What Gives the Blues Its Groove?

I was walking down to Cook Street Village the other day, and noticed a couple of pieces of paper folded up in the crook of a tree. Thinking of Found Magazine, I grabbed them and stuck them in my pocket.

When I got them home and unfolded them, it turns out they’re school work by a young man named Alan. There’s a one page essay on B. B. King, largely cribbed from Mr. King’s Wikipedia article. Alan scored 5/5 for that one:

Essay on B. B. King

He didn’t fair so well on an accompanying quiz (‘Music Exploratory Quiz #1: The Blues’), in which he only scored 3/5:

Music Quiz on the Blues

One of the questions he got wrong was ‘what gives the blues its groove’? He incorrectly answered ‘the rhythm’. What does give the blues its groove? Whiskey? Getting dumped? I’ve got nothing.


  1. According to Wikipedia “Blues shuffles reinforce the trance-like rhythm and call-and-response, and they form a repetitive effect called a groove.”

    About shuffle, it says “In music, a swung note or shuffle note is a rhythmic device in which the duration of the initial note in a pair is augmented and that of the second is diminished.”

  2. Jazz musicians sometimes refer to ‘swung triplets’, or groups of notes where the first note is always longer than the second (creating a 2 to 1 ratio, adding up to division by 3, hence the term, triplet). That rhythm is the shuffle the Wikipedia article refers to.

    For my money, he got it right. It’s the repetition of that rhythm (or any other rhythm, for that matter) that makes a ‘groove’.

  3. I’m both a nerd and a musician, but I always find trying to over-analyze the blues leads to failure. That’s probably why progressive rockers usually can’t play it very well.

  4. The triplet shuffle in blues usually drops the second note, thus creating a blues shuffle that has two notes that are 1/3 of a beat with a space of 1/3 of a beat in the middle. Groove is the intangible that happens when this is played with a soulful repetitive consistency that comes from the heart. I love it so much.

  5. I have 20 guitar lessons under my belt and feel inadequate with this answer but I think it’s the type of chords, C, A, D, E. There are certain chords you can play that are defintely blues. This was the only type of playing I was good at, improv blues.

  6. The blues let you know you’re not alone in your troubles. That out there, somewhere, is some one who understands your pain, your sorrow and gives voice to it. It has absolutely nothing to do with chords, or notes. That is what the blues its groove.

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