Saturday, 2 November 2013

Confession #41 - 12 Bar Blues!

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Last week we learned pentatonic pattern #1 (see Confession #40 - Pentatonic Scales (Part 1)).  This week we'll put that pattern to use over a 12 bar blues chord progression.


The 12 bar blues is a standard chord progression used frequently in, yes you guessed it, blues music.  It is also frequently used in rock and roll.  As you may have already guessed, the progression is 12 bars long.  At the end of the 12 bars, the progression is repeated again and again throughout the song.

Basic 12 Bar Blues

At its most basic, the progression consists of the I, IV and V chords of whatever key you happen to be playing in, organized like this:

|  I   |  I   |  I   |  I   |
|  IV  |  IV  |  I   |  I   |
|  V   |  IV  |  I   |  V   |

See Confession #14 - Know What Chords to Play!  if you aren't sure what the roman numerals mean.

In the key of A, the I, IV and V chords are A, D and E, so the progression would be:

|  A   |  A   |  A   |  A   |
|  D   |  D   |  A   |  A   |
|  E   |  D   |  A   |  E   |

Dominant Sevenths

It is also very common for the 12 bar blues to be played using all dominant 7th chords like this:

|  I7  |  I7  |  I7  |  I7  |
|  IV7 |  IV7 |  I7  |  I7  |
|  V7  |  IV7 |  I7  |  V7  |

See Confession #13 - Learn More Barre Chords! for examples of some dominant 7th chord fingerings.

As we'll learn in a future confession about harmonizing the major scale in sevenths, technically you change key every time you change chords when you play a 12 bar blues this way.

Quick Change

Another common variation is to play the IV chord or the IV7 chord in the second measure, like this:

|  I7  |  IV7 |  I7  |  I7  |
|  IV7 |  IV7 |  I7  |  I7  |
|  V7  |  IV7 |  I7  |  V7  |

This is referred to as the "quick change".  You'll hear the quick change in the Blue Brothers version of Sweet Home Chicago.


The first two measures of the TAB below introduce a riff that is played in 5th position and is based (mostly) on the A minor pentatonic scale.

The riff also includes the "flat-five" or the "blue note" (6th fret of your fifth string) which is not technically part of the scale, but is often used with it.  I'll talk more about the blue note in a future confession.

When the chord changes to a D in the 5th measure, the riff follows the chord.  The riff is identical except that it now it starts on a D instead of an A.

This could be done by staying on the fourth and fifth strings and moving up to 10th position, but its easier to shift to the third and fourth strings.  When a riff follows the chords like this, it is called a moveable riff.


Here's a video demonstration of a 12 bar blues in the key of A using the moveable riff in the TAB below:

Here's the TAB for the song.  In the third and fourth measures I have shown the suggested fingerings for playing the riff.  I have also shown suggested fingering in the twelfth measure.  This is what works for me.  If it doesn't work for you then try a different fingering.

12 Bar Blues in the Key of A
(Click to Enlarge)

Have fun playing this one!

Next Week's Confession - 7th Chord Cheat Sheet!

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