When Does Musical Style Change From Being Just Typical Music To Turning Into “The Blues”?

There’s all types of preferred music out there. There’s rock, and funk, hip-hop, and country, jazz, and folk, and… Plus plenty of music that does not have a label.

But when exactly does a style of song become “blues music”?

You might say… “Anyone knows blues music when they hear it.” But I bet if you asked 5 folks if a song was a real “blues song” you may get 5 different answers.

– Is it about a certain theme that the song is about?
– Is it about a certain scale structure or tonality?
– Is it about certain chords that can be called”blues chords”?
– Is it even any sort of technical reason at all… Or is it just the “feel” of the song?

I doubt you can really answer this question. The music called “blues” is commonly different things to different folks. What could be blues to one person might be rock’n’roll to somebody else. If you are a very serious blues lover you will have a set line between songs that YOU call the blues and other sorts of music.

And others could be extremely imprecise about what they call “blues” and not be really finicky about their definition.

The reality is, a blues song is generally played in a certain way. There are rhythms that are obviously associated with the blues. And there are specific chords that are connected with the blues. It does not imply that these rhythms and these chords cannot be used in other kinds of music. It’s simply that barely will you hear a blues song that isn’t a particular tonality or rhythm.

But if you’d like to play a slow blues a la B.B. King, then you’ll doubtless be talking about certain chord structures and tonality and maybe even defined rhythms. If you examine B.B. King songs closely you will see some consistency. There is not an infinite number of kinds of songs that he plays. You will not catch him playing a polka for example. Naturally not. That is not a blues style song.


I guess to be “blues” we ARE talking about certain structures of music. There’s shuffles and rhumbas and slow blues that are played in certain rhythmic feels. That’s just the way that it is.

But that does not imply the blues does not evolve.

Remember the famous Muddy Waters line… “The Blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll.”

That nearly sums it up. You can take a common blues chord progression and add something else to it to turn it into something else again. Isn’t that what Elvis Presley did? Isn’t that what many early rockers did? They took black rhythm and blues and turned into something slightly different.

Some would argue it was just white folks making an attempt to play black music, and when the white folks liked it, the record firms gave it a new name… So it would sell.

Well we might have that discussion all day long. Where did rock’n’roll come from? Who actually invented it? Is it actually just blues songs played “white”?

Naturally, not. There were lots of great black rock ‘n roll artists too. Chuck Berry, actually the King of Rock and Roll, would argue that rock and roll was far from only white. And who can disagree that Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley were not some of the best rock and rollers ever.

And you might easily disagree that they all came out of the Blues Convention.

So , to those that say that rock and roll is just The Blues repackaged… Well they just could be right.

Rick Honeyboy Hart has played the guitar for several years and is a professional blues guitarist. He’s played in many bands and now helps others learn blues guitar chords on his guitar instruction web site.

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