How Does Blues Differ From Other Music Styles on the Guitar

Anyone who loves music knows there is a difference in genres: Rock is different from rap; country is not the same as country-western. Blues is a very distinct genre of music, but still has variations within the genre itself. While it may take more than just listening to the music to decipher which genre is being played, knowing and understanding how to detect the blues on the guitar versus other types of music can help you know when you're hearing the "down and out" blues sound.

While any music played on the guitar can use any notes or chords available to that specific genre, it is the use of them that create a distinct sound. In blues music you will hear "blue" notes. These notes are sometimes called "semitones," or flats and sharps of the notes around them.
The use of these chords on a guitar give off a certain attitude in the music, one of sadness, loss and despair. These chords are usually played in 12 bars, though the range is anywhere between 8 and 16 bars and sometimes more.
The use of many flats and sharps gives off more of a "human" element to the music. These notes and chords are used, as in any music, to allow the listener to understand the emotions even without any lyrics being sung.

The last note or chord you hear in a guitar playing blues is called the dominant chord. It is located four bars above the tonic chord. The sub-dominant chord is heard in between the tonic and dominant chord and is located four bars below the tonic chord heard in the beginning of the music.
There are not many genres of music played on the guitar that use this specific set up of notes and chords. Rock and folk, for example, tend to have a set of chords that they stick with throughout the song that cannot be defined as dominant or sub-dominant.

Most music styles played on the guitar consist of a regular beat. While this is mostly true in blues, there are more interruptions in the music (breaks) and freestyling than in rock, rap, country, etc. Even folk music played on the guitar tends to flow along in a regular pattern.
This use of breaks and freestyling can help add to the somber emotion that blues is meant to convey. At times, blues can be mistaken for jazz because of the offbeat way in which freestyling is used on the guitar. Where one may expect to hear the next chorus, the guitar may jump in in a somewhat unusual and unexpected way. Finger picking the guitar is a big deal in blues, especially on the electric guitar. Metal slides are also used to move the chord up or down to resemble a sigh.

Blues on the guitar can vary in tempo even during a single song. It can go from four beats within a given time frame to three within the same time frame. Other styles of music tend to not jump around in their tempo like this. If they begin with four beats, they stay with four beats for the entire song.

Most blues songs come with lyrics to further portray sad emotions. However, some blues songs use only the guitar to get that emotion across. The guitar is great in blues because it can manifest itself as an instrument that is lonely and in need of love. You may find that most blues songs consist of the guitar, mostly electrical, as the center of attention in the song. It is the second most important "singer" in the blues song.

Approved by Jesse Anderson