A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Coursera – DYM Lesson 4 videos (4)

Video #4 for Lesson 4 of Coursera’s online Developing Your Musicianship class is the longest of this lesson’s videos. It centers on the blues progression.

4. Dominant 7th Chords and Blues Progression (13:04)

Professor Russell begins the session seated at the piano, as usual, and tells the class that he’d like to talk about the blues progression. His first statement is that in a typical blues progression, 7th chords are used. “So,” he says, “we’re going to talk about building the 7th chord and then go into the blues progression.” He proceeds to construct a 7th chord, which is a major triad and an additional note – the 7th note of the major scale. This makes the notes 1, 3, 5 and 7. He then flats the 7, making the chord 1, 3, 5, b7. This is, of course, the dominant 7th chord. He proceeds to play a C7 and an F7, to illustrate the sound of the dominant 7th in both keys. The screen highlights the notes with the onscreen staff.

With C7 and F7 in our ears, the Professor says that the next chord to the blues is a G7, or G dominant 7. This is spelled G-B-D-Fb. He plays this on the piano and then reminds us that one way to find the flat 7th is to play a whole step below the root – although by this, I think he means a whole step below the octave because he keeps playing that instead of the original root.

With G7 spelled out for us, he plays and shows us onscreen all 3 chords, C7, F7 and G7. However, I noticed that C7 and F7 have flatted 7th in the onscreen staff. G7 doesn’t. I don’t know if this is a mistake, but I think that it is. “All these chords, these three chords,” he says, “go into playing a blues.” He continues with, “Those are the only chords you need to play a blues.”

C7 - F7 - G7 (dominant chords)

C7 – F7 – G7 (dominant chords)

From there, he moves into something interesting to me. He says, “you see I have a blues written there,” referring to the onscreen staff. Looking at it, we see a staff with 4 bars. Each of them is labeled I7 and has found slashes in it. I’ve seen this stuff before, but never truly knew how to read it since it didn’t use actual notes. He explains as he plays, “There is a 1 chord for 4 bars.” The staff then scrolls and we see 4 more bars labeled IV7, IV7, I7, I7 and he says, “Then the 4 chord for two bars,” he plays along and continues with, “back to the 1 chord of the two bars.” The staff scrolls again and we see 4 more bars labeled V7, IV7, I7, I7. He says, “Then the 5 chord, 4 chord, 1 chord,” and as he plays along, he plays the 1 chord twice.

So, what we have is the following progression:

I7 I7 I7 I7
IV7 IV7 I7 I7
V7 IV7 I7 I7

With the progression outlined, he says, “Now I am going to have the students sing the roots – that’s the tonic, the 1, every time I change the chord. So, we’ll sing a C for the first four bars, and they going to attack the pitch every 4 bars.” He explains how they’re going to sing (carrying the note for the entire bar) and describes that they’ll sing F when they reach the 4 chord, then do the 1 chord again, then the 5 chord, 4 chord and 1 chord.

He counts down, starts playing on the piano, and the students do their thing. He calls out the chord before each change, so he begins by calling out, “1 chord” and after 4 bars of that calls out, “4 chord”, then after 2 bars of that calls out “1 chord,” and so on. The students sing along using the sound, “Dooo” on the first beat of each bar until they finish the progression. As they sing, the onscreen staff shows the chords being played.

When the first run is complete, the Professor says, “We’re going to do the same thing and this time I’m going to play a little improvising using the minor pentatonic scale while I’m playing the chords and they are singing, ok? And, you’ll hear how that minor pentatonic scale is being used to improvise or to create a melody over the blues” He counts down and they hit it again, this time with him playing a little improvised run on each bar. This is the first song or progression that he’s played that I actually like. I think it might just be me, but my ears are drawn to that type of sound. Hearing the steady rhythm from his playing and the Berklee students singing the root note on the 1st beat of each bar, and then having him play short minor pentatonic runs over each bar is a familiar and pleasing sound to me. So, he was right in his Announcement for this lesson – I enjoyed it. 😉

With the progression done, he says, “Cool. See how that minor pentatonic scale is used when I play the blues? And a really cool way to write a blues riff tune with the minor pentatonic scale is simply writing a simple melody for the first two bars – melody or lyrics and a melody for the first two bars, and then you’ll rest for the next two bars.” That sounds like a manageable formula to me. “You get to bar 5, you repeat the same two-bar melody that you did for the first two bars, and then you’ll rest for the next two bars. So, 5 and 6, you’re repeating the same melody that you wrote for bars 1 and 2, rest bars 3 and 4. The same melody you’re going to write in 5 and 6 that you wrote in bars 1 and two, then you’ll rest in measures number 7 and 8. Then measure 9, you’re going to maybe vary the lyrics that you sing on the melody that you write a little bit and rest in measures 11 and 12.” He says that this might sound a little complex, but he’ll put it in context so it makes more sense.

With this, he then surprises the assembled students and lets both them and us know that each of them is about to improvise a blues by singing lyrics using that structure that he spoke about. This is what I think it should look like.

Melody 1 Melody 1 Rest Rest
Melody 1 Melody 1 Rest Rest
Melody 2 Melody 2 Rest Rest

He says that he’s going to change keys from C to F, because C is hard to sing the blues in, and then he gives us an example. He plays the first 4 bars, and on 1 and 2 sings, “My name is George and I like to play,” and rests for 3 and 4. When 5 and 6 come along, he repeats what he sang for 1 and 2, then rests for 7 and 8. Then, on 9 and 10, he sings “Piano is the thing that I like to do the best,” and rests for 11 and 12.

He repeats the process with slightly different lyrics, but the structure is the same. He then goes through the 5 assembled students and has them come up with a blues on the spot. He says that the most important thing for them to remember is to have fun doing it. Some of them were giggling during their parts, so it looks like at least the fun part was observed. They sang about things like waking up in the morning, eating lasagna and brushing their teeth, as well as having their significant others leave them. It was a good example of how to play the blues, since it did show that the structure was simple enough to follow without any real preparation.

He then explained that the simplest form of the blues was just to use the I chord, IV chord and V chord. In the diagram below, he explained that in bar 9 there’s some sort of cadence chord, and its normally the V chord. I need to research what this is, as there’s no explanation given, and its not in the lesson study guide.

Basic blues progression

Basic blues progression

He also said that we’ll notice that he added a few extra chords here and there, and said that we’re able to do that, but have to remember that all we need to play is those three chords, and they’re all dominant chords. He then reviews how dominant chords are constructed (1, 3, 5, b7). In C this is C, E, G, Bb. He summarizes the progression again – C7 – F7 – G7 – C7, or I – IV – V – I, and the lesson ends.

Overall, I liked this lesson. With the exception of not explaining what a cadence chord is, Professor Russell actually finished his other thoughts and provided solid examples of each concept that he spoke about. The basic blues progression doesn’t look like its too difficult to learn. Its something I’ll have to practice, and it looks like fun. I believe that the final assignment for this class is going to be to write a blues, so I foresee practice in the imminent future. If only I didn’t work on Sundays…

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Coursera – Developing Your Musicianship Lesson 4 | Ugly Bass Face

  2. Pingback: Coursera – DYM Lesson 5 videos (3) | Ugly Bass Face

  3. Pingback: HLBM 30: The 12-Bar Blues | Ugly Bass Face

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