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Singing Microtones

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The blues is the only Western music form to incorporate microtones (notes lying outside the diatonic scale) that has attracted any real popularity. As we all know, the influence of blues on popular music has been immense. The blues-jazz link can be taken as read, given that many early jazz musicians were also blues artists. The blue note entered white culture through the medium of country music - Jimmy Rogers' famous 'blue yodels' having been best sellers during the 1920s and -30s. Similarly, the later honky tonk style of artists such as Hank Williams was decidedly blues influenced.

The rest is history, as they say. During the 1950s, rock and roll emerged as a hybrid between 'honky tonk' and the electric blues of men like Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker. It goes without saying that R & B and soul music also have links with blues (while at the same time borrowing from gospel and other, more mainstream forms). In spite of their differences, all of the above idioms incorporate 'blue notes' (for example, a third that lies somewhere between a conventional minor and major interval).

While blues guitar has been thoroughly dissected, it is a relatively rare event to come across a close analysis of blues vocal technique. One highly illuminating source for the latter comes from Joe Monzo, who has carried out a detailed study of bluesy microtones. For a close encounter with Monzo's work on the singing of blues legend Robert Johnson, take a look at:

I feel sure that the above web site will be of real interest to a wide range of singers - not just the blues specialists among us!


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