarist think?

    I always say you want to get good at soloing in the Blues ... cop harp licks!

    Very similar to Country guitarist as far as soloing and accompaniment goes. Country pickers emulate and cop steel guitar licks. In a very similar way do Blues guitarist emulate and cop licks from the Harp. Hence the use Pentatonic scale in the Blues. 5 note scales are easy to command on the Harp..

    Western swing guitarist cop fiddle licks
    Jazz guitarist are no different, they cop licks from saxophone & various horn players.

    As far as Share croppers coming from to Delta up to Chicago (I,e Muddy and the Like) knowing music theory... Meh? that's a mixed bag. The ones that mixed with the Jazz crowd most certainly did (and a lot of blues-men did) and the others.. probably not in the truest sense... but I think they knew more than what we give them credit for. I think they understood the intricacies of Blues to a high degree (12 bar composition, turnarounds, major & minor pentatonic scales etc etc...)
     
  16. BartS

    BartS Friend of Leo's

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    I use to read guitar mags when I was a kid and they would be filled with actual lessons from guitarists. The only two I remember were from BB king and Dime Bag Darrel. I'm not a supper huge Pantera fan I like them but only really into like 10 or 15 of their songs. A lot of songs on there old albums I would just skip and never listened to anything after great southern trend kill. I have seen Dime Bag live like 3 times though and the guy is literally a musical phenom. I have seen videos of B.B king in his later years playing but the guy that raised me use to go to B.B king concerts all the time before I was born and said the guy use to just be incredible and the only thing I trust this guys judgement on is music.

    So you have Dime Bag Darrel and B.B king two opposite ends of the spectrum. I know for a fact B.B. King knows musical theory. I know Dimebag always said he doesn't know a thing about music theory. The things that stood out to me on both these guys lessons was how much they pressed upon you that they practiced. B.B king was in his 70s probably when I was reading this stuff and was telling us he still goes over his minor pentatonic and Major scales everyday. Dime bag would say things like he kept a guitar in every room of his house so he would never have to reach for one to pick one up and practice. He said he kept one in the bathroom so he could practice while he was on the toilet.

    I don't know exactly how the blues guitars of old thought. I imagine they would thinking do and learn anything they can to make their music and playing sound better and whether they knew music theory or not. I bet they new a little bit of the basics. I bet what separated them from the rest of the pack is how much they practiced their instruments and believe it or not because blues is known for people stealing other peoples stuff the ones that had there own style and weren't copping other peoples stuff.
     
  17. ItchyFingers

    ItchyFingers Tele-Afflicted

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    My apologies Tim Bowen. I am just trying to figure it all out. I'll try to stay out of your forum. Obviously I have no right or sufficient credentials to comment in the same room as the "elite"
     
  18. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

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    Not my forum, no need to leave, and no apologies necessary on either end as far as I am concerned. My question and comments were sincere. The thread itself is about analyzation.
     
  19. Frank'n'censed

    Frank'n'censed Doctor of Teleocity

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    For myself, many of the better players, are trying to emulate or at least, are inspired by artists beyond their particular genre, instrument or craft. By doing so, they're pushing the boundaries. Don't get me wrong, I love purist music, after all, Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But without change, things remain stagnant.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2016
  20. 4 Cat Slim

    4 Cat Slim Friend of Leo's

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    Another great Larry F thread, as usual.

    When I began paying attention to blues (in general) a little more than forty years ago, I tried to
    read everything I could about the artists and their development. I'm a little embarrassed to have spent so much time doing so, since so much of what was available at the time was frankly not that informative or filtered through the point of view of,
    "This is the guy whose 1938 78 rpm recording inspired rock artist X". But I guess it was something I was inclined to do, following blues artists as I was used to doing with sports figures. Career statistics, and area of geographical origin
    (delta blues, Texas blues, Piedmont blues) are something that writers and blues aficionados imposed upon these artists.

    Since then, I just look for how well an artist conveys feeling, and worry less about all of the other things.
    Maybe I can't express myself that well... Or maybe I should get my Telecaster and try to play what I mean?
    Thanks again, Larry F.
     
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