Friday, March 02, 2007

Blues VS Classical: Reasons Why One Is Better

Do you know what's amazing about Blues as a musical form? It's a neverending question. Let me attempt to explain; in traditional Western classical music, "good" musical form has rules such as notes needing to resolve (because they just do, they say): ti needs to resolve up to do, fa needs to resolve down to mi, and these rules are taught as being "natural". Dominant V7th needs to resolve back to the root I (one) chord, certain sounds (or syllables) move in certain directions melodically, etc etc etc. Anyone who's taken years of classical music knows about the rigidity of this genre of music which we now consider to be "the best", no question about that, thanks to our greatest institutions of higher learning. In classical music, no matter how the rules are broken (within perfect reason), in musical analysis, every part of the music is broken down to its simplest form: in the end, whatever is most "reasonable" or "sensical" is perceived as the "best" and most "natural" (all synonymous buzzwords). Questions find resolution in classical music because they supposedly "should", and those answers are written in the 16th century counterpoint books we study in theory class.

Anyway, the blues is a succession of dominant 7th chords from beginning to end. The ear hears resolution because of the bass notes moving from I to V and back to I to end its 12 bar pattern, but in reality, the 7th chords never resolve, making this form of music a playground of infinite chordal and modal opportunities. This is in part (and I'm not a musicologist so I can't define anything well enough) why blues and jazz feel so free to perform and to listen to--it's because the dominant 7th can be altered to the point where there really is no rule. True modernity in music starts with the blues, thanks to African music, yet we still don't understand how great it is. From what I can gather, blues is the beginning of a complex system of music which can't be reduced to its parts in quite the same way as we can with classical. We can't compare European and African types of music from only one hierarchical perspective. In a world where Western is synonymous with greatness (thanks to the power of mass promotion), I hope this new millenium offers opportunity to value African music on the same level as European. Naturally, they're both great for different reasons.

"If Elvis is the King of Rock 'n' Roll, then Chuck Berry must be Master of the Universe."

(Image: Chuck Berry, onestientertainment.com)