What is a 12-bar blues?
It’s a basic and simple chord progression. As its name says it’s twelve bars long. It’s the most common blues music progression.
It’s so popular: Thousands and thousands of songs are made from it!
If you ever want to learn to play the blues on any instrument, you have to know these chord changes. It’s important whether you play the rhythm or lead.
In fact, you may already know them or at least be familiar with how a typical blues song unfolds.
A basic twelve bar blues is made of 3 chords. The 1st(root), the 4th, and the 5th chords of the major scale. Chords are usually identified in roman numerals I-IV-V.
In the key of E it would be E(root), A(the 4th) and B (the 5th).
12 Bar-Blues Chords in All Natural Keys
How to Play a Twelve-bar Blues?
The Basic Structure
There are many ways to play the chord changes, but the most basic one goes like this.
Example of a basic 12 bar in E
The Quick Change
Another popular variation is going to the 4(th) on the second bar. It gives more movement to the basic structure.
Ending on the V
This variation is also very common. It adds a lot of movement to the last 4 bars.
Adding Dominant 7th Chords
As in the example above, you can play major chords but the use of seventh chords is most commonly heard. In this case, you could simply add the minor 7th on all the chords to create dominant seventh sound.
Using 7th to Accentuate Chord Changes
In the previous example, we used dominant 7th chords on all the chords but they can also be added anywhere. Here is an example using the dominant 7th chords to accentuate a coming chord change.
A twelve-bar blues using seventh minor chords is also very popular. I think it has a more “funky” feel.
The progressions shown above are just examples of the most common 12 bar blues chord progressions. They serve as a starting point and can be changed and enriched. Jazz music often mixes both major and minor ideas. Feel free to experiment and move things around.
What about you?
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Leave me a comment to let me know how you practice and approach a 12 bar-blues.
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