Lesson video

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Hello, my name is Ms. Charatan, and I'm a head of music at a school in North London.

Really looking forward to teaching you all about blues instrumentation and style today.

So, let's begin with a warm up, really quick one.

So, a bit of a brain teaser.

You are going to copy what I do, but you're going to do the opposite of what I do.

So, for example, when I play , do this, you're going to clap.

And when I clap , you're going to do this.

Let's try.

You should have done this.

Okay, how about this one? You should have done this.

Okay, that was too easy.

Let's do something harder.

Excellent, great work.

Let's get started with the lesson.

In this lesson, you'll need a piece of paper and a pencil as well as a voice, instrument, or you could have an app.

A digital audio workstation might be something that you could use, but it's completely optional, particularly if you don't have an instrument around to use.

Pause the video, get those things now, and proceed when you're ready.


So, what are we doing today? We're going to start by recapping how the voice is used in blues, we'll recap the instruments used in blues, and then we'll learn all about some instrumental techniques and how that makes it sound like the blues.

We're then going to practise our listening and writing skills to finish off our lesson.

So, let's begin by looking at singing in the blues.

So, singing is an important part of the blues because it allows for heartfelt, personal expression.

And we're going to hear now how some blues singers have really communicated through their singing.

We're going to listen to a piece called "St.

Louis Blues" by Velma Middleton and Louis Armstrong, so Louis Armstrong wrote it.

This is actually a jazz piece, but as we know, blues went on into jazz, and jazz draws on a lot of influences from the blues.

So, we're going to listen to this because it really shows off some brilliant expression in Velma Middleton's singing.

Make sure you got a pen and paper ready to write down the answers to these four questions when we're listening to the track.

♪ I hate to see that evening sun go down ♪ ♪ Yes, I hate to see that evening sun go down ♪ ♪ 'Cause it makes me feel like ♪ ♪ I'm on my last go round ♪ ♪ If I'm feeling tomorrow ♪ ♪ Like I feel today ♪ Beautiful song.

And that was Louis Armstrong there on the trumpet.

He was a very famous trumpeter, but he did sing.

We'll hear him singing in a bit.

So, two instruments we could hear.

Any of these ones here.

Remember, a female voice can count as an instrument.

What was Velma Middleton doing in her singing? What techniques could we hear? So, she was doing some slides like that.

She was very free, very expressive.

She sang the legato.

What does legato mean? Legato means very smoothly, so she made her phrases really smooth.

So, which parts did we have a call and response between? We had vocals and trumpet.

So Velma would sing, and then Louis on the trumpet would finish off.

So, it was a bit like a question and answer.

And what was the trumpet doing throughout? It was improvising.

What does improvising mean? Can we remember? Yes, improvising means making music up on the spot.

I know you've probably done that before.

So, let's now listen to another example of some singing.

This is scat singing, and scat singing uses nonsense words and syllables and other vocal effects.

So, this is actually commonly used in jazz, but as we know, jazz comes from the blues, and this was a style that occasionally was used in blues songs.

Why do you think it would be useful to be able to use nonsense words when you're singing, like ? Well, it's great because you don't need to remember any lyrics.

It's a kind of part of improvisation.

And also, Louis Armstrong was originally credited for doing scat singing.

He was the first person to have really done it on record.

And that was apparently because he actually forgot his words and dropped his sheets.

So, he just made them up, and other people copied.

So, it's very much associated with jazz.

Later on, some bands such as the Swingle Singers use it in a more classical style, but we are listening to it in a jazz context.

So, let's listen to Louis, and what words would you describe his singing with? This is him singing "West End Blues." Another lovely song there.

So, what words could we use to describe his singing? Write three down now, pause the video, resume when you're ready.

Okay, so here are some of my ideas.

So, he used scat, he was improvising, and it was using call and response.

He also used some slides.

And what was the call and response between? Did you notice what instruments? That was between the clarinet, that's an instrument I play, I love the clarinet, and the voice.

So, very similar to Louis and Velma in the previous truck we heard.

Louis Armstrong was known for having quite a gravely voice, as well, but we couldn't really hear that there.

So, if you put legato, you were totally correct.

It sounded very smooth, expressive singing.

We're now going to have a little go at doing some of our own scat singing.

So, using the words da, wa, ba, do, anything else you like, have a go for two minutes at doing some of your own scat singing.

So, I'm going to give you an example.

Like that.

If you have chords to handle, or an instrument to play chords with you, have a go.

Otherwise, just having a little sing to yourself.

Take two minutes, pause the video, do some brilliant scats, and come back when you're ready.

Great, hope you were scatting all around the house.

That's something you could definitely do in the shower.

So, before we move on, let's list the features of blues and jazz singing.

List three features.

Pause the video, write them down, and resume when you're ready to check.

Great, what did you get? So, any of these would be fine.

So, three out of the four of these.

If you put call and response, that was very much correct in the two examples we heard, but that's not the case in most blues songs.

It was just two examples of it.

So, sung really freely and expressively is one you could have put.

Legato, using slides, and scat is used in jazz.

Great, so we have recapped the instruments most commonly- We've recapped how the voice is used in blues, and now we're going to go on to looking at instruments used in blues.

I'm recapping this because I think you've probably done this before.

So, what instruments play in a blues band? You're going to listen to the track to remind you, and you're going to list the typical instruments used in the blues.

For your stretch, can you think about do the instruments always play all together, is it a big group all together at the same time? Or do some take on other roles at other times? This is a track from B.


King called "How Blue Can You Get?" And I've divided it into two little sections because that kind of really shows us that whole range of instruments in that band.

Let's listen to the first section, and list your instruments.

So, that was the first section.

What could you hear? Write it down.

Let's now look at the second section.

♪ Ever since the day we met ♪ ♪ I said our love is nothing but blues ♪ And think about that stretch question.

So, list the typical instruments used the blues.

You might want to do two columns of one that you heard in this track and other instruments that you know are in the blues.


Let's now check our answers.

So, these are the instruments that are very popular in the blues.

So, the harmonica we didn't hear there, but that was in early blues.

The banjo, again, we didn't hear just then, but that was in the early blues.

And in the track we just heard, we definitely heard bass, voice, trumpet drum kit, the piano, we had saxophones, we might have heard some horns as well, so trombones as well.

And let's now go over that stretch question.

Do you think they always play altogether, as a big ensemble, or do we have differences? So yeah, there are many solos in blues.

So, blues is actually quite a solo genre.

We often have instruments coming to the front and then doing some improvised solos, and then someone else has a turn.

The voice also is very soloistic in blues.

Behind that, we often have a kind of rhythm section.

So, that bass is going to be doing a walking bass throughout a lot of blues tracks that we've heard.

The drum kit as well, but they all have their solo moments as well as the piano, so that's part of that rhythm section.

The guitar and the banjo can kind of be in both.

You hear sometimes there are some solo from guitars, and particularly in later blues, that guitar really comes out as a really exciting sort of instrument, which we're going to hear about later.

So, blues is essentially a very soloistic genre of music.

So, we're going to look at these instruments in a bit more detail.

So, we've looked at voice already.

We're going to look at the bass, we're going to look at the drum kit, we're going to look at the piano, and the guitar, particularly looking at techniques that are used in blues so we can identify something as blues.

So, we're going to forget about the voice for the time being.

So, let's now have a look at some of these instrumental techniques.

I'm going to now show you a video of me playing two blues techniques on the piano.

Which do you know what they're called? And which one did I play first out of the two that you can see on the screen? So, there were two techniques we saw there.

So, one was a tremolo, so I was alternating really quickly between two pitches and chords.

So, that's two pitches there.

That's a tremolo.

And crush notes, which are really short notes, which we heard second like that.

And that's to make something sound really bluesy.

Let's now listen, back again, to B.


King's track.

Can we hear the kind of tremolo? When does it happen? So, did we just hear that there, that kind of tremolo? And we also heard some crush notes too.


So, it happens in tonnes of blues tracks, so we'll listen out for that later as well.

So, now we're going to look at the blues guitar.

So, in early blues we often had the banjo, but we're going to look a bit more at slightly later blues guitar.

And there are main techniques.

So, string bends, slides, bottlenecking, and vibrato.

We're going to look at these all in detail.

Let's listen to this blues guitar track.

Can you hear any of these techniques already? Are any familiar to you? So, you've probably heard a lot of blues guitar before without even really realising it.

And these are the four techniques which are used really extensively in blues guitar.

So, particularly just we heard there, we heard some vibrato, we heard some slides, and string bends.

Let's now look and see what these are.

So, our first technique we're going to look at is, can you guess? Yes, string bends.

And that's bending the string to alter the pitch on the fretboard.

Let's see how it's done.

String bend that up a whole step.

We're going to bend it up a whole step, which means two frets.

That's your target note, two frets up.

When you bend, make sure your thumb is over the top and you use at least two fingers on that string.

So, can you just see what his fingers are doing as we watch this? So, don't just bend with one finger like that.

That's kind of weak.

You can use both fingers to push the string.

So, make sure you bend it up in tune to the note that you're trying to hit.

And then the second note in this phrase.

So, that is an example of a string bend.

So, he's pressing down the strings and moving them up to make the pitch higher.

If you're a guitarist, why not try that out? There's loads of great tutorials online.

Let's now have a look at some slides, again it's a really bluesy feature of blues guitar.

Let's see how we do it.

The second more advanced technique we're going to show you is sliding.

And again, it's all using the same scale, the same positions, but it's how you transition between them.

So instead of playing, like the hammer-ons, two separate notes, I'm going to slide from one position to the other.

And this adds a little more feel, a little bit more sort of a smooth feeling to whatever you're playing.

So, for example.

It already starts to sound like a solo or part of a riff.

It's all part of the same scale, but I'm using slides to highlight some areas and smooth it out.

And that's again, certainly as a guitarist or on your ukulele, you can try out sliding between one note to another to make it sound really bluesy.

So, these are called slides.

Let's now have a look at bottlenecking.

And this is something that you might not have seen before, but I'm sure you've heard it.

So, this is actually using a bottleneck, and increasingly now more sort of a metal thing that you put over your finger to cover all of the strings and slide up and down.

And that means we have a big slide from all the pitches.

We're now going to look at this guitarist do some bottlenecking.

I want to look at his little finger, what he's got on there, 'cause that's going to, that's basically the bottleneck or equivalent to make the slide happen.

And, unfortunately this is in the way.

Let's move it out of the way.

Can we see his little finger is on the strings with that bottleneck on it to make that really long, smooth slide through all the strings.

So, that means he doesn't have to use all of his fingers.

So, let's listen out for bottlenecking in some other blues tracks later.

And lastly, we've heard this throughout, and this is vibrato.

You can do this on many different instruments, particularly string instruments are great for doing vibrato on it, but we can do it in singing.

And this makes a kind of wobbly sounds, which is very expressive.

And when you do it on a string instrument, you need to move your fingers very quickly so that this whole sound wobbles and makes an expressive feeling.

Let's see that being done now.

All right, we're going to take you to the Graveyard Blues right now.

So, can we see, we can see a lot of slides here, but we can see what his right hand, or the left hand, wobbles, that's vibrato.

We can hear it in the pitch moving as well.

So, he was also doing a lot of slides there, you might have also noticed that too.

So, vibrato.

Use vibrato in blues, if you can, to make it sound expressive.

So, we're now going to look at two other techniques, which you use on the bass.

One of them, we can notice it's the same as on the guitar.

What is that? What is sliding to the same string on the next note to make it smooth? Yes, that is sliding.

We're also going to look at slap bass.

So, let's look at this performance, and I'd like you to listen out for one of these techniques.

So, we didn't hear any slides just then, but we did hear slap bass.

And could you hear that really percussive kind of sound after he was paying the pitches? That is because he was striking his string instrument fretboard making that sound, and that's really stylistic for blues.

What was he actually playing? Yeah, he was playing a walking bass, and that was really, again, typical of blues bass.

Let's now have a look at the drum kit.

So, can we guess what these, the definition.

So, can we guess what these techniques are called, using brushes and the swung rhythm? Yeah, so a swung rhythm is basically a shuffle rhythm, that's what we call it in blues.

It's not quite a technique, but it's something that the drummers did, and brushes.

So, that means we're going to play it, make a much quieter sound using brushes than if we use sticks.

Let's have a look and see how that's done.

Can't we hear that sounds so bluesy, and it sounds kind of quieter.

and really suits that shuffle rhythm he's playing.

Another example of a shuffled rhythm is here, So that is a really typical swung rhythm.

Excellent, we have seen loads of different techniques here.

And obviously, you're not going to have all of these instruments at home, but if you have one of these instruments, go away now for 10 minutes and try out some of these techniques.

You can always rewind and have a look what they are so you can learn how to do them.

If you don't have an instrument, use an app and try out some tremolos and crush notes on your virtual piano app or a digital audio workstation.

Perhaps you could experiment with the different drum kit sounds.

There's one that's got brushes on it, and hear how that sounds differently.

Or you can use your voice and have a go at doing some slides and scat singing.

Pause the video for 10 minutes, try out your techniques, and resume when you are ready.

Excellent work.

I hope you were really experimental trying out these blues techniques to make your work sound bluesy and expressive.

So, we're now just going to consolidate our understanding.

You are going to pause the video, put the correct techniques in the correct boxes for the corresponding instruments.

Beware, there's one that needs to go in two boxes.

And for your stretch, can you list any techniques we saw on the drums? Pause the video, take five minutes, resume when you're ready.

Great, let's check your answers.

So, this should be what it looked like.

So, if you notice the slide was in the guitar and the bass, and the piano has crushed notes and tremolos I showed you earlier.

The drum kits, yes, they played with brushes and they played a shuffle rhythm.

So, finally, we're going to practise our listening and writing skills with our knowledge of blues instrumental techniques.

So, we're going to be thinking about this question.

How do we know we're listening to blues in terms of how the instrument's played? Why are they showing that that's the blues through their techniques? So, we're now going to first write a plan.

So, when we listen to a question, it's important to write a plan for the question.

So, our question is listen to Elmore James "Dust My Broom." How does the instrumentation show this is a typical piece of blues music? And you're going to write a paragraph all about this.

So, you're going to do your plan in these three ways.

You're going to do a grid, which instrument, its role, and the technique it uses.

And, for example, the voice might be one instrument you choose.

What's its role? It is singing the melody, it's singing a solo.

And any techniques that you can hear.

So, for example, was it sliding, was it using scats, was it using legato singing, for example? I'm going to play the track to you.

You're now going to pause the video, write out your plan grid, and then when you're ready, resume it to listen to the track and write down your answers.

♪ I'm gettin' up soon in the mornin' ♪ ♪ I believe I'll dust my broom ♪ ♪ I'm gettin' up soon in the mornin' ♪ ♪ I believe I'll dust my broom ♪ ♪ Out with the best gal I'm lovin' ♪ ♪ Now my friends can get in my room ♪ Okay, rewind the video if you need to hear it more, pause it, and write down your plan with all the instruments, all the roles, and all the techniques you can hear.

Lovely, so we should now have a plan, and we're going to write it out in a paragraph.

So, you're going to use the following structure.

So, first you're going to say when the instrument is heard.

So, at the beginning, we hear the guitar.

Their role in the band is to play the chords, but it's also improvising solo lines.

They're playing in the blues style because they're using slides, string bends, and vibrato.

I'm going to play you the track one more time, just so now you can make a note of when these instruments are playing, then you're going to pause the video again.

♪ I'm gettin' up soon in the mornin' ♪ ♪ I believe I'll dust my broom ♪ ♪ I'm gettin' up soon in the mornin' ♪ ♪ I believe I'll dust my broom ♪ ♪ Out with the best gal I'm lovin' ♪ ♪ Now my friends can get in my room ♪ Okay, pause the video, now write out your plan in paragraphs, and resume when you're ready to check.

Excellent work.

So, here is your checklist.

Have you written in full sentences? Yes, if you're writing a paragraph, you definitely should have been.

Which instruments did you write about? Did you write about all of them, and how did you explain why the techniques sound like the blues? Did you use specific examples of what techniques they have used? That was some great work today and a really good chance to practise showing off what great knowledge you've got about the blues.

All that's left for me to say is don't forget to go on and complete the quiz to show off your knowledge.

Take care, enjoy the rest of your day, and see you soon.