Respond to This

help with acoustic blues...composition

hey all.

i've been putting in hours upon hours on my acoustic lately. I'm at a point where im confident and relatively happy with my lead playing over pretty much any blues progression.

But I've been trying to get the hang of compositions like Keb Mo's version of "Am I Wrong?". I can't seem to do it. Rather, I'm not sure how to go about writing a piece such as that one, which would sound good played all on its' own without the benefit of background instrumentation. Essentially, I can play melodically or harmonically but am having problems combining the two.

Does anyone know of a link and/or lesson here at wholenote that addresses this issue? Barring that, is there anyone out there with experience in the subject that can give me a hand?

Responses  [ Pages: 1 · 2 ]
Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

4/27/2005 5:03 PM

Jim Burger (4613) wrote:

OK, I have no experience with composition, but I have a couple of comments as a lover/player of acoustic blues.

I think acoustic blues guitarists such as me (and probably you) tend to focus too much on the guitar playing and not enough on the song as a whole. What you need to focus on is how to combine the guitar with the vocals. If you listen to most good acoustic blues songs, the guitar playing is very simple when the singing is happening (in Am I Wrong he just doesn't play most of the time when he sings), but is punctuated with tasteful, short fills and turnarounds when the singing is not happening.

How do you learn to do this? I don't know -- listen to a lot of music and play a lot of music, I guess.

Listen to "Am I Wrong" -- what's great about it is not the guitar playing itself, it's the interchange between the vocals and the guitar. I've never tried to learn "Am I Wrong", but it's clearly a slide tune in an open tuning and I bet it's not nearly as difficult to play as it sounds (as long as you're used to playing slide in an open tuning -- my guess is that it's open D). But to capture the way Keb Mo performs it, including the vocals, would take much, much longer to learn.

None of the great acoustic bluesmen were great technical guitarists if you look at them in the context of today's guitar "heroes". Most of the acoustic blues classics are quite easy to learn on guitar. But the great acoustic bluesmen do an incredible job of combining the vocals with the guitar so that they create a whole that is greater than the parts.

Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

4/27/2005 6:32 PM

Todd Yarbrough (1069) wrote:

Excellent job Jim!

It's about the song!

Until Then...

Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/3/2005 4:37 PM

Ryan Eckenrode (5114) wrote:

Vocals and Guitar? Brilliant!!

Don't drink 6 beers at the same time? Brilliant!!
... yeah, that gives me a tummy ache too. :-)

nice response,

Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/4/2005 5:39 PM

David Hall (2662) wrote:

Am I Wrong is just like you say, Jim. Easy enough to play, hard to play and sing as an individual and not sound like you're struggling.
It's in open A, and moves too fast to have a capo on, which lowers ones action too much. "Clackety-Clack". A simple repetetive riff that gets harder and harder to hold together, if only because it's not accompanied by anything but a kick drum or footstomp, I can't tell which. The relentlessness of the main riff, along with suavely placed fills, to me, is as poetic and tenacious as the lyrics.
Then, well, the singing. No mumbling or stuttering allowed there. You've got to be fully behind it, on pitch and on time. If you're not, even for a second on a song that sparse, it sounds like you're having to work too hard,ya know?

Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/4/2005 6:04 PM

Mike Smith (9737) wrote:

jim i have to disagree with you when you most of the blues songs are easy to learn, try learning some of robert johnsons songs they are not easy at all. if you watch the new clapton dvd you will see on his acoustic sections just how hard he has to work on this.
the other thing i have found when listening to the old blues stuff is what tunings the guitar is in. many of them used tunings that dont seem to exist.
i love the blues and try very hard to absorb as much as i can when listening. i love the way mo interacts with his guitar and the same with clapton. my problem when putting stuff down on paper is the lyrics. last night i worked for about 2 hrs on the music for a song i want record but do you think i can come up with the words........boy its hard cause i know what i want to put down but dont know how to make it all fit in.


Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/4/2005 10:35 PM

Chris Russell (3044) wrote:


what I get outa Jims write-up is how blues 'composition' wants to be comfortable for the writer. not that acoustic blues guitar is easy. 'playing' someone elses stuff is never easy. but the old hands almost always seem to be in a symbiotic place with lyric and instrument. (wow!)

and I think Ryan just gave you some great! lyrics for your piece Don't drink 6 beers at the same time? Brilliant!!
... yeah, that gives me a tummy ache too

A-how, how, how


Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/4/2005 11:07 PM

Mike Smith (9737) wrote:

i like those lyrics will try and use them


Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

5/4/2005 11:32 PM

Mike Smith (9737) wrote:

hers one of my lines

ive lost my cheese
she brought me to my knees
she liked my blue vain
but it caused her pain.

think about it


Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

4/27/2005 6:31 PM

Charles Gacsi (42523) wrote:

It takes lots of hard work to create an artistic image of the product being molded. Your working in two elements. The instrumental music and the vocal product. Sometimes you have to scrap one or the other parts and salvage as much as you can. Or start over.

Music without words is a tune. Lyrics without music is a poem of sorts. Each piece constructed has to be good. If your using an A, A', B, A'' form the first two parts (the vocal and instrumental of the A section) has to be good and make sense musically to yourself and others. The A' section has to be better that the A section. The B section has to be better yet. And the last A'' section has to be the best.

Don't get discouraged. The first 100 pieces you create may have 2 or 3 that are really good. That is something you have to expect. Some times things just fall together very neatly without a lot of effort. Usually that is a rarity.

Good luck.


Respond to this

Re: help with acoustic blues...composition

4/27/2005 6:47 PM

Steve Cass (14763) wrote:

Hi Matt--

How's it going? First of all, I see you have a Taylor Koa. Nice. I'm a Taylor man, too with a 714ce. I love the way they play and look.

About songwriting. You know, it would really be helpful for you to get into understanding how songs are written--at least in this case the structure of how blues songs are written. Just learn to dissect parts of songs and listen for what they do. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the Keb' Mo' tune. I do love playing the blues, though. No doubt about it.

So spend some time with understanding basic progressions like the 12-bar blues. Know that the basic 12-bar blues has the progression of the I chord for four bars, the IV chord for two bars, the I chord for two bars, the V chord for two bars, and then the I chord for one bar, then the V chord for one bar.

There are different timing variations and chord substitutions on this theme, but there are thousands of songs written in the 12-bar format. Especially the blues, but many rock and ballad songs follow this pattern type. Maybe a song will hang on to the V chord for the last four bars of the 12-bar progression, for example.

Just lend your ear to your favorite recordings and begin writing down when you hear chord changes and during what measure--or if you're not use to hearing how long measures last, just listen for how many beats there are in between chord changes. You'll figure it out. Writing popular music is very symmetrical, mathematically speaking (usually). There always seems to be an even number of things, or things come in pairs, etc.

There's quite alot of literature on the subject. You might actually search the lessons here at WN. Put in '12 bar blues' or something similar.

All the best today,


More Responses  [ Pages: 1 · 2 ]