• Are You Interested In Learning The 12-Bar Blues Progression?

    in Blues music,Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Jazz music,Piano

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    You arrived this page because you’re interested in learning how to play the 12-bar blues progression.

    For anyone who’s getting started with jazz music on the piano, learning and mastering the 12-bar blues is of the greatest possible importance and this is because the blues is one of the stylistic influences of jazz music.

    So, if you’re interested in learning how to play jazz music on the piano, but not sure of where to start, the 12-bar blues progression is a great start for you.

    Right before we get into learning the progression for today, let’s refresh our minds on chord progressions.

    A Short Note On Chord Progressions

    Every major or minor key has seven unique tones. For example, the key of C major:

    …has seven unique tones:

    C is the first

    D is the second

    E is the third

    F is the fourth

    G is the fifth

    A is the sixth

    B is the seventh

    Chords can be formed on every tone of the scale and these chords are known as scale tone chords. The movement of scale tone chords from one tone of the scale to the other produces chord progressions.

    Using the Nashville number system, chord progressions can be described using cardinal numbers like two, six, four, etc. For example in the key of C major:

    …a chord progression from chord 1 (the C major seventh chord):

    …to chord 4 (the F major seventh chord):

    …is described as a 1-4 chord progression.

    The 12-Bar Blues Progression – Explained

    The 12-bar blues progression is a long-established form or structure in blues music that form the basis of the chord progression of most blues songs.

    From its name, it has 12 bars altogether.

    “What Is A Bar?”

    A beat is a unit of rhythm while a bar is the rhythmic grouping of beats. So, when you hear a piece of music, there’s every tendency that you’ll nod to its pulse or beat.

    For the song As the Deer, here’s how you may likely nod to it:

    As                     the               deer             panteth

    Nod #1           Nod #2         Nod #3              Nod #4

    For each time you nodded, you basically observed a beat (which is a unit of rhythm.)

    Check it out:

    As                     the               deer             panteth

    Beat #1           Beat #2         Beat #3              Beat #4

    Now, the rhythmic grouping of beats produces a bar. Although a bar may have as many notes as possible, the possible number of notes in a bar is usually four.

    Grouping the four beats of the song As the deer produces a bar.

    As                     the               deer             panteth

    Beat #1           Beat #2         Beat #3              Beat #4

    Bar #1

    So, there are 4 beats grouped together to form a bar, right? Yes!

    For the purpose of this lesson, every bar would be considered as a group of 4 beats.

    The Structure Of The 12 Bar Blues

    The 12 bar blues progression can be divided into 3 equal parts. Mathematically, the division of 12 into 3 equal parts equals 4.

    So, the 12 bar blues has 3 equal parts and each part consists of four bars, with each bar having four counts.

    The 3 equal parts of the 12 bar blues progression are known as verses.

    Beats      1, 2, 3, 4          1, 2, 3, 4         1, 2, 3, 4          1, 2, 3, 4

    Bars        Bar  #1           Bar #2         Bar #3              Bar #4

    Verse                                     Verse #1

    Check out the three verses of the 12 bar blues progression:

    12 Bars                  Bar 1 to Bar 4            ||                 Bar 5 to Bar 8           ||               Bar 9 to Bar 12          |

    Beats     1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 || 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 || 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |

    Bars        Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 | Bar 4 || Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 |  Bar 4 || Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 | Bar 4|

    Verse                        Verse #1                                          Verse #2                                                Verse #3

    The first verse consists of bars 1 to 4, the second verse consists of bars 5 to 8, and the third verse consists of bars 9 to 12, with each bar consisting of four beats or counts.

    Let’s take a look at the chord progression of the 12 bar blues.

    The Chord Progression Of The 12 Bar Blues

    Using the following chords:

    C major triad

    C dominant seventh chord

    F major triad

    G major triad

    G dominant seventh

    …anyone can play the 12 bar blues progression in the key of C major:

     

                                            |            Bar 1 to Bar 4              |

    Chords                         |  Cmaj| Cmaj  |  Cmaj  | Cdom7|

    Bars                              |Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 | Bar 4 |

    Verse                                            Verse #1 

     

     

                                            |            Bar 5 to Bar 8             |

    Chords                         |  Fmaj| Fmaj  |  Cmaj  | Cmaj  |

    Bars                              |Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 | Bar 4 |

    Verse                                            Verse #2

     

     

                                            |            Bar 9 to Bar 12              |

    Chords                         |  Gmaj| Fmaj  |  Cmaj  | Gdom7|

    Bars                              |Bar 1 | Bar 2 | Bar 3 | Bar 4 |

    Verse                                            Verse #3

    Final Words

    From what we’ve covered so far, I’m certain that you have a basic understanding of what the 12 bar blues progression is all about.

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll cover varieties of the 12 bar blues progression. But before then, ensure to practice the chords learned in other keys — especially in the keys of F and Bb.

    See you then!

    The dramatic nature of the blues cannot be denied and its priceless expressions are often times in its melodic figures, phrases, licks, cliches, etc., and we’ll be covering all that in the next lesson.

    See you then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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