The 12 Bar Blues!

Sample Files to work with


1. Introduction
Lets learn about the chords used in the 12 bar blues chord progression. When you see a group of blues musicians play together, everyone magically seems to know what to play. This is because they are following the format of the 12 bar blues chord progression. The blues have been used as a basis for many types of music such as pop and rock.

2. Explanation of the 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression
Let's explain what the 12 bar blues chord progression refers to. 12 bar refers to the number of measures used in playing the blues. If you remember, another name for measures is bars. So in the blues, musicians just repeat these 12 measures or bars of music over and over again. Chord progression refers to the order in which chords are used in these 12 bars. In blues, the three primary chords are used. Below is the chord progression for the 12 bar blues.


The "melody" of the 12-bar blues is something that each musician makes up as he/she goes along. It is based on the blues scale, which is a bit different than the regular diatonic scale we all grew up with -- it includes all those "regular" notes, but also uses the flat 3rd, the flat 5th, and the flat 7th degrees of the scale.

Here is the blues scale in the key of C:

blues.1.gif

Form of the 12 bar blues

There are always three 4 bar phrases

Tonic (sometimes with a subdominant on bar two)
Subdominant and back to tonic (often with repeat of first melody and lyric)
Dominant (sometimes via subdominant) back to tonic (often with different melody and lyric)


1st four measures, or bars: I, I, I, I
2nd four measures, or bars: IV, IV, I, I
Last four measures, or bars: V, IV, I, I

3. Playing the 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression in the Key of C
Let's take a look at the chord progression for the 12 bar blues chord progression in the key of C.

1st four measures, or bars: C, C, C, C
2nd four measures, or bars: F, F, C, C
Last four measures, or bars: G, F, C, C


The blues progression, in C, is as follows:
Popular music symbolsC C C C or C7 C7 C7 C7F F C C or F7 F7 C7 C7G F C C or G7 F7 C7 C7


Blues scales

Blues musicians use more than one blues scale, (and rarely use the blues scale in its entirety) however the scale that has come to be called the blues scale is similar to a minor pentatonic scale but with a #4th (or b5th) added.
jazz theory
jazz theory

Different notations||~ Chord ||~ Function ||~ Numerical ||~ RomanNumeral ||
Tonic
T
1
I
Sub-dominant
S
4
IV
Dominant
D
5
V
Chords may be with a few notation systems. A basic example of the progression would look like this, using T to indicate the tonic, S for the subdominant, and D for the dominant, and representing one chord. The tonic is also called the 1-chord ("I" in Roman numerals), the sub-dominant, the 4-chord ("IV" in Roman numerals), and the dominant, the 5-chord ("V" in Roman numerals).
These three chords are the basis of thousands more pop songs which thus often have ablue sound even without using the classical 12-bar form. Using the above notations, the basic chord progression can be represented as follows.
Function
T
T
T
T
S
S
T
T
D
S
T
T

Numeric
1
1
1
1
4
4
1
1
5
4
1
1

Roman numeral
I
I
I
I
IV
IV
I
I
V
IV
I
I

The first line takes 16 quarter notes (4 bars × 4 beats), as do the remaining two lines (for a total of 48 beats and 12 bars). However, the vocal or lead phrases, though they often come in threes, do not coincide with the above three lines or sections. This overlap between the grouping of the accompaniment and the vocal is part of what creates interest in the twelve bar blues.

Variations

Many variations are possible.
Before the V-IV-I-I "shuffle blues" pattern became standard in the third set of four bars, the dominant chord continued through the tenth bar:
I
I
I
I
IV
IV
I
I
V
V
I
I
The common "Quick to Four" or "quick-change" variation uses the subdominant chord in the second bar:

I
IV
I
I
IV
IV
I
I
V
IV
I
I

The subdominant chord in the fifth and sixth bars may be replaced with a minor tonic chord (i):
I
I
I
I
i
i
I
I
V
IV
I
I
These variations are not mutually exclusive; the rules for generating them may be combined with one another (and/or with others not listed) to generate more complex variations.
Seventh chords are often used just before a change, and more changes can be added. A more complicated example might look like this, where "7" indicates a seventh chord:
Using a seventh chord|| I || IV || I || I7 ||
IV
IV7
I
I7
V
IV
I
V7
When the last bar contains the dominant, that bar can be called a turnaround.
Basic jazz blues progression|| I7 || IV7 IVdim || I7 || Vm7 I7 ||
IV7
IVdim
I7
III7 VI7
IIm7
V7
III7 VI7
II7 V7




Boogie Bass

Many rock and roll tunes are based on a 12 bar sequence, often with a typical bass line derived from a boogie-woogie piano left hand. A good way to become familiar with blues changes is to practise this in all keys.
jazz theory
jazz theory

In jazz, 12 bar blues progressions are expanded with moving substitutions and chordal variations. The cadence (or last four measures) uniquely leads to the root by perfect intervals of fourths.
There are also minor 12-bar blues, such as "Why Don't You Do Right?", made famous by Lil Green with Big Bill Broonzy and thenPeggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Major and minor can also be mixed together, a signature characteristic of the music of Charles Brown.
While the blues is most often considered to be in sectional strophic form with a verse-chorus pattern, it may also be considered as an extension of the variational chaconne procedure. Van der Merwe (1989) considers it developed in part specifically from the AmericanGregory Walker though the conventional account would consider hymns as the provider of the blues repeating chord progression or harmonic formulae (Middleton 1990, p. 117-8).


Twelve-bar" examples The 12-bar blues chord progression is the basis of thousands of songs, not only formally identifiedblues songs such as "Stevie's Blues" "Tommy Emmanuel", "St. Louis Blues", "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Hound Dog", but also gospel songs, such as "I'm So Glad (Jesus Lifted Me)", jazz classics like "One O'Clock Jump" and "Night Train", pop and rock songs, including Glenn Miller's "In the Mood", The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?",AC/DC's "The Jack", and The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go", Top 40 hits like Fabian's "Turn Me Loose", "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors, and the Theme from the Batman TV Series. The vast majority of boogie woogiecompositions are 12-bar blues, as are many instrumentals, such as "Rumble" and "Honky Tonk".[citation needed]

Examples of blues twelve bar blues include Muddy Waters' "Train Fare Blues" (1948), Howlin' Wolf's "Evil" (1954), and Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (1954). (Covach 2005, p. 67)

"Twelve-bar" oddities

  • John Lennon's "You Can't Do That" is itself a 12-bar blues with an 8-bar bridge in AABA form.
  • "St. Louis Blues" is unusual in having a bridge, the famous habanera that gives it a Spanish tinge.
  • Eccentric boogie woogie pianist, Cripple Clarence Lofton frequently truncated the chord continuation, ending up with some verses at nine, ten, or eleven bars.
  • The blue yodels of Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakeman, are usually of twelve bars, including the repeated first line, but the three lines of lyrics are delivered across the first eight bars, with Rodgers' trademark yodeling obbligato filling the last four.
  • Chuck Berry's "Oh Carol" is a 24-bar blues, with each line doubled in length by the addition of a guitar lick after the vocal part.
  • The melodies of The Beatles's "Day Tripper", Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade", and "Boddhisattva" by Steely Dan start with the first eight bars of the 12-bar progression.
  • Blues Traveler’s song “Warmer Days”, from their debut album, is a thirteen-bar blues. The tenth bar is repeated in each verse.
  • Led Zeppelin’s song “Rock and Roll”, from their fourth album, alternates the progression length within the song. Each instrumental verse (including the introduction and the guitar solo) is a twelve-bar blues, while each sung verse is a 24-bar blues, with each bar of the progression being held for two bars instead of one.
  • David Lindley’s version of “Mercury Blues”, from the El Rayo-X album, uses a variation on the progression. The ninth bar uses a minor chord on the submediant rather than the dominant, and the tenth bar uses a dominant rather than a subdominant. (In Roman-numeral notation, the third line would be written VIm-V-I-I.) The other bars are as in the basic progression. (As originally written by K.C. Douglas, the song uses a standard progression.)
  • Queen's song "I Want To Break Free" uses the twelve-bar pattern for its verses, with a different chord progression only for the middle eight. However, its arrangement (particularly the use of synthesizers) is different from a typical twelve-bar song.
  • Steely Dan’s song “Chain Lightning”, from the album Katy Lied, has a twelve-bar structure and rhythm, but only uses some of the basic progression. The fifth and sixth bars use the mediant, while the seventh and eighth bars use the subtonic. The ninth and tenth bars use the subdominant and the dominant, but in that order (rather than reversed, as in the standard progression). In Roman-numeral notation, the progression runs as follows: