Learn To Play 12 Bar Blues

 Learn To Play 12 Bar Blues

Have you ever felt sad or lonely? Have you ever felt like singing about your troubles when you were sad? A lot of early Americans often felt this way because of the bad situations they found themselves in. They believed an important part of dealing with those feelings was sharing them. 

Have you heard the expression, "Walk a mile in my shoes..." For some, that mile on the road has been dusty, rocky and weary at times but I have a lamp, a light unto my path! Walk a mile with me and I'll walk with you. Sometimes it's good we don't see down the road too far because then we see the small blessing right in front of us and those walking right with us. You're not alone! And you know what? I've seen some fabulous stuff on that road, too! The road is dark sometimes unless we have the lamp!

Around 1900 the blues had developed into a standard musical form of about 12 measures or bars that would be repeated for all the words of the song. Most blues are 12 bars long. But some blues are longer (16 bars) or shorter (8 bars) and some 12-bar tunes are not blues at all. Why is that? Because the blues is more than just a musical form; it’s a sound, a feeling, and an attitude. These things are not conveyed by written notes on the page. And just because the word “blues” appears in a song’s title doesn’t mean that the song is a blues. “Limehouse Blues” and “Bye Bye Blues” are great tunes but they are not blues. If you’re totally unfamiliar with the blues, listen to some of B.B.King’s recordings.

12 Bar Blues:
The twelve bar blues is one of the most important song forms in popular music, jazz, rock and folk music. Once you understand the twelve bar blues and its variations, you will understand hundreds of other songs guaranteed. It is really fun to play the blues. I love the sound of slow soulful blues played on the piano.

The twelve bar blues, the most common blues form, consists of three lines of four bars each. Each line consists of a two bar statement followed by an implicit response. Each measure is four beats since a lot of blues tends to be in four.

All of the forms use just three chords, and roman numerals are used to figure them. The first bar always refers to the I chord. The second bar is either the I chord again, or it can be "quick change" blues, which would be the IV chord. Bars 3 and 4 comprise the I chord again. Bars 5 and 6 will be IV chord, and so it goes.

12 Bar Blues Chords:
The I, IV, and V chords form the backbone of the blues. In most blues-based contexts, you can make the major chords into dominant sevenths (I, 3, 5, 7b) or even ninths (1, 3, 5, b7, 9).

I /// I /// I /// I ///
IV /// IV /// I /// I ///
V /// V /// I /// I ///
G /// G /// C /// C ///

A turnaround found in the last bar strongly propels the listener (and other musicians) back to the top for another round of playing. In more complex blues progressions, the turnaround often grows to two bars in length, then filling the eleventh and twelfth bar. Here’s what I mean:

I (C) IV (F) I (C) I (C7)
IV (F) IV (F) I (C) I (C)
V (G) IV (F) I (C) V (G) turnaround

In much of early blues, the meter was anything but strict. Beats and bars were added and omitted freely, according to the whim of the performer. In fact, it could be said that early blues performers felt the music as a flow of beats rather than regular meter and phrase lengths. Today’s blues are rigid and predictable in comparison. Any blues lover owes it to her/himself to check out early blues recordings.

I can hear the melody line being played in this popular blues lyrics with simple chord structure and bass walk downs. Have fun playing along. It goes something like this:

Oh, my baby left me, cold and all alone! cold and all alone
Oh, my baby left me, so cold & all alone! cold and all alone
Goin' to the depot, catch the next train home! (go home) 2xs

 -- LadyD
"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King

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