Blues Guitar 2 - The Twelve Bar Blues Form


This lesson describes the traditional 12-bar Blues form as it is commonly played by the great Blues players, since 1890 approximately.


As you may know, a piece of music can be seen as a series of bars. Every bar itself consists of a number of beats. For a description of rhythm, bars, meters and beats, go to the Rhythm lesson.

Blues rhythm

The rhythm used in Blues has a triplet feel (shuffle feel). Counting one bar of 4 beats out loud using a triplet feel will sound like: ONE-and-UH-TWO-and-UH-THREE-and-UH-FOUR-and-UH. This shuffle feel is usually played in the accompanying parts, whereas the vocals and (guitar) solos are much more free in terms of rhythm.


The twelve bar form

In Blues the most widely used form is the traditional 12 bar form. The form is repeated a number of times, either during singing choruses or during (guitar or otherwise) solos. In order to play the blues, you'll have to get an internal feel for the length and harmonies of that 12-bar form. You can develop an internal feel for form by listening a lot to Blues recordings, as well as by playing a basic accompaniment part, over and over again, using the 12-bar form. More about this in the next lesson, Blues 3: Guitar chords - comping.


Chords and harmony in the twelve bar Blues

The chords and harmonies used in Blues are quite simple. Blues uses the first, fourth and fifth degrees of a major scale (I, IV and V)as the roots for the chords. Let's take a Blues in the key of A as an example. In the major scale of A, the first degree (I) will be A, the fourth (IV) will be D, and the fifth degree (V) will be E. So an blues in A has the following chords: A, D and E. Most of the time, the chords are played as dominants or 7-chords for a truly bluesy sound. This gives us A7, D7 and E7. See the image on the top right of this page.

stevie ray vaughn playnig the 12 bar blues formStevie Ray Vaughn - playing the Blues and meaning every note


A basic Blues in A uses the following number of bars per chord in the 12-bar form: A7 for four bars, D7 for two bars, A again for two bars, E7 one bar, D7 one bar, and A7 for two bars. After that the whole thing just repeats. The end of the 12 bars is usually marked by drum fills or little guitar riffs to state that the form has ended and the new one will begin.


There are a few variations on this form making it a bit more complex (sometimes the 2nd bar is played as a IV chord and the 12th bar is played as a V chord, for instance), but this is the most basic 12 bar blues structure and it works great.


Blues recordings - listen for the form

When you listen to a blues recording, the changing between the I, IV, and V chords has a specific, recognizable sound. Each chord has it's own color which you'll be able to recognize pretty soon when listening to some Blues songs.


See if you can follow the form (see the image at top right of this page) while listening to a blues song. Can you spot when the form has ended and is played again? Good! If not, keep on listening to various blues players (here's an introduction and list of blues guitar players) and you'll get it pretty soon!!


Good luck, i hope this clarifies the traditional blues form a bit!


blues guitar - the 12 bar form of blues in A