Analysis And Form Of 12 Bar Blues

Video Lesson ReviewIn the previous lesson we studied a video lecture concerning the musical theory associated with a 12 bar blues progression. If you haven’t done so already, watch this video with guitar in hand or take another few moments to review this material.

Twelve Bar Blues Song Form

The most influential chord progression of all time is definitely the 12 bar blues. For us, in this course in music theory, the term Blues refers to an order and frequency of chords and not any aesthetic considerations such as melancholy, sadness or actually feeling blue. The 12 bar blues is the most copied, used, and played chord progression in virtually all styles of guitar playing.

Below, are a few musicians and bands that are known for their heavy use of blues chord progressions. This list does seem like a Who’s Who of guitar playing or the architects of classic rock. So what does that tell you about the importance of learning and studying the 12 bar blues chord progressions you’ll be presented with here in this lesson? It tells you that they’re absolutely essential to your growth as a musician and your understanding of modern music theory.

 

Led Zeppelin
The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
Cream
Jimi Hendrix
Eric Clapton
ZZ Top
Stevie Ray Vaughn
B.B. King
Muddy Waters
Canned Heat
Buddy Guy
Booker T & The M.G.’s
Kenny Wayne Sheppard
Johnny Lang

The following example uses a 12 bar blues in one of its most basic and pure forms. Try to play along with the track, using a simple of rhythm of whole notes to studt the sound of the chord to chord movement.

theory47Twelve Bar Blues Analysis

At right you see a harmonic analysis of the most commonly played and used 12 bar blues chord progression, along with common variations. This is the exact same song form used in countless of famous and iconic songs. The same chord progression played by all of our guitar heroes as part of their learning process.

theory45It would be impossible to overstate the power and influential nature that blues music has exerted over all forms of modern American music including jazz and rock ‘n roll. The order in frequency of the typical 12 bar blues chord progression is arguably the most known chord progression of all time

To the left, is a great way to play a I – IV – V progression in the key of C Major. guitar wise, the key of C major lives at fret eight, that’s the address. Use these chord forms to play along with the pre-recorded track above. Start out with simple strums, maybe just whole notes, and to you internalize the sound and feeling of each of the three primary chords. You want to gain a thorough, almost visceral understanding of the musical effects created by the three primary chords.

Transposing

Just below you see a table comparing the two keys of C Major and G Major. Although the scales of each respective key containins different members the chord quality, each chord’s function and the Roman numeral analysis is exactly the same for each and every key. So the one I – IV – Vchords in the key of C were arranged in a standard 12 bar blues form in the previous example, the I – IV – V chords in the key of G will be arranged in a standard blues song form, when you change the key of something it’s called transposing.

 

Chord Quality:

I Major
II minor
III minor
IV Major
V Major
VI minor
VII diminished
I
Chord Function:
Tonic
Sub Dominant
Dominant
Tonic
Key Of C:
C Ma
D mi
E mi
F Ma
G Ma
A mi
B dim
C Ma
Key Of G:
G Ma
A mi
B mi
C Ma
D Ma
E mi
F# dim
G Ma

 

A More Sophisticated Blues: Jazz Style

To make a standard blues progression into a jazz style blues, there are but a few simple steps:

  1. Change the basic dominant chords to extended harmonies, instead of plain old C7 substitute C 9 or C 13 and you instantly change the mood and vibe of the basic chord progression from down and dirty to uptown amd smooth.
  2. In bars 9 & 10 substitute a II – V progression for the cliche and predictable IV and V chords.
  3. Use a swinging beat and play everything with a strong sense of rhythm, of ‘locking in’ with the drums and bass. Play through the jazz blues progressions illustrated below coupling the suggested jazz substitutions coupled with a very simple rhythm, if you have a metronome, set it to a comfortable speed.

theory138

Here you will find backing tracks for the chord progressions illustrated above. Play along with these videos using, once again, a simple solid groove. If you already an improvisor, use these as play along material for developing solos.

Acrobat PrinterChord Charts

Printable versions of all the jazz blues in C and jazz blues in G as played in the preceding videos are available here.

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