Wednesday, 26 May 2010

things i learnt #1: twelve-bar blues

Recently, I've been reflecting a lot on my school experience. With that in mind, I've been inspired to try and specify knowledge or skills learnt which were not only major, but life-changing - things which are still used regularly.

Of course, reading and writing are pretty obvious, so I've ruled those out along with basic mathematical and scientific knowledge. I've still managed to compile quite a list so far, so it occurred that perhaps I should spout about them online and see where we go.

And so we come to age 12, Music class, and Twelve-Bar Blues.

Junior school music can be a pain for everyone involved. For non-musical pupils, it's something close to torture. For pupils who have been learning an instrument up to a certain level, they are often frustrated by the lack of any new knowledge. For the teacher, it's something you have to endure - trying to cater for both groups, whilst actually keeping yourself sane.

My secondary school music teacher was pretty adept at this. There were, in no particular order, xylophone, drum, comprehensive theory, CD design, rapping, and cinematic music lessons. But the one which, on reflection, had the biggest long term repercussions, was when we got to basic song writing, and the twelve-bar blues.

Now, outside school, I have been learning piano four about five years, so there was nothing new in playing chords. There was, however, the shock of the new when it came to playing something I actually gave a toss about. So the sudden revelation of just how simple it could be to play basic songs was life-saving. Three chords, the most basic theory, and you're away (and probably ready to be a stand-in member of Status Quo.)

Taking the key of the music (say C) and take the tonic - 1st - major chord, which is C; the subdominant - 4th - chord, which is F; and the dominant - 5th - chord, which is G, and you're almost there already. Structure around a a walking bass rhythm, and voila! You're like a slow-learning Ray Charles.

The knock-on effect of this may not have been obvious, but it was there. A year later, I started to learn guitar, and from that point painful, PAINFUL song-writing became a viable option. I would claim to be an outstanding musician, but subsequent learning and the ability to play by ear would, I am certain, never have come about if my enthusiasm had not be saved by the sudden, drastic appearance of the twelve-bar blues.



Whilst searching my school files - yes, I kept them all (a decision to be vindicated by this series, perhaps!) - for the scanned piece of work above, I came across possibly one of the greatest exam answers I have ever made. I have, obviously no memory of giving the following answer, and so can only hope I was being funny. (As the answer to the question above referenced Keanu Reeves's acting, I'm willing to believe that I must've been on a roll that day.)



1 comment:

David Lowry said...

In the words of a wise man "LOVE IT"

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