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Author Topic: Unusual intervals in country blues  (Read 1476 times)

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Offline Gmaj7

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Unusual intervals in country blues
« on: November 18, 2017, 10:31:40 PM »
The "harmonic complexity in blues" thread got me thinking about this.
Blues uses minor and major scales, along with blue notes, which means that across country blues almost every interval is covered. The only one I can think of that isn't used (as far as I'm aware) is the minor second, which is a half step above the root.
It doesn't sound very bluesy to me; more reminiscent of flamenco or "eastern music". Is there any incidence of the minor second being used in country blues? I don't mean in turnarounds but rather whether there is any example of a player using this interval as a key part of their melody? Did anyone ever use the Locrian mode (which includes this interval) in country blues?
I suspect the answer is "no" to both questions, but maybe I'm wrong. There are all sorts of unconventional players in the genre (Buddy Boy Hawkins springs to mind) and who knows what they got up to.....
Are there any other particularly odd intervals that only turn up rarely in melodies?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2017, 06:37:04 AM »
Hi Gmaj7,
The odds against a flat II note being in the melody of a blues are very strong, because the great majority of blues have melodies comprised of notes derived from pentatonic scales, and the pentatonic scales that blues most often use, the minor pentatonic:  I-bIII-IV-V-bVII, and the major pentatonic:  I-II-III-V-VI, do not have any half-steps in them.  Since a Country Blues, or for that matter, almost any tonal melody, will have a I note in it, the half-step above the I note doesn't live in the Country Blues' melodic vocabulary.
That having been said, it's not impossible, and even fairly likely, that you could have a #I note in the melody of a raggy 16-bar blues that starts with a I-VI7-II7-V7-I progression, since the #I note would be the major third of the VI7 chord.  I can't think of any of those sorts of tunes right off the bat that have that note in the melody, but it's not at all implausible, and if arrived at step-wise, by going from I note in the I chord to #I note in the VI7 chord it would sound perfectly natural.  Functionally, that #I note would not be the same as a bII note, though, and it's much harder to think of a context in which a bII note would be natural-sounding.
All best,
Johnm   
« Last Edit: November 19, 2017, 08:25:00 AM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2017, 10:57:59 AM »
I have noticed in the past that William Brown's "Ragged and Dirty" uses every note in the chromatic scale except the bII note in both the guitar part and sung melody, which track each other pretty closely. And he gets pretty close in "Mississippi Blues", too.

Another context that the #I/bII note might appear, again due to a raggy influence, is as the root of the (#I)dim7 chord, which is basically the I7 chord with the root raised a half step. I remember learning a Blind Blake tune in a Mary Flowers class at PT in which he did a half steps walk down of dim7 chords, but I don't remember if it walked down to or from the I chord, nor do I remember the name of the tune, but I think t did have a VI/II/V/I structure as well. Others may think of different examples. In the context of a walk down like that I don't know if it would be referred to as the (#I)dim7 or (bII)dim7? Of course, the note itself would appear in every 4th chord of such a walk down, but might not be considered the root. Which brings up another question: If a dim7 chord is played on the guitar it is usually in support of the melody note on the top treble string, but the dim7 is usually named for the base note of the voicing. So which would meet the criteria of the original poster's question?

It might have been "Depression Has Gone from Me."

Wax
« Last Edit: November 19, 2017, 10:59:02 AM by waxwing »
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2017, 11:40:32 AM »
Hi Wax,
It seems like the original poster's search was for bII notes in the sung melody, so if that note (or a #I note) was in the harmony but not in the melody it would not count for his purposes.  This would exclude a lot of turn-arounds or walk-ups and walk-downs where you pass through that note in the bass line or an interior line but against a diatonic note being sung in the melody.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Gmaj7

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2017, 10:53:36 PM »
Hi Gmaj7,
The odds against a flat II note being in the melody of a blues are very strong, because the great majority of blues have melodies comprised of notes derived from pentatonic scales, and the pentatonic scales that blues most often use, the minor pentatonic:  I-bIII-IV-V-bVII, and the major pentatonic:  I-II-III-V-VI, do not have any half-steps in them.  Since a Country Blues, or for that matter, almost any tonal melody, will have a I note in it, the half-step above the I note doesn't live in the Country Blues' melodic vocabulary.
That having been said, it's not impossible, and even fairly likely, that you could have a #I note in the melody of a raggy 16-bar blues that starts with a I-VI7-II7-V7-I progression, since the #I note would be the major third of the VI7 chord.  I can't think of any of those sorts of tunes right off the bat that have that note in the melody, but it's not at all implausible, and if arrived at step-wise, by going from I note in the I chord to #I note in the VI7 chord it would sound perfectly natural.  Functionally, that #I note would not be the same as a bII note, though, and it's much harder to think of a context in which a bII note would be natural-sounding.
All best,
Johnm

Hi John, thanks for the reply. That's pretty interesting and I hadn't though of it. I expect that to the listener, it would not sound like a #1 because as you say it is not functioning in that way. It would be a curious way to disorient the listener I suppose, if it were played slightly more ambiguously. e.g. how might it sound if you played the major third in the bass of the VI7 chord.

Offline Gmaj7

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2017, 11:02:43 PM »
Hi Wax,
It seems like the original poster's search was for bII notes in the sung melody, so if that note (or a #I note) was in the harmony but not in the melody it would not count for his purposes.  This would exclude a lot of turn-arounds or walk-ups and walk-downs where you pass through that note in the bass line or an interior line but against a diatonic note being sung in the melody.
All best,
Johnm

Hi John, yes I'm also curious about it being played as part of an instrumental melody, i.e. on the treble strings. If it's part of a walk up or turnaround it's main use is for chromatic purposes and I think that's clear to the listener.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2017, 06:23:51 AM »
Hi Gmaj7,
If you want to find such an out-of-the-way and specific sound, you're just going to have to listen to everything.  You might start with Walter Davis and Robert Pete Williams, both of whom employed expanded and more unusual harmonies and melodic vocabularies than are most often encountered in Country Blues playing and singing.  Let us know if you find it.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2017, 09:03:15 AM »
Hi all,
Wiley Barner sings an unusual interval in his "My Gal Treats Me Mean (But I Can't Leave Her Alone), a major VII note.  This is despite his pianist hitting the more commonly encountered bVII note in his solo version of the song's melody.  Here is a video of the performance--listen to the notes Barner sings on "Take your pic-ture make it, in the frame . . .".  I apologize if non-U.S. Weenies are unable to view this video.



All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 13, 2017, 09:04:34 AM by Johnm »

Offline Gmaj7

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2020, 06:18:32 PM »
I happened on a paper called "Emotional responses to Hindustani raga music: the role of musical structure" and to cut to the chase, one conclusion was "Finally, one of the most interesting findings of our study was the association of the minor second with ‘tensed’ emotion. This is distinct from past work in Western classical music that has shown an association for the minor third with sadness in Western music "

(Think of a raga as like a mode, but with more stipulations - different ascending and descending patterns, characteristic patterns of notes, some notes more strongly emphasised than others. Microtones exist but are generally excluded in analysis).

Not mentioned in the conclusion, but shown earlier in the paper, is that that the minor-sixth is another interval that is strongly predictive of a sad or tensed emotion in the listener. The minor third, curiously (and for me, unexpectedly) did not really have such strong predictive value. Whereas in the opposite direction (meaning towards "happy"), the major third was important but just as important was the major second.
That gives the second interval the strongest position, because it being either major or minor seems to be the single interval which changes most significantly the emotional response to a raga.

That is interesting because in western music, and as we've seen above, the minor second rarely shows up at all, so western listeners don't have much chance to become familiar with it, and also composers (including in the Blues) have little opportunity to capitalise on it.

(For reference, this paper was building on older papers which demonstrated that people even completely unfamiliar with Indian ragas have fairly predictable/uniform emotional repsonses to different ragas. The newer paper used a larger sample size with 42% of the listeners completely unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with Indian classical music - so the majority of the listeners were familiar with Indian music. I guess that could skew things a little).


Offline Johnm

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Re: Unusual intervals in country blues
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2020, 12:55:27 PM »
Hi all,
One place where consecutive minor seconds occur in the blues with a fair degree of frequency (and a great deal of frequency, for some players) is between the IV and V notes of the blues scale, where quite often a #IV/bV note is added to the scale which bridges the gap between IV and V and thus creates the potential for consecutive minor seconds in either ascending or descending lines. Check out Bo Carter's and Lil' Son Jackson's playing in DGDGBE tuning, where their playing abounds in lines played on the second string that sound the first, second and third frets in both ascending and descending order.
Similarly, the bVI note is perhaps not common in blues, but occurs in almost any song that has a minor IV chord, like Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Wartime Blues", or Blind Boy Fuller's "Weeping Willow Blues", in both of which it occurs in the melody every time the song goes to its IV chord.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 27, 2020, 06:58:53 PM by Johnm »

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