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Blues Guitar Lessons: 12 Bar Blues Progression

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All right, now you've
mastered the cycle of fourths.
You know one four five, in all keys.
We've got our two chord sets, and we can
label them like a root on a six string,
that's A, D, and E.
Where the one chord is based on the six
string and the four and the five are off
the fifth string, and the other set
would be root on the fifth string.
D for example,
root on the fifth string, then four and
five are based on the six string.
The chord sets that we'll choose when we
get down to playing more stylistic rhythms
will depend on the key,
on the style of rhythm that we're playing.
But those will constitute kind of
the essence of how we organize chords on
the neck, it really isn't a lot
more complicated than that.
We'll just look at a lot of
ways of expressing that idea.
Now one, four, five, I get it, okay.
We get tonality.
We know how they circle
around that central tone.
But blues also has, in addition to
the dominant seventh chord being kind
of a central feature of the harmony.
It has a form, a way of arranging
those chords, that is stylistic.
And that's called the 12-bar blues.
Now when you think about
the ways that songs are written,
probably the most common way of writing
a song or of organizing chords and
feeling the rhythm and so forth,
writing lyrics is eight bars.
It just make sense.
It's two plus two times two,
it's very simple.
12-bar blues is different,
it has some of the same elements, but
it's arranged in a slightly different way.
12-bar blues evolved,
it was a songwriting method,
that evolved around the beginning
of the twentieth century.
It's not like it was always there and
we just finally recognized it,
it was actually kind of an invention,
and we don't know who invented it.
But it's ingenious.
And the way the works is this.
Bring the key of, let's go back
to the key of A, our old pal.
[SOUND] I'm gonna play one,
four, five, but
I'm gonna play them in
a specific arrangement.
And the arrangement, in the end,
it adds up to 12 bars, and
a bar is a measure,
a measure consists of four beats.
So like a whole note is a measure,
and four quarter notes,
you divide the measure into four,
each quarter note is called a beat,
so four beats to a measure,
12 measures in a progression.
That's a lot of math,
a lot of calculating to do.
But it doesn't sound like that
when you play it as music.
So we're gonna break it down
into more bite-sized chunks.
And here's the way it's gonna work.
We're actually gonna make it into
three sections of four bars apiece.
And I'll do it for you and then I'll
explain how it's gonna work musically.
So in the key of A, we're gonna play A for
four bars and sort of think of
it as two two bar sections okay?
Like this, all right?
Play along with me.
One, two, three, four.
A, two, and three, four, two, now repeat.
A, two, three, four, two,
now go to the four cord.
D, and two.
And back to A again.
Now we go to the five chord and
we are going to keep going and
back to one,
and then it all starts again.
Now I don't know if you were counting,
but that added up to 12 bars.
There's a song by the way,
it's pretty cool, by a band called NRBQ.
The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.
Great band.
They did a song called 12-Bar Blues.
They count it out.
It's pretty funny.
I'll try to give you a link to that so
that you can find it and listen to it.
Now, the way that this makes sense is that
it's not just a progression, it's a song.
And the way blues songs are written is
that they have a call and a response.
In other words, you say something,
and then you get an answer back.
And remember, we were talking about some
of the differences between European music
and African music.
And how European, there's a conductor,
there's an orchestra,
there's the audience,
and it's very organized.
And there's not much interaction there.
Listeners listen, and players play.
In African music, the players and the
listeners are all in a group together and
they are going back and
forth with each other so
a lot of interaction with each other.
So 12-bar blues is kind of like that, you
have two bars where you say something and
get two bars where you are going
to hear something back.
As we learn more about playing,
about soloing and so forth,
we will figure out how to
create those answers, but for
right now we're leaving a space there for
that answer to happen, okay.
Now, when you think
about a 12-bar blues and
how the lyrics go,
they're all pretty typical.
Well, I woke up this morning.
You know.
Felt around for my shoes.
That kinda thing.
We can make up a 12-bar blues lyric and
one of things that made 12-bar so cool.
And made so it popular, which it was huge
for a long time, as a commercial style,
not just as a thing that we study in
a blues lesson, but it was really selling
records, is that it has this
built-in opportunity to improvise.
You say the first line, and then
instead of coming up with another line
right away that's different,
you say it again.
All right, and then by the time
you said it the first time and
the second time that gives you
time to think of a rhyme, right?
So you can kinda come up with
blues songs on the spot.
And a lot of blues songs have that
kind of improvisational quality.
Today in hip hop,
they call it freestyling.
It's kinda like that.
You're freestyling a 12-bar lyric.
Let's say, think of a subject
that's near and dear to our hearts.
The 12-bar blues keep
rolling round my brain.
It's all I can think about.
And then we're going to think of that
third line when we get there, okay.
All right, now play it along with me.
Again, four strokes to the bar, and
we're going to keep track of those bars.
But this time we have the lyrics to
help us stay musically in place so
we don't have to count.
Like we're using a calculator.
Okay, here we go.
A one, two, A.
Now here's
the answer.
Four chord.
Back to the one.
Here's the answer again.
our answer.
Now we start it all again.
We tell another tale in
the story of the 12-bar blues.
Now you can rhyme brain with grain,
drain, deranged.
No, that doesn't work.
You get the idea, right?
You can invent this blues song right
here and come up with that song.
We'll split the publishing.
Now the reason that we're doing this,
it sounds corny, I know.
The reason we're doing this is because
this is what blues songs are about,
it's about telling a story.
And the story is organized into two
bars of I'm saying something and two
bars where you say, yeah, uh-huh, yeah,
I know exactly what you're talking about.
Then I repeat it again and you say,
right, yeah yeah, I heard you.
And then you finish the idea with that
third line and then, as a musician,
you answer it and say, yeah, yeah,
I heard exactly what you said that time.
Tell me what else you got.
And you start the next verse.
So that's the 12-bar blues concept.
So, it's two plus two,
repeat, two plus two.
And then finish it off, two plus two.
And the one, four and five fall into
that category of repetition every time.
We'll see some variations in the one,
four, five later on,
but that's the fundamental
progression right there.
So, your assignment is to do that and
do it in more than one key.
In other words, you're gonna
follow that cycle of fours and
play the 12-bar blues in all 12 keys.
Now, we don't need to do it together
because I think you get the idea
of how it works.
If you have questions about how it works,
you're not sure if you're doing it right,
that's when you send me a video.
Say, I think I'm doing it, but
let me know if I'm really doing it, right?
And that way I can respond to you and
tell you if you got it.
But so far, so good.
So you're playing one note per beat,
or one stroke.
You're trying to make
that metronome disappear.
Set the tempo where it's comfortable.
Sometimes if it's too
slow it's hard to play.
And it's hard to be accurate,
so maybe speed it up a little
bit if you're ready for that.
And then see, can I make the transition
from the 12-bar blues in the key of A, go
through all the changes, and then switch
to the 12-bar blues in the key of D.
Now, to make it even sweeter,
see if you can sing along.
Or even hum the words,
or just say the words so
that you're thinking musically
each step of the way.
All right have a ball, and
I'll see you in a minute.