You have probably heard a blues song before. Overflowing with emotion and expression. Crying for you to play them. Your time is now friend! Today is the day that you play the blues. We will keep things simple and get you going with a good solid foundation, the 12 bar Blues.
This is the basis for your blues journey. The 12 Bar Blues can be used as your very own backing track or when you are jamming with other musicians, one of you can lay the chords and the others can play blues lead. The 12 Bar blues is simple yet powerful. Let’s learn it!
The Blues – 12 Bars Will Get You Started.
You have probably heard about the blues. Hailing from the Deep South in the USA during the period of slavery. This music is very powerful because of its origins. The blues are well known for the powerful expression and passion, you can really feel the emotions come through.
The 12 bar blues pattern is a very common occurrence in blues music. Blues-rock also relies on the 12 Bar blues quite a lot. It may be a little advanced for you (or not), but the progression uses numbers 1, 4 and 5 (I, IV, V) for the chord sequence (This is derived from the Major Scale)
What Is A Bar? – A Quick Explanation.
A Bar is a musical measure or a unit of musical time. A bar divides a song into sections. In these sections or bars had notes. The bar is represented as a vertical line across all the strings shown in Sheet or Tab Notation. A Bar usually contains 4 musical beats. These beats are evenly spaced counted as “1, 2, 3, 4” (quarter notes or crotchets).
Because notes can be played at different speeds you can fit more notes into the same bar if you play them faster, right? As an example, if we take our “1, 2, 3, 4” example and now double the speed of the notes we get “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”. You play on the numbers (1 to 4) as well as on the “and”. Counting the numbers and words you see that there are 8 in total. This is an Eight Note or a Quaver.
Taking this further we have “1 e and a, 2 e and a, three e and a, 4 e and a”, Totalling these words and numbers we have 16 beats. This is a Sixteenth Note or a SemiQuaver. When you get to the last you start back at 1 (all counting makes use of this trick), so it looks like this until the end of the song:
- “1 e and a, 2 e and a, three e and a, 4 e and a, 1 e and a, 2 e and a, three e and a, 4 e and a”
Luckily for us at this time we only have to stick to using the second one with 8 beats! When counting it is important that all beats are equally spaced from each other.
How Does This Help Me Learn The 12 Bar Blues?
Now that you know what a bar is and how it works, it is easier to explain the 12 Bar Blues. You now know that every bar has 8 beats which are counted “1 and, 2 and, 3 and 4 and”. When you are a familiar with the 12 bar blues (meaning that you can play it accurately and comfortably without looking) you can feel free to accent the numbers.
What I mean by this is that you can play 1, 2, 3, 4 louder than the and. So to demonstrate this you play the italic characters slightly louder than the normal characters to make them stand out, like this:
- “1 and, 2 and, 3 and 4 and”
If you are feeling experimental you can try accenting the even beats like this.
“1 and, 2 and, 3 and 4 and ”
I would recommend trying these when you are comfortable. Remember to get the basics down first before adding the spices!
Time For The Blues! – You Are Ready!
The versions of the blues you can see are in The Keys of A and E. The main difference is when you change chords. The version in A tends to have one chord per bar which is great for beginners. The version in E is a bit more complex but is still achievable. To play the Blues in A, you can play the power chords (purple notes only) or the full chords.
From above you know that the numbers for the blues chords are 1, 4 and 5 so looking at our A and E Major scales we get:
- A Major Scale: A, D and E
- E Major Scale: E, A and B
Please remember as always, playing the guitar is a marathon, not a sprint! Give yourself time to learn this sequence. Familiarize yourself with the chords and make sure you are playing them all properly, every single time. If you are feeling fancy you can try and play this with a guitar slide and see how you like the sound!
You Can Play The Blues – You Should Be Happy!
WELL DONE! You can now play the 12 bar Blues On Guitar. I hope this journey into playing the 12 Bar Blues has helped you gain an appreciation for the blues as well as some more confidence in your guitar abilities. The 12 Bar Blues is great for when you just sit down and want to play something deep.
It may seem serious due to its roots in a dark time in history, but the blues are truly a musical phoenix, rising from the ashes of oppression and liberating the hearts and minds of anyone who will listen. The blues is truly one of the most powerful genres out there and It will definitely be worth your time to learn it.
Please feel free to comment below with comment, thoughts or opinions.
Be patient with yourself and enjoy your guitaring journey friend!