Love to sing the blues? There a few things to keep in mind as you sing in this genre –– find out everything you need to know to start singing the blues in this guest post by St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...
From Elvis Presley to Marty Robbins, Guy Mitchell to Tommy Steele, knowing how to sing the blues is a key part of American music.
Blues is a musical genre that originated in the Deep South and is characterized by its history, lyrics, instrumentation, and bass lines.
There’s nothing quite like the blues. The distinctively sad, soulful sound can be addictive, making it one of the most popular genres of music around. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced singer, here are some tips to help you nail those blues notes every time.
If you want to learn how to sing the blues, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you everything you need to know!
What Does “Singing the Blues” Mean?
The blues, as mentioned earlier, is a musical genre that incorporates spirituals, work songs, shouts, chants, and narrative ballads.
It is a genre that has been adapted to fit rock and roll, jazz, and of course, rhythm and blues.
There are some chord patterns that are specific to the blues, with early songs characterized by a single line that was repeated four times. Later, the AAB pattern became more standard, as did a call-and-response kind of format.
The blues has influenced many other genres of music, including early country music. Because of this, you can start singing the blues regardless of what kind of voice you have or which genre of music you prefer to sing. It’s a ubiquitous style in just about every musical genre!
How Do You Sing With a Blues Style?
The best way to learn how to sing with a blues style is to take lessons with a skilled instructor who knows exactly how to do it. Of course, you can follow these tips, too:
- Keep it simple – let the words come through on their own
- Try to be original – don’t imitate other singers
- Only basic phrasing is required
- Repetition is the key to improvisation
- Aim for a raw, well-supported voice
- Be authentic and as sentimental as possible
Regardless of the style of music you choose to learn, learning how to sing the blues can be hugely advantageous for any genre. Here’s a video that will introduce you to other styles of music:
6 Tips for Singing the Blues
The history of blues music is rich and bittersweet. The genre was originally born as an expression of those suffering as American slaves, mostly in what’s called the “deep South,” That expression is heartbreaking by nature, but healing, too. The brilliance of the blues is that by singing about what’s making you sad, you feel better. But singing the blues is not that simple. It’s very easily overdone. Here are six things to remember when you’re singing the blues.
1. Simple is better.
Now, simple does not mean lazy, or not creative, or not energetic. Simple means acknowledging, and singing as such, the beauty of unornamented, unadorned notes. Sing simply, so that the beauty of the words comes through. Just because the blues is a 12-bar progression with no fancy form or room for virtuosity doesn’t mean that the singer should think in terms of showing off the voice. Allow your art to come through organically.
2. Imitation is inferior to originality.
We’d all love to sing like B.B. King or Etta James or Amy Winehouse. But those singers already exist. And while there are many successful tribute artists and cover bands, there’s something so inspiring about a singer deciding to sing with his or her own voice and committing to that decision. Imitating another singer is impressive to a certain point, but it’s not sharing much about yourself. And that’s what people really love to hear.
3. Only the basic phrasing is required.
The only words that you should start with are those of the basic phrases. For instance, take the first part of “The Thrill is Gone”, most famously sung by B.B. King.
The thrill is gone/the thrill is gone away/the thrill is gone/the thrill is gone away/You know you’ve done me wrong/And you’ll be sorry someday
Now, if you decide as the singer to insert “baby” after the word “wrong” or after “someday,” so be it, but be sure to start simply in order to explore the song for yourself.
4. Repetition may be the key to improvisation.
The blues is repetitive by nature. I often have my voice students repeat the basic phrasing with the chords playing underneath over and over until organic and spontaneous decisions are made: the word “baby” is sung, an important phrase is repeated at double tempo, or a run comes out of nowhere at the end of a phrase. Let it all come naturally.
5. Your raw, yet well-supported voice is perfect.
Sing with all of the raw, unrefined vibrato and tone that you have. This is no time for pretty, polished sounds. But never forget to support your sound with a solid and conscious breath flow no matter what genre that you’re singing.
6. Be authentic, but not sentimental.
Everyone knows that the blues is about “feelings.” But the idea of “singing with feeling” has become so vague and overused that it’s essentially become meaningless. If a singer sings with the intention of “feeling the music” or something similar, then the whole thing will come off as trite and inauthentic. The key to showing genuine feeling as you sing is listening. Listen to the instrumental parts and the chords a hundred times. Ask yourself how it all makes YOU feel. Don’t bother about how the song makes someone else feel.
Who is Famous for Singing the Blues?
When it comes to singing the blues, there are all kinds of artists and vocalists who have made their mark on the music industry.
From Etta James to B.B. King, Guy Mithcell to Hank Williams, this is a genre that has its fair share of legacies.
And who knows – maybe you’ll be next!
When all is said and done, the essence of the blues is the willingness to share. As long as you focus on revealing your true self and committing to singing with your unique voice, then you’ll find yourself a successful blues singer.
Learn more in Heather’s Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles and Genres!
Photo by Dutch Simba