How Blues Music Differs From Country Music Cultural Studies Essay

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What is blues and country music? The word "blue" sometimes means "sad." The blues is often associated with the expression of feeling bad or sorrowful in life. This is the feeling that brings to mind that the music may be mournful or sad. However, it was a means of musical communication. The original intent was to lift the spirits of people who were "feeling blue." The blues is music that is simple, powerful, and is also popular. The blues is a style of music that had considerable influences in jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, and other, more recent forms of American popular music.

Country music on the other hand, is often associated with the effects of a lost love. It is also devoted to personal, domestic or collective issues, in a secular way. The lyrics of country music express social advice that focus on the nature of men and women. It was rational to the extent that the musicians were trying to make sense of their life and their surroundings.

It is said that the blues and country music share a similarity in characteristics. However, these two genres developed in different eras, under different circumstances, but share same geographic regions of development in the United States. Each genre is very different, but very alike as well. When one compares blues and country music, one finds that the two share many things in common and of course, they also share many differences. Therefore, I hypothesized that blues and country music have different structures and styles.

Origins and Development

Blues Music

The Blues is a type of music that has its beginning around the late 1800s in southern United States by African slaves. These Africans had belonged to a number of different tribal and linguistic groups, each of which had its own musical traditions. Many of these people had been slaves before the civil war. They lived difficult lives (Palmer, 1986). The Blues of that time was called country blues however, "It must be remembered that the blues was not "art music." It had very little to do with mere chords and melodies; it was essential mode of expression, through which minority could render its suffering (Schuller,1986)."

African roots, spirituals, work songs, field hollers, black folk ballads, instrumental jigs and the minstrel shows all played their part as building blocks of the blues. The African roots of the Blue are undeniable, particular in the griots of western Africa. The griots functioned as sorts of musical storyteller for their communities, no doubt singing about subjects like romance, family, famine, ruling governments, and struggle that are commonplace in blues music and indeed, folk/popular music as a whole (Palmer, 1986).

The Blues spiritual itself was a crossing of African melody with European (mostly English) hymns. Through the years and decades this marvelously rich accumulation began to crystallize into more specific modes of expression all of them strongly related and overlapping. All of the expressions were performed either as solo or group singing in call and response form; usually an improvising vocal in unison, not in harmony, and they were for the most part unaccompanied (Schuller, 1986).

The first country blues that was written and published was "Memphis Blues' by W.C. Handy in the early 1900s. The first recorded blues was "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith in 1915 Most country blues was played with an acoustic guitar and with someone singing New Orleans played a critical role in the development and dissemination of the uniquely Afro-American forms of blues and ragtime. Louisiana was also a remarkable confluence of ethnic groups, the richness and diversity of which was unmatched anywhere else in North America.

In due course, brass bands, black orchestras and Creole singers flourished in the Crescent City, creating the crucible from which ragtime and jazz emerged. That rich musical heritage also had a major influence on the birth of the blues, as it swiftly spread throughout the Delta via the traveling musicians who performed on the paddle boats that plied the mighty Mississippi river (Palmer, 1986).

Country Music

Country music was developed in the 1920s also in the southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, gospel music and old-time music. This earl country music along with early recorded country music is often referred to as old-time music (Peterson 1999). Immigrants to the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America brought the music and instruments of the old world along with them for nearly 300 years. They brought some of the most important valuables with them, and to most of them this was an instrument (Keevil 2002). The interactions among musicians from different ethnic groups produced music unique to this region of North America, Appalachian string bands of the early twentieth century primarily consisted of the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. The Irish fiddle, the German derived dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar, and the West African banjo were most common musical instruments (Chapelle 2007).

There were settlers both black and white in the Appalachians who brought with them two distinct traditions: the European tradition of Anglo-American Balladry, story songs, and dance music based on four-square harmonies and fixed forms; and the African-American traditions of blues, work songs, and field hollers, featuring often improvisatory melodies and words accompanied by polyrhythmic instrumental virtuosity. And like all great American music, country music is a blending of these black and white elements, with each tradition tipping its hat in the other's direction so that it is impossible to clearly unravel one from the other.

Country music like the blues has a century-old tradition with myriad styles evolving and coexisting over the decades. It is constantly turning back and renewing itself; with mainstream success; crossing over into pop, going into lengthy periods of exile, and ultimately going back and forth again like an irrepressive voice of the earth. Country music like all great American art forms has its roots in commerce. It took commercial recording companies and radio stations to nurture country music (Carlin 2003).

Although a plausible case can be made for heavy black influence on early country music, and although a handful of black performers, notably Charley Pride and D.B. McClinton, have achieved prominence in the genre, country is overwhelmingly perceived both by its fans and by its detractors, as white people's music - music predominantly rural, predominantly southern audience (Lewis 1993).

The Structures and Styles of Country and Blues Music


The classic blues figure is a singer accompanied on acoustic and guitar and sometimes harmonica. Much of what ties together the blues as a musical style is its lyrical content. "Blues players will often tell you the blues is about life - the good parts and the bad parts."(1) The Blues play minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales while country usually sticks to major scales but also uses minor and major pentatonic and more. Also in country music, you are more likely to hear more complex chord progression and melody while in blues; it is more about putting soul into the singing and musicianship. Not only did country music came out of the blues, but was also heavily influenced by Celtic music and jazz. The blues also lead to the creation of rock and jazz, but jazz and country also helped in the development of rock (Piero, 2007).

The instruments that are most commonly used in blues are guitar, bass, piano and drums. The horn instrument is also often used. Blues music evolved into styles such as the Memphis blues which used a variety of unusual instruments such as washboard, fiddle, kazoo or mandolin. In country music, guitar, pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, piano, drums, bass and fiddle are among the most often used instruments.

However, some of these instruments are use both in blues and country music.. For example in the style of "Early Country" the instruments used were banjos, fiddles and autoharp. While Jimmine Rodgers is considered the "Father" of Country Music, Bill Monroe is the Father of Bluesgrass, another style evolved out of country music. This distinctive style is most notably characterized by the style of banjo picking. In this Bluesgrass style, you will hear the melody on mandolin, then the dobro, the banjo, then on the fiddle. In like manner, the guitar and banjo are used in "Country Blues (Charters (1975)."

Country music, like blues evolved into a bewildering array of styles, some of which had a influence on others kinds of American popular music, most importantly including bluesgrass, cowboy and western, honky tonk and western swing. In like manner, blues also evolved in array of styles, including jazz and rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. Unlike country music, the key feature of the blues style is the unique harmonies, rhythms, and inflections it uses. (Piero, 2007).


Country music consist of a combination of text, melody, harmony, stories, myths, technology marketing, and culture woven together in the form of songs. The musical and textual events are assembled into some recognizable structure; where the listener makes sense of the sounds based on the structure, following the musical form. Songs are essentially assembled from melodic phrases, supported by harmonic progression, and placed with metric frameworks (Akenson & Wolfe 2000).

Blues on the other hand, evolved into specifics forms: the three-line poetic stanza form of poetry and. It uses the I, IV, and V chords throughout the song form. The most common form of the blues is a 12-bar pattern of chord changes, which result in a repeated twelve-bar chord progression. This is commonly known as the 12-bar blues (Willougby, 2010). The typical and predictable four-or-eight units bar in country songs have two components: first, a musical phrase generated by a melodic and harmonic motion, and second, a metric framework (Calin, 2003).

While country music melodic phrases can be identified intuitively, generally aligning with individual lines of text in the vocal delivery, by contrast, the blues, as a gradually emerging synthesis of field hollers, work songs, prison songs, was best served by the banjo and guitar. Each musical phrase has a point of initiating a motion toward its conclusion, and an arrival on melodic cadence, or point of rest. Country music emphasized first of all the story, then the voice, and last the arrangement (Schuller, 1986).

The blues structure, like ragtime, was an admixture African influence the-call-and response, where the lead vocalist's musical and verbal improvisations with a fixed refrain, sung in unison with a harmonizing or polyphonic elaboration and European harmonically derived functional form. The first harmonic accompaniment was on a homes instrument like banjos, made by stretching dried raccoon skins over a guard and using wire strings or even horse hair and have been inspired by use of the guitar as an accompaniment (Palmer, 1982).

In contrast, the melody in country music occurs over a metric framework consisting of regularly recurring pulses in time with similarly regularly recurring accents grouping the pulses in twos, threes and/or fours (generating duple, triple, or quadruple meter); meter, which is ongoing pattern of regularly spaced points in time with downbeats and relative strength and weakness of beats in a repeating regular pattern (Akernson Wolf, 2000).


Although there were some similarities in the music instruments used by blues and country music, my hypothesis has proved a vast difference in structures and styles. Furthermore, the blues remain, even to this day, a formalized expression. It offers a simpler harmonic progression in a shorter form, whereas country developed a lengthy three-part forms including modulations, each part of which in itself consist of a relatively sophisticated harmonic progression. Moreover the fast tempos of country left little room for rhythmic and reflective freedoms preserved in the blues. Thus, when the blues became formalized as eight-twelve or sixteen-bar structure in a European derived 4/4 meter its unique simplicity left enough room to preserve a number of African rhythmic-melodic characteristics. The blues were improvised and as such were more successful in preserving the original and melodic patterns of African music.