The Realities of Being a Blues Player
What does it take to play the blues? If you see yourself as a blues player, you’d better know what you’re getting yourself into. As a music form, blues isn’t as big or far-reaching as say, pop or rock music, but it has the same power to captivate and enthrall each person that experiences it.
Indeed, the blues is more than something you listen to. It’s an experience, and as a musician, you need to be able to convey what the blues is all about to evoke a particular response in the audience. Associate Professor Susan Rogers of the Berklee College of Music says that compared to other genres, blues is more introspective and complex, with lyrics that lean toward “describing one’s internal state.”
If you have this sense of introspection and are able to express your emotions through song, then by all means embrace the blues. That’s the core foundation of becoming a good blues player.
But that’s not all. Here are some more important points showing what it means to be a blues musician.
Knowing the history of blues music
As a blues musician, you need to know how blues music came about and its various styles such as Delta blues, Memphis blues, Chicago blues and so on. Understanding how the blues came out of of a life of struggle will allow you to have a deeper appreciation for the music and the musicians who have gone before you.
With that said, you should listen to as much blues music as you can so you can become more familiar with musical patterns, playing styles and techniques utilized in blues music. Simply put, you can’t be a blues player if you don’t have a good, firm grasp of – and admiration for – what you are playing.
Moreover, it’s not enough to just mimic what others have done because playing blues songs without feeling – without soul – is doing the emotion-filled genre a great disservice. “You can’t perform the blues,” singer and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. says.”You got to feel the blues.”
Developing a mastery of guitar fundamentals
While it’s possible to start from zero when you want to play blues guitar, already knowing how to play the guitar and execute guitar techniques, along with having a good understanding of music theory and concepts, will help in making you a good blues player.
Playing blues involves improvisations and solos that you can only pull off if you know how notes and chords come together to create a distinctive blues sound.
For instance, most blues tunes follow a 12-bar blues progression, with the melody usually going up and down a six-note scale. If you are a complete beginner, you may find this tricky to understand, so it’s ideal to take a step back and master the fundamentals first before focusing on blues music.
Expecting hardships along the way
It’s common for blues players to experience struggles themselves, especially when it comes to finding work as musicians. It can be difficult to book gigs, particularly if you’re a solo artist. There aren’t that many people who embrace blues music, especially in cities where rock, pop and electronic dance music are probably the norm.
Blues guitarists have to exert more effort and work doubly hard to land gigs that pay well. Busking is a common practice, so you need to be open to that opportunity. Bars and other venues where patrons enjoy blues music aren’t that many, partly because blues songs aren’t that mainstream.
Our last but certainly not the least point is this: Being a good blues player means keeping on learning about and developing passion for the music. Sure, you may encounter difficulties in your career, but that doesn’t mean the blues is not for you. If you’ve got your heart and soul in it, and feel the music right to your bones, then just keep going. That’s what the blues is all about.