In music there really are no limits or pigeon holes that you are expected to stay in. I grew up in the sixties where the violin was largely seen as a classical instrument and people like Stephane Grapelli were considered “off the wall” with their Jazz interpretations. Today when you see someone with a violin either electric or acoustic, you really don’t have any idea before he starts playing what style it will be. For this article I want to explain how to play the blues on a violin, and just how easy it is.
Blues is an emotion but one of the big myths is that it is a predominantly dominated by black musicians, and the violin is not ideally suited. In fact the violin is perfect for playing the blues as there are no frets and the fingers can slide up and down the fingerboard playing half notes which are the very essence of the blues.
The scale you need to know if you want to start to play blues is called the Pentatonic, and this can be minor or major, but either way provides the “nuts and bolts” of the blues. Expression is something else, as it is true that you need to be able to “feel” the blues to really connect with the deep emotionalism.
However, the scale can be learnt and can be played by a complete beginner either as a one Octave or two Octaves. A pentatonic scale has five notes in it. If you play it straight either with someone playing a simple twelve Bar blues on the guitar, or using backing tracks which can be found on the Internet; by going up and down this scale and not doing anything else other than playing the notes as they are written, you start to get a blues feeling.
The next stage is the fun part. Start to play the notes in a different order and experiment with what works, and what doesn’t. This is the “birth of the Blues” for you and your fiddle and if you love the Blues as I do, you will never look back and will start improvising to the Pentatonic scale in different keys, both major and minor.
It is very important if you are improvising over a backing track, that you find something that you like, as this will add to the pleasure.
Your violin is an instrument that is fantastic for playing the blues, and the Pentatonic scale will open the door for you into more expressive violin.