• 12-Bar Blues You Can Use!

    in Blues music,Jazz music

    In this post, I’m going to break down the main movements in James Wrubel’s clip below (from our Hear & Play Jazz 101 course). This should be an interesting post and you’ll get a lot out of it…

    It’s important to note that he has a recorded bass line, which gives him the opportunity to play chords in his left hand.

    Here’s the basic pattern that he’s playing.

    C7 —- F7 —- C7 —- C7 —- F7 —- F7 —- C7 —- C7 —- G7 —- F7 —- C7

    Replay the video above and see if you can following along from the beginning. Every time he switches his chord go to the next chord. Every chord, for the most part is switching either every 4 beats or every 8 beats (sometimes you get two C or F chords in a row).

    Normally you’d play a C7, F7, and G7 like this:

    C E G Bb (C7 pronounced “C Seventh”)

    F A C Eb (F7)

    G B D F (G7)

    (Note: You can play these chords on your right and play the root bass notes (“C,” “F,” or “G”) on your left if you don’t have a bass player).

    But since James has a bass player, he’s playing tritones in the left hand.

    Tritones are interesting little fellas.

    They are diminished fifth intervals. I don’t have enough time to really delve into that part of it but just think of them as 6 half steps apart.

    So if you wanted to form a tritone based on C, you would start on C and count 6 half steps up.

    C to Db is 1 half step
    Db to D is another half step
    D to Eb is another half step
    Eb to E is another half step
    E to F is another half step
    F to Gb is the last half step.

    That makes 6 (for my folks new to counting in “half steps”).

    Here are all the tritones written all in flats for simplicity’s sake:

    C + Gb
    Db + G
    D + Ab
    Eb + A
    E + Bb
    F + B

    Now watch what’s going to happen…

    Here are the remaining 6 tritones

    Gb + C
    G + Db
    Ab + D
    A + Eb
    Bb + E
    B + F

    Basically the second half of the tritone list is just like the first but they’re inverted. Which means instead of C+Gb, now it’s Gb+C.

    This makes tritones very versatile. You only need to know 6 and you can flip them to get the other 6.

    So let’s recall our 3 magic chords for this 12-bar blues progression:

    C E G Bb (C7)

    F A C Eb (F7)

    G B D F (G7)

    Because they are seventh chords, they inherently carry a TRITONE. Yup, that’s true. So if you can figure out what tritones are used in these three chords, then you don’t have to play the full chord. You can abbreviate these chords with their tritone “shortcuts.”

    How’s 4 notes down to 2 for ya? Easier to play right? Definitely! But it gets better… I’ll talk about the “better” part later.

    So did you find the tritone in each of those chords???

    You should have gotten:

    E+Bb for the C7

    A+Eb for the F7

    B+F for the G7

    SHORTCUT: Basically the 3rd and lowered 7th tone of the chord (E is the third in C major and Bb is the lowered seventh in C major) will create your tritone.

    Now for the “better” part…

    What’s cool about tritones is that when you’re moving in fourths (as in the case of a C7 going to an F7), they are extremely easy to play.

    Notice this:

    Tritone for C7 = E+Bb
    Tritone for F7 = A+Eb

    Can one of these tritones be “flipped” to their other pair to make this easier to play?


    You could do this two ways.

    1) Change the C7 tritone
    2) Or change the F7 tritone

    So you could either go from E+Bb (which substitutes for C7 chord) to Eb+A (which substitutes for F7 chord)… which means all you have to do is lower each finger ONE note… that’s it! ONE NOTE!

    Or you can change the first chord:

    Bb+E to A+Eb

    Your call! Switch em’ up here and there.

    Now, what would you use for the G7 tritone if you were currently on the “E+Bb” tritone?

    Which G7 tritone is closer?

    F+B or B+F

    “Give me the F+B tritone for $100 Alex!”

    So I hope through this post that I not only introduced you to the 12-bar blues pattern but I’ve also shown you the power and convenience of tritones and how you can “flip” them to make it easier for your left hand to flow from chord to chord.

    If you’re playing tritones correctly and using the right chord for the right moment, you should never have to slide more than a few notes. Tritones should be right next to each other. After all, there’s only 6 of them and the other flipped 6 use the same notes as the first.

    hear and play

    Hear and Play Jazz 101: Jazz Basics and Fundamentals

    Hear and Play Jazz 101 will show you how to start playing jazz the right way. From the basic "12-bar blues" pattern to various soloing techniques and strategies, you'll be up and playing in no time!

    • The 7 secrets to playing signature solos like a pro… from a pro!
    • How to accelerate your jazz learning curve by combining 3 secret elements that the pros don't want you to know!
    • How to ensure that no matter what voicings and blues licks you play, they'll turn heads each and every time! Click here to learn more | Buy now

    See ya next time!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    Previous post:

    Next post: