12 Bar Blues

by Pete · 1 comment

Jamming out and improvising with your friends is an awesome way to pass the time. But you all have to stick to the same key, timing and chord progression. One of the most famous chord progressions are the 12 bar blues. Lets take a look at it here.

The most blues forms are in 4:4 time, i.e. four beats per bar. The “12 bar” refers to the measures or musical bars in the stanza, this 12 bar pattern is then repeated throughout the song.

A 12-bar blues is divided into three four-bar segments. A standard blues progression, or sequence of notes, typically features three chords based on the first (written as I), fourth (IV), and fifth (V) notes of an eight-note scale. The I chord dominates the first four bars; the IV chord typically appears in the second four bars and the V chord is played in the third four bars.

The lyrics of a 12-bar blues song often follow what’s known as an AAB pattern. “A” refers to the first and second four-bar verse, and “B” is the third four-bar verse. In a 12-bar blues, the first and second lines are repeated, and the third line is a response to them often with a twist.

Section First Bar Second Bar Third Bar Fourth Bar
First Section
I
I
I
I
Second Section
IV
IV
I
I
Third Section
V
V
I
I

This is a dummbed down and simplified explaination of the blues, but a good place to start. There are many, many variations on this and lots of additional stuff. But I’ll get into some of that in later posts.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

BluesImprov November 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I wouldn’t call this explanation “dumbed down.” Much of the beauty, fun, and power of the twelve-bar blues is its simplicity, and this explanation does a great job conveying it. Much the same way I would explain to a friend new to the form if we were about to play one. Thanks.

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