I was listening to a nice version of “Drown in My Own Tears” – by Lulu, of all people – and noticed that I was tapping along in 3/4 time. Is it possible to have a blues waltz? What’s the traditional time signature for the blues?
twicks, for whom, when it comes to music theory, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing
Blues is traditionally notated either in 4/4 or 12/8. Listening to the version of “Drown in My Own Tears” by Lulu Reed and Sonny Thompson I could find on You Tube, the beat is no different than most blues–it’s just slower so the triplet subdivision of the beat is more pronounced. Here’s the count:
ONE & uh TWO & uh THREE & uh FOUR & uh
So, there’s four main beats in each measure, each main beat divided into three. What you’re doing is counting all the subdivisions as main beats: “ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3”.
There’s a lot of other songs that have 12/8 rhythm, but one that immediately comes to mind as a slow song with similar characteristics is Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
The difference between 12/8 and 3/4 is where you hear the “ONE” and main counted beats places. For lack of a better way to put this, waltz feels more like “OOM PAH PAH” over and over, with each beat having some weight on it. 12/8 feels more flowing, lyrical like “LAH-dee-dah DAH-dee-dah LAH-dee-dah DAH-dee-dah.”
It’s really slow 12/8 to me. Just listen to the bass and the snare (which helps you find the emphasized beats.) It’s “BASS-&-uh, SNARE-&-uh, BASS-&-uh, SNARE-&-uh” (somewhat simplified, of course.) It’s molasses-slow blues, so notated either as 12/8 or 4/4, depending on the whim of the publisher.
Yep - that’s a ***shuffle ***- when you break up a 4/4 into 1-and-a-2-and-a-three-and-a-four. Puts more swing in the beat, because you have the big signposts of the main 1,2,3,4, but you can play with the beat in between - and that play in between is where you can *imply *a waltz feel…
I am by no means an expert, but I was taught that the blues *shuffle *rhythm is formed by breaking the quarter notes into three thirds, and playing the first and third of them, leaving the middle one silent (or just an extension of the first).
The best pop example I can think of is Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” That “triple” feel is palpable, although it is still a four-beat-to-the-measure structure.
The first couple image search hits on Google I looked through have it in 12/8. Although here is one in 3/4. And here’s one in 4/4.
In my opinion, 12/8 is the easiest, most informative, and most “correct.” 4/4 is okay, but unnecessarily messy. 3/4 is doable, but misses the feel of the rhythm. It’s my least favorite of the three. I just know that notated in 3/4, had I never heard the song before and having no idea what it’s supposed to sound like, I would have played it with completely the wrong feel. In both 12/8 and probably 4/4, I would have hit the mark, more or less.
It’s hard for me to explain without having you here in front of an instrument so I could show you. The best I could do for the moment is Wikipedia’s entry on time signatures. If you scroll down, you can find audio examples of a 3/4 beat and a 12/8 beat on the right side of the page.
OK, this isn’t going to win any Grammies anytime soon, but I whipped up some examples quickly in Garage Band. Forgive the cheesy quality of the sounds and the recording, but it should help illustrate what I’m talking about.
I’ve used “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as my example.
Here it is with a 3/4 feel. (Sorry, there’s a little bit of silence I forgot to delete from the beginning here.)
The 12/8 and 3/4 example have exactly the same organ melody line. I literally cut and pasted the 12/8 example into the 3/4 example. I just played drums and piano with a different feel under the melody line so you can hear the difference.
puly – that was amazing, thank you so much! The difference in overall sound is obvious, and by layering the same melody on the different tempi you created clips that I was able to beat along and count to, to understand exactly what you were doing. Very, very helpful.
And thanks for yet another example of why I love the Dope so much – outstandingly clear and helpful answers to random questions that I wouldn’t even know where to ask if it weren’t for this place.