Origins of Jazz

Roots of the Blues


During the 18th and 19th centuries thousands of people were taken as slaves from Africa to America. For these Africans life became a nightmare, with many dying on the long ship journey. The survivors were sold in auctions and put to work on farms and plantations in the Southern states of America, and many families were split up.

In the middle of all this suffering we find music that has influenced the whole world. In the music of the slaves we find the beginning of jazz rock and roll and even modern pop music

Music of the Slaves

Many of the tasks performed by the slaves were boring and mechanical, so they sang while they worked using their natural sense of rhythm to keep them going and in time with each other. Often a leader would sing a few words and then the rest of the singers would echo tie words or sing a chorus. Singing like this is called CALL AND RESPONSE and is a common feature in African Music. Worksongs were also used by chain gang prisoners in later times


Some slaves found hope in Christianity and began to learn hymns and songs in the European style. The Africans adapted songs to their own style and made up new ones which they called spirituals which were often about travel or escape, rivers or trains.

Slavery was abolished in America in 1865, but even after their release from slavery the African-Americans were often denied jobs and treated unfairly. A new type of music was born from their worksongs and spirituals: The BLUES

Features of the Blues



  • Typical lyrics are made up of three lines
  • The first and second lines are the same and the third line rhymes with the first and second
  • The words are often about the same topics as the spirituals – travel or escape, rivers or trains or about the hopes and fears of the African Americans
  • Singing the Blues has long been a way for people to tell of the unhappy things in their lives
  • Broken love affairs are often a topic or being short of money



  • The most common form of blues is 12 bar blues
  • It is call this because the music is split into 12 bars
  • Whatever tune is used the harmonies stay more or less the same
  • Tunes can be improvised to fit inside the harmonic framework

The 12 bar sequence looks like this


I           I           I          I

IV         IV          I           I

V         IV           I           I


I = 1ST chord of the scale

IV = 4th chord of the scale

V = 5th chord of the scale


In C major the I   IV  and V chords would be: C  F  and  G