Lisa Lenard

The Standard Blues Progression


All blues are built from the progression I-IV, I-V (IV), I. With practice, one may create variations, but even within these variations, the progression remains unchanged.

Shades of blue include teal, indigo, royal, and azure. Teal moves toward green, indigo toward violet. Royal and azure do not move at all.

What we perceive as one color is actually the absence of others, so that at night the walls appear blue while in daylight they are a nondescript beige.

The sky is blue because of a refraction of the sun’s rays by the earth’s atmosphere. All of the colors of the spectrum are there, but because of this refraction, blue is all we see.

Because of a rare phenomenon called color hearing, Franz Liszt’s senses of sight and sound were crossed. This is why Liszt once told an orchestra, “Please, gentlemen, a little bluer if you please.”


1. Having the color of the clear sky. 2. Dismal; dreary; melancholy; despondent. 3. Severe or Puritanic; strict. 4. Faithful; genuine; sterling.

Blue notes are so-called because they are bent. Their use creates the illusion of wavering.

Still, blues, like reality, are in the eye of the beholder.

The blueness of water reflects absence rather than presence, but water is nonetheless among the finest conductors of sound.

Blue can be smooth and liquid, like velvet, or jagged and cruel, like glass.


In Spanish it is azul; in Greek, kyanos. The Inuit must have many words: it is, after all, one of the colors of snow, and of whiteness.

When using watercolor, one must paint the lightest blues first. This is because watercolor is a progressively darker art; lightening is not a possibility.

The stars appear on a backdrop of deep blue, first Venus, which is not a star, and then Vega, which is. In the autumn sky, Orion arches low to the east, aiming his unslung arrow toward a place that only appears to be above us.

The bluest stone is the sapphire, though lapis lazuli, a seemingly solid blue nonetheless speckled with gold, can also be polished to a bright blue sheen.

True blue: During his “blue period,” Picasso used only variations of that color.


When I was a girl I called Blacks “blue people”: it was the color of Amos ’n’ Andy and Rochester on the television, and the color of the mailman, whom I called the Blueman.

So the blues, I could say, was invented by a Blueman, or perhaps by many Bluemen, at some universally concordant moment when, together, they began to sing.

Sometimes they made their guitars themselves, from hickory, or from ash: blue woods.

Rhapsody in Blue. Tangled Up in Blue. Blue, and Kind of Blue. Travelin' Blues and Lonesome Blues.

Stonewashed blues.


My baby done left me
My baby left me all alone

My baby left me
My baby left me all alone
Ever since my baby left me
Seems my blues is all I own

Darkness is the blue of imagination.

Things that sometimes appear blue: Smoke. Silver. Silk. Sound.

Things that are blue: The heart. The veins. The blood.

The last lingering note, its blue ink already fading.


Recent winner of the Jim Sagel Prize for her novel Dissonance (UNM Press, Fall 2003), past recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts grant, and winner of numerous other writing awards, Lisa Lenard is the author of five novels, ten trade nonfiction books, and short stories, articles, book reviews, essays, and poems. After teaching writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, for many years, she now writes, edits, and teaches in Corrales, New Mexico.

She can be reached at
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