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We end up with this set of chord changes:. Blues in C would plug in the chords C, F, and G into the bar blues structure. Blues in E would use E, A, and B. And, so on. There are 12 major keys; you can play the blues in any one of them. The first step in learning to play the blues is getting comfortable with where the chords change. You need to memorize and completely internalize this sequence of chords. In the beginning you may have to really concentrate on the changes.

You should be able to do this by yourself with a metronome and never miss a chord. Instead of annoying, creepy, privacy-invading ads, pop-ups, or selling your data, StudyBass relies on the support of its users. Amazon Musician's Friend Guitar Center. Copying or distributing studybass. This happens when these elements are used without being attached to a PNf. In fact, it is quite common for extraformulaic predications to be embellished by other extraformulaic elements. The Adv is more likely to be upgraded to a formulaic predication than any of the other elements. This is especially true of adverbials that place an action within a time period.

It is rather difficult, therefore, to know whether to label certain time-adverbials as formulas or as Advs. It is also clear, however, that the phrase I got up this morning is one of the most frequent x-formulas in the blues to be discussed later and that it is combined with many different r-formulas. There are some time-adverbials, however, that are permanently attached to the PNf of a formula.

These adverbials form the final part of an r-formula and thus carry the rhyme of the line. As discussed in the previous chapter, this difference in rhyme marks these phrases as manifestations of different r-formulas rather than as members of the same r-formula. Extraformulaic elements must be free to attach or detach themselves from formulas; that is, the singer had to have the choice of either using such an element or not using it in shaping a particular formula to fit a particular position in a song.

This is the negation element Neg , and it occurs in many blues lyrics. Formulas that are usually expressed in positive terms might also be expressed in negative terms by the application of the Neg. It is not necessary, for the purposes of this study, to investigate the complex nature of negation in semantics.

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Leech wrote that for a predication X, one might formulate its negative, not-X , p. Some formulas do not lend themselves as readily to Neg as do others. It is hard to conceive of how this sentence could be used in the blues, however, although it is a perfectly well-formed and understandable assertion. In fact, there are no examples of this particular negation in the corpus under analysis. Negation is, in many ways, a much more fundamental alteration in the meaning of a predication than any of the other elements.

To understand this, one must again look at how entailment applies in blues formulas. In all the previous types of extraformulaic elements, the embellished formula entailed the unembellished formula: Mm I woke up entails I woke up; Lord, I woke up entails I woke up; I said I woke up entails I woke up; I woke up this morning entails I woke up; and so on. This peculiarity of logic places Neg apart from the other elements discussed in this chapter. One might argue, with some justification, that the negative and the positive of the same predication are not members of the same formula because they lack entailment.

Conversely, one might argue that, philosophically, a negative and a positive are mirror images of each other—they imply each other—and that, therefore, they deserve to be placed within the confines of the same formulaic boundaries. Earlier I stated that there is no metrical demand on the blues formula; it is largely because of the extraformulaic elements that the formula is free of such demands. Depending on the metrical structure of the tunes that singers chose, they could expand or contract any given formula by using these elements. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for the two italicized phrases to fill the same metrical demand, yet by the definition of the blues formula adopted in this study, the two phrases are clearly manifestations of the same formula.

Para, Ex, and Voc function more readily in filling metrical gaps than do the other elements. They alter the semantic message of the formula very little, and they are not highly integrated in the predications they embellish. These factors make such elements much easier to insert in a formula without regard to the specific context in which the formula is being used. These same noncomplex elements Para, Ex, and Voc , besides having an emotive and metrical function, were also used by many singers to make their lyrics stylistically distinctive.

There is not a singer who did not make use of extraformulaic elements and not a single blues song in which these elements do not play a part. As much as anything else, these elements allowed singers to be creative and individualistic within the confines of a traditional, formulaic system. These elements also allowed singers to expand and alter the meaning of formulas, giving them more flexibility in the composition of their blues.

Each element is italicized, and below the word or phrase appears the appropriate extraformulaic symbol. Words such as and, then, and if, though certainly extraformulaic in the sense that they are external to the formulaic predication, have a different function from the words and phrases discussed here. I explain these superfluities in the next chapter. In this chapter, I describe the nature of the superorganic structures that bind formulas together into a song: how formulas are juxtaposed to form the larger units of lines, stanzas, and songs.

As the focus of this chapter moves from smaller poetic units to larger ones, however, it will become increasingly difficult to discover clear and consistent structural patterns. Because each formula is a predication—a complete thought—singers had to decide which thoughts to juxtapose within a line and in which of several ways to juxtapose them. The basic criterion singers used in these juxtapositions was logic; the linked formulas had to be logical in terms of the two complete thoughts expressed and also had to be logical in terms of how the two complete thoughts related to each other within the line.

Of course, logic is subjective, especially within a rich, metaphorical, poetic tradition such as the blues, and what was absurd or meaningless to one singer might have made perfect sense to another. There are, however, some general observations that can be made about the logic of linked formulas in a line. There had to be certain agreements in terms of number, person, and tense between one formula and the next in a line. Both predicates, wake up and have, also agree in terms of their tenses. This type of line is also absent from the corpus. In their separate ways, both lines defy the logic expected of blues poetry.

Argument and predicate agreement in linked formulas is a relatively simple example of logical juxtaposition. Of more complexity, however, is the matching up of two formulas so that the overall message is logical. The choice, however, is not completely unlimited. The lines are both logical and meaningful in the context of blues lyrics. But there are means by which two disparate thoughts might be linked to form a logical and meaningful line.

In other words, the two formulas appear as two independent sentences. For a detailed examination of conjunction, see Lakoff, Other time conjunctions found in the blues are during and as soon as. One final way in which two formulas were linked was through the downgrading of one formula within the structure of the other. Time-adverbials that are r-formulas usually link two x-formulas in this manner. Further examples of this type of linkage are affected by the words who, that, which, and where, all of which subordinate one formula to another.

This superstructure is a logical equation, and the formulas are the assertions within this equation. Obviously, not all formulas will fit all possible equations. As I stated earlier, argument and predicate agreement was often necessary when two formulas were linked. In fast-paced blues, singers might have taken advantage of every possible deletion to fit the lines to the meter; in slow-paced blues, singers might have included as many redundant features as possible to elongate the blues line.

Predications could also be deleted, if they were synonymous. Though the combinations and permutations of formulas and their linkages are virtually infinite, singers, of necessity, could make only a limited selection from this infinite corpus of possible lines. In fitting two lines together to form a blues stanza, however, different considerations applied.

As I noted earlier, the blues couplet exhibits no enjambment from one line to the next, which means that every line contains at least one complete thought. The various choices of conjunction and subordination open to the singer in linking two formulas were severely limited when two lines were juxtaposed. Indeed, in the great majority of cases, there is no syntactical link at all between one line and another in the blues couplet.

The most acceptable type of rhyme was one in which the final vowel and consonant sounds of the two words to be rhymed were identical. There is a third level of rhyme, the least acceptable, in which the final vowel sound of the two rhymed words varies. For the purposes of this study, however, it is not so important to know the nature of blues rhyme as it is to realize that rhyme is one of the major links between two lines in a couplet. Just as the juxtaposition of two formulas in a line depends on semantics and syntax, the linkage of two lines in a stanza depends on phonology.

As I previously noted, the r-formula is less variable, syntactically, than the x-formula because of the necessity of keeping the rhyme word at the end of the line. The rules of thematic relationships between lines are not nearly as clear-cut as the rules of rhyme, however. Certainly, the B line releases the tension of the stanza. There is no inherent reason why the second line should be an answer to the first. There is nothing in the internal structure, either semantic or syntactical, that makes the second line an answer to the first.

The two lines could as easily be two separate and unrelated assertions by the singer Johnson. It is the position of the lines that determines their thematic relationship, rather than the thematic relationship that determines their position. For this reason, the formula usually occurs in the first line of a couplet. But many couplets exhibit no such chronological relationship.

The lack of chronological sequence in some couplets is best illustrated by their ability to reverse their order. Again, the very position of the lines tends to give a certain sense of chronological or sequential order in the couplet, which is not inherent in the lines. The actual content or semantic structure of the formulas and lines has much less to do with this sense of sequence than does the switch in tense.

The test of this hypothesis is to find two lines that cannot be linked because of their conflicting logical statements. For example, can the following two lines be joined into a couplet? Formulas and lines often develop into a loose association with a small group of other formulas and lines. Within the range of possibilities in formula and line juxtaposition, then, there was a more limited range of probabilities.

Again, blues performance is a small subset of blues competence. Of course, the range of possibilities for some lines seems endless. Many of the individual formulas that make up this family are also found in entirely different stanzaic contexts. The formula tell me, mama, for example, is one of the most frequent in the blues and owes no special allegiance to one or another family.

Earlier pp. Although it is true, for example, that the x-formula a nickel is a nickel always appears with the r-formula a dime is a dime, and that together they form a proverbial phrase, there was always the potential of adjoining either of these formulas to some third formula. This potential is part of the compositional competence of the blues but not, perhaps, part of its compositional performance. Supposedly, ossified couplets were similarly alterable. The potential of new and original combinations was ever present in the blues, being a part of the great structural flexibility of the lyric.

But even greater flexibility occurred in the linking of stanzas to form songs. Indeed, even theme and logic seemed to play only a minor role in the linking of stanzas. I have already described the blues as a nonnarrative and emotive form of song. Yet there are a small number of blues that run contrary to this rule and are narrative or sequential in form. Again, there is a continuum on which blues songs lie: from wellordered narrative lyrics to thematically consistent songs to seemingly random collections of unrelated stanzas.

Songs that are concerned with the central topic of the blues, namely, love, and that also are narrative are rarer still. Whatever its source or analogues, however, this song shows a clear, chronological sequence from stanza to stanza. In most blues, however, the reason for the juxtaposition of stanzas is not so easily ascertained. Closest to narratives on the continuum are those blues in which all stanzas deal with the same particular and specific theme.

But for all its thematic consistency, the individual stanzas seem to have no special order. If one were to take all the stanzas in this song and rearrange them in some random way, the logic of the song would not be impaired. The theme is constant, but the stanzas that express this theme follow no particular chronological order or display any development of the theme. Note the following song: 1 The song is a mixture of different emotional states, different attitudes toward love, and different kinds of loving relationships.

The nonchronological, nonsequential nature of most blues lyrics does not, however, mean that blues songs grew out of confused minds or jumbled and unrelated images in the brains of the singers. Even if the blues song follows no narrative sequence, there is usually a narrative of sorts implicit in the lyric.

Different aspects of this implicit narrative give rise to different emotions, dreams, and imaginary scenes. In effect, singers began with some implicit narrative and then made free associations around this event from stanza to stanza. Thus, it might be possible to devise rules of sequence, or even rules of theme, for the ordering of stanzas in a blues song, but for every rule so devised, there would probably be more exceptions than examples.

It is probably more profitable to explore ways in which two or three stanzas within a song interact, for there is often a short-term logical consistency within portions of blues lyrics. The following example seems to be one such case: 1 It is, of course, impossible to trace free association from stanza to stanza; one would have had to psychoanalyze the individual singers. At most, one can speculate on associations or connections between stanzas made by the blues audience, based on their shared understanding of the poetic conventions of blues performance, as well as on their shared understanding of African American culture.

Although the stanza is the textural unit of the blues and perhaps the entire song is the psychological or social unit , the formula is the structural unit, and it is at the formulaic level that the nature and pattern of blues composition becomes apparent. A more limited survey, however, would be less burdensome and certainly more practical. Describing the twenty most frequently employed formulas will show a common thread that links almost all blues songs, because there were few singers who did not employ at least some of these twenty formulas in their compositions.

To say that these formulas are the twenty most frequent in the blues is not quite accurate; they are the twenty most frequent in the corpus under analysis, which represents only a fraction of all the blues that were recorded commercially. I doubt, however, that a larger corpus would have revealed formulas more recurrent than these twenty. The method I employed in determining which formulas were most frequent involved reading through the computer concordance Taft, and looking for those phrases that seemed to occur a fair number of times.

In the first search, I noted sixty formulas.


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I analyzed each of these formulas to determine their possible boundaries; that is, all the possible manifestations that each formula underwent in the corpus. I searched for all these manifestations in the concordance and subsequently selected, from among the sixty, the ten x-formulas and the ten r-formulas that recurred the most times in all their manifestations. I also include a discussion of how various extraformulaic elements affect the essential meaning of these formulas and give a statistical account of the ways these formulas have manifested themselves in the corpus.

Finally, I attempt an explanation of why these particular formulas were the most popular with blues singers and how these formulas reflect the meaning of the blues. The A2 argument is always the blues, though as I show, it may undergo various adjectival modifications. These verb variations, however, are quite rare. Almost all examples of this formula generate either have or get. The more important variation in this formula occurs in the modification of the noun blues. The possible combinations of these many different verbs and places give this formula countless manifestations. This manifestation occurs 46 times.

The most common manifestations of this formula, as already pointed out, generate the verbs come or go. One interesting manifestation, however, converts the predication into an equative predication, wherein the predicate becomes the verb be. It is, in a sense, a mirror image of the go someplace formula. Although this formula allows as much variation in its A2 argument as does the previous formula, in actual usage it seems more limited.

In a great many cases, the place is unspecified, often identified only as here. Similarly, when the manifestation of the predicate is the verb go away, the A2 argument is again most frequently here.

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In all its manifestations, this formula occurs more than times. The predicate manifestations have and got seem to be synonymous; the predicate get, however, implies more activity or a search for someone to possess. In comparison to other formulas, further manifestations are rare. In all, this formula occurs times in the corpus, with all but 17 examples conforming to one of the three major manifestations. The verb leave might imply the actual physical removal of the persona from a place where his or her lover is, as opposed to quit, which does not necessarily imply movement, but the two verbs seem to be synonymous as used in the blues.

There are approximately examples of this formula in all its manifestations. Neither the two arguments nor the predicate need any further explanation. This same formula is also prefaced by the Loc tell 9 times, as in the following example: 52 You told me that you loved me; say you love me all your life I caught you around the corner telling the same lie twice Peter Chatman, The total number of examples of this formula in the corpus is approximately This manifestation occurs times in the corpus. Other verbs can also fill the P1 predicate slot, although none are as common as tell; the verbs ask, talk to, and say to also occur in the corpus.

There can be no doubt that this manifestation is a formula in itself, because it does not rely on the r-formula to complete its internal structure. In both cases, the A2 argument is sometimes filled with the word something and sometimes with the r-formula in the line. In all its forms, this complex formula occurs approximately times. There are other surface manifestations as well. A surface-level reordering of the syntax has occurred here, and most manifestations of this formula allow this type of reordering. The word dirty is an optional Adj.

With syntactical reordering, the phrase becomes she will take your bad treatment of her. These more complex manifestations, however, make up only a small portion of all the examples of this formula in the corpus. There are 18 examples of the first phrase and 24 examples of the second phrase in the corpus. This manifestation occurs 41 times in the corpus. In another common manifestation, the Emb keep is inserted in the passive structure: something keep you are worried by something.

Similar to the passive construction is another transformation that makes the verb worry intransitive. In all, this formula occurs times in the corpus. One phrase, which might or might not be considered a member of this formula, is the following: 80 Hey Mr. There are 10 examples in the corpus of this interesting manifestation. In all, there are more than 80 examples of this r-formula. But the formula is also embellished in another way. Often another complete predication is attached to the formula, usually describing the physical movements and gestures that accompany the action of crying.

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Most of these predications never occur by themselves in blues lyrics and cannot, therefore, be called formulas in their own right. They are, instead, complex Advs, although they cannot be represented semantically in the same way as can other Advs. Whether these different manifestations are to be considered as all members of the same formula is a matter of debate, but in all, there are approximately 85 examples of this formula in the corpus. In essence, the formula presents the dilemma of not knowing what action to take.

It is usually put in the form of a question and the unspecified action usually generates the word what. Although most of these examples occur with fairly equal frequency in the corpus, there are a few manifestations that are especially common. Because the argument some place is highly variable, it cannot fill the final position in the phrase; the words go or goes must maintain this position for the purposes of rhyme.

The verb go is highly restricted in the tense it can take, because the conjugations went, gone, and going would destroy the rhyme of the formula. There are only 9 examples in the corpus of the some place slot being filled by a specific place: down the road twice , out my door, Riley Springs, to you i. In all, there are approximately examples of this formula in the corpus. The verbs come and go are the most frequent, but these examples show that singers had considerable choice in filling the predicate slot.

The deep-structure predicate cause generates the surface predicates in these phrases. There are twenty occurrences of this manifestation. Every example of this formula falls into one or the other of these two major manifestations, so that in all, there are nearly examples of this formula in the corpus. Its structure is an equative predication, where one argument is equated with another. In addition, there is a mandatory Neg, because the phrase time will be long does not seem entirely logical, and it never occurs in the corpus.

At the syntactical level, however, the verb must be expressed, complete with tense and modal modification. In the case of this formula, almost all examples place the verb in the future tense. In addition, the word time is almost always pronominalized to it. Again, it is debatable whether this example should be considered a member of the formula. In all, there are more than 50 examples of this formula in the corpus.


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  • This final predication also has some thing as its first argument, the preposition on as its predicate, and the rhyme word mind as its second argument. In addition, the A6 argument must be modified by a possessive synonymous with the A1 argument. Otherwise, incongruous statements such as I got something on your mind would occur. Obviously, certain deletion transformations must take place; namely, the A3 argument is deleted, because two some things are redundant in the surface structure. The A1 argument and the P1 predicate can be deleted, as well as the A5 argument of the PN2 embedded predication.

    These three categories occur approximately 40 times each, for a total of about examples in the corpus.

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    Because it is an r-formula, however, there are more restrictions on it. Instead of the A4 argument being some manner, it is more specifically the word right, because this word carries the rhyme. Because of the rhyme factor, the word right must always remain at the end of the line. Overall, this formula occurs about 45 times in the corpus. In doing so, not only will the varied surface-level manifestations of these formulas reveal themselves but the varied juxtapositions of these formulas within the line and stanza will become clear.

    As always, whether all examples of these formulas are truly members of their respective groups or—especially in the case of some of the more anomalous manifestations—whether my list has been too inclusive is problematic. In a few cases, such as example The vast majority of cases, however, unquestionably fulfill the criteria of the predication described earlier.

    The predicate allows four possible manifestations: wake up, as in example The first two predicate manifestations are, by far, the most frequent. The verb rise occurs only three times Not only does this same extraformulaic element occur with other formulas but also this formula often occurs without such modification; for example, see couplets In addition, the predicate of this formula might be modified by a number of other Advs: in my stockings, example There are four examples In every case, this hypothetical reflexive has been deleted in a syntactical transformation.

    There are two examples of lay awake included in this list Anderson, 1 Dorsey, 1 Funny Paper Smith, b 1 Owens about his good-looking mules Robert Wilkins, b 1 Wilson, a 1 In about 75 percent of the examples, it generates the verb leave examples The most frequent of these other predicate manifestations is blow The surface-level verbs are actually more complex than they appear because of their causative qualities. Among the great majority of examples that generate the verb leave in their predicates, there are a number of different Embs, although none occur more than twice in the corpus: worry about Dorsey, c 1 By studying the highly recurrent formulas in the blues, one might learn which sentiments the singers most often expressed in their songs.

    Whatever themes they touched on, what messages emerge again and again through the recurrent formulas? Such a quantitative analysis not only reveals something about early twentieth-century African American society but also hints at why the blues became so popular among African Americans of that era. Why were the blues so popular in the first four decades of the twentieth century? What was happening in African American society that would account for the growth and popularity of this song form?

    I stated previously that the blues is fundamentally a love lyric, but the theme of love alone would not necessarily make the blues popular in African American society. There were many other song forms, in both black and white culture, that were concerned with love. The answer to these questions lies in the recurrent themes that the singers expressed through their use of formulas.

    These formulas are evocative of the blues as a whole and are the clues to the meaning of the song form. To review these most frequent formulas, I list a representative manifestation of each one: 1. I have a woman; 5. I quit my woman; 6. I love you; 8. I treat you right. The formula I tell you, though not overtly about love, also speaks to the main theme of the blues, in that it establishes a one-to-one, personal mode of communication between the blues persona and someone else, thereby reflecting the love theme.

    The x- and r-formulas I have the blues define the song genre. The high frequency of the other formulas, however, are not so easily explained, because they do not directly refer to love or the song genre as a whole. It is these formulas that reflect the nonlove recurrent themes in the blues. The largest proportion of them deals with some aspect of travel: 2.

    I come to some place; 3. I go away from some place; Everywhere I go; I will be gone; Although this migration is often thought of as being a northward movement, this was not entirely the case: The migration of Negroes … was a movement from country to city. In proportion to their size, the southern cities have received as substantial increases in their Negro population as have northern cities; but the increases of northern cities have been more spectacular by reason of the fact that before the movement began the Negro population of these cities was negligible, and because the trend has been toward industrial cities, a majority of which are found in the North.

    Woofter, , p. The reasons for this phenomenon were many: oppressive Jim Crow laws in the South, lack of proper educational opportunities, exploitative sharecropping and plantation systems, low wages, racism, and other hardships of southern rural life. Certainly one large factor was the boll weevil infestation that began in and ultimately caused an economic depression in the cotton-growing areas of the South Woodson, , pp. If a theme of a particular song was love or love troubles, there was a good chance that its underlying theme was movement: leaving town, going to some place, not having a place to go, going back home.

    The importance of movement in the blues is such that the formula go to some place is the most frequently recurring formula in the corpus. How did this movement affect African American society? Certainly, it was not just a move from a rural to an urban environment; it was also a move from a familiar lifestyle to a strange and uncertain existence. If the harsh social and economic conditions at the turn of the century upset the security of rural African American society, then the move to an urban atmosphere must have been that much more unsettling. The anxiety brought about by this state of flux was also reflected in these most common blues formulas.

    Just as some of the twenty formulas are concerned with love, and others with travel, a third group is concerned with anxiety and a sense of instability. Three of the formulas speak directly of an unsettled mind: I am worried; What am I going to do; and Some thing is on my mind. Another formula describes a common reaction to anxiety: I cry. It emphasizes an impending change and disruption to the status quo: time is short, and the threat of something new and perhaps unpleasant is just around the corner.

    By itself, it does not imply any anxiety at all, but as used in the context of the blues couplet, it almost always points to some change of state. Simply link your Qantas Frequent Flyer membership number to your Booktopia account and earn points on eligible orders. Either by signing into your account or linking your membership details before your order is placed. Your points will be added to your account once your order is shipped. Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! While the blues musical form has been widely studied, the structure and content of blues lyrics have been less fully explored.

    While some scholars have worked in this area, there has never been a rigorous and detailed exploration of exactly how blues singers used formulas in creating a commercially acceptable form of song. This book gives a step-by-step description of the rules implicit in the formulaic structure of the blues, with the goal of inspiring new discussion of blues lyric structure and to flesh out the intuitions of previous scholars. Blues fans will also be fascinated by this first thorough study of how blues lyrics are written. Help Centre. My Wishlist Sign In Join. Be the first to write a review.