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Blues Guitar Lessons: 8 Bar Blues

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Well by now you should be pretty confident
about your 12 bar blues capabilities.
You know how to get in, how to get out,
how to handle the turn arounds,
slow change, quick change,
the whole shebang.
So, that's a big part of playing blues,
is being a solid 12 bar blues player.
However, that's not the only song writing
style that you're gonna encounter
in blues, and keep in mind,
these are songs.
They are progressions, and we're talking
one, four, five, it's all a numbers thing,
but these are songs, and
the progression is a vehicle for the song.
So the 12 bar has a certain way of
writing the song where we have the line,
we say the same line again, and
then we have the third line that
rhymes and finishes the idea.
And lots of, I mean thousands of
blues songs are written on that form,
but it's not the only one.
And another one that is probably
second most popular today, was
almost equal in popularity when blues was
getting started, is the eight bar blues.
In popular music song writing,
that's pop songs, and this has been true,
you know, for 100 years,
Broadway songs, standards.
The common length of an idea,
a phrase, is eight bars.
I'm not saying you take a breath and
sing for eight bars, but
it's two plus two plus two plus two adds
up to eight and then you start a new idea.
So the 12 bar blues is kind of an anomaly,
it's a specific way of writing songs
that really is a blues thang, but
eight bar song writing is extremely common
and there are a lot of eight bar blues.
And we think of blues,
you know the tradition of blues,
as being a guy out in the field,
he's making up stuff and
it's all this unwritten, oral tradition,
which is true, there's, you know,
that's a huge part of it, but there
are a lot of professional songwriters
who wrote blues songs, and they still
write them today, and eight bar blues
is a different way of telling the story
and the lyrics unfold in a different way.
And so the best way to learn eight bar
blues is to learn a couple of the standard
songs that had become
part of the vocabulary.
And every musician that plays blues
would be expected to know these songs.
So let's take one of them for example.
What's a famous eight bar blues?
Well, one of them is
called How Long Blues.
And this was a song that was recorded,
I believe it was around 1930 if
I'm not mistaken, by a piano player named
Leroy Carr, and his buddy on guitar
was Scrapper Blackwell, and
they recorded lots of songs together, but
this was probably their most famous song,
the most enduring standard,
even in blues, in jazz, there
are standards that everybody should know,
and so just to give you the general idea.
[SOUND] Right, in the key of A I'll
play you the basic feel of it here like.
And so
So you can hear that lyrically, it doesn't
have the same structure as the 12 bar.
I don't repeat the lines.
Now there's sort of built in
repetition in the idea itself, but it's
a different way of phrasing that's gonna
affect how we solo when we solo over it.
But number one is to
learn the progression.
So what's going on in
that arrangement there.
Well, it's how long, baby how long.
I'm on the one chord for two bars then I
go, how's that evening train been gone.
Two bars on the four.
Tell me how long.
Five, baby how long.
Turn around.
Again, one.
Now use your boogie rhythm,
you can play along with me.
Back to one.
Now up to five.
And back to one.
Turn around.
All right?
Now that's as intuitive as the trow
bar in it's own right, but if you're
not familiar with it you have to stop and
think, and the sooner you stop and
you're stopping and thinking, the more
musical your playing is gonna be so, by
far the best way to learn that progression
is to listen to a recording of How Long.
It's been covered a thousand times,
It's a standard.
So you can go back to Leroy Carr and
it's real scratchy, his Piano and
it sounds very, very old, but you hear
lots and lots of variations on that.
Eric Clapton did a version of it for
So listen to the song,
learn the song, if you sing the song,
it doesn't matter if you sing great,
[LAUGH] I mean case and point right there,
but if you know how the lyrics work and
breathe in sort of follow the phrasing,
that's how year learn the progression
then you say, right, that i get it,
i hear it, very easy to follow.
Another one that's based
on the same progression
that's almost as famous
was a blues recorded
by a guy named Big Maceo,
piano player again.
Now you might have heard that one as well,
if you listen to any blues at all.
It's been covered many, many, many times.
The lyrics are different but
it has the same rough
kind of a phrasing structure there, and
notice that the turnaround in both cases
is identical to the 12 bar turnaround, so
the first six bars of the song have
a slightly different arrangement.
The last two bars,
we already know how to do that.
All your turn around licks will fit.
At the same time, all of your rhythm
parts that we learned so far will fit.
So I can play like a horn section.
And so on, so
anything we learned
about playing rhythm
up to this point applies
to the eight bar equally as it
does to the 12 bar.
Variations according to the tempo,
and so forth, but they all work.
So you don't have to learn any new parts,
you just have to learn a new form.
Now, there's another song, a famous eight
bar song that's slightly different,
just slightly different, but before we
learn that one, and learn the difference,
let's play How Long blues
progression with the rhythm track.
Now, we're just gonna play rhythm for
the time being, and learn that form.
Play along with it.
[SOUND] This will help kinda put us
in the mood to learn the variation.
So you get the same feeling as
when I was playing it by myself.
It's the same order of chords.
I played the boogie shuffle, and
then I used the riff chords.
Now since those riff chord ideas or
the horn section ideas
are all based around two bar
phrases you just plug them in.
Any even numbered progression,
and they're all even numbered,
you can just plug those parts in there and
they work equally well.
So you just keep in mind where you're
going, and follow the changes, and
you're home free.
So that's the How Long blues
version of the eight bar.
Now the other one that's,
these days is probably equally well known.
How Long Blues was a huge hit record,
by the way, and
Leroy Carr was a major star piano player.
He influenced everyone of his
generation which was the 1930s and
beyond, well into the 40s.
BB King loved Leroy LeRoy Carr.
Robert Johnson loved LeRoy Carr.
Everybody loved LeRoy Carr.
He drank himself to death, so
unfortunately his career didn't
last beyond the 30s, but
he had a huge impact while he was alive.
The other eight bar that we're
gonna listen to is often accredited
Big Bill Broonzy, a huge influence in
the history of blues, guitar player,
was known as kind of the kingpin of the
Chicago style in the 30s and early 40s.
Went on to move to Europe and he had
kind of an extended career in Europe.
That's where, because he was in Europe
the English guys all got to know
Big Bill Boozie better than the Americans.
They were all fans, and they came over to
the US and talked about Big Bill Boozie.
All the American musicians said,
who, what, who?
[LAUGH] But anyway, Big Bill gets the
credit whether he wrote the song or not.
This is true of a lot of blues songs.
He certainly popularized it, and
its called Key to the Highway.
Now this has been done many times as well,
and a very famous version,
very influential version was done
some years later by Little Walter,
a harmonica player from Chicago,
and that's been the model for
a lot of the subsequent cover versions.
Now, Key to the Highway, how does it go?
Well in the same key.
It goes like this.
And so
on and
so on.
Great song.
Really cool the way Walter does it,
you can't miss.
That's such a classic.
So what's the difference there?
If you were listening and
following along as I was
playing you'd notice there's one
outstanding difference which is.
Right away in bar two,
it goes to the five chord.
We haven't heard that before.
That's the distinctive difference
in Key to the Highway.
What happens after that?
You got the one chord, the five chord,
then it goes to the four chord.
And from there on,
it's exactly the same as How Long Blues.
So what's kind of interesting to me, I
got to admit, I listened to both of those
songs for years before I realized
that they were almost the same song.
[LAUGH] I always thought of them
as completely different, but
that five chords really changes it up, and
it will affect of how you solo and
phrase your rhythm parts.
You really have to think about, but
if you listen to Key to the Highway, and
get the song in your head.
Again, it's very intuitive,
it's very easy to follow.
Let's play the Key to the Highway
progression one more time.
There's your five.
And your
turn around.
So, they're almost the same, but
they're just enough different that
you really have to think about it.
Now, in both cases because we're playing
eight bar blues, boy, it goes by quick.
Those are very short progressions, and so
the next thing that we're gonna tackle in
the next lesson is how to solo,
how to phrase over those progressions.
And you've just kind of got to
compact your ideas a little bit, and
think in smaller terms, but
we'll figure that out pretty quick.
So mess around with those progressions,
as always I'm saying play them in 12 keys,
be able to play the How Long progression
and the Key to the Highway progression,
they're almost the same, play them
in all 12 keys, and memorize them.
Listen to those songs.
Get the songs in your head, and
when you come back and we play solos,
you'll hear that song in the back of your
mind, that influences how you phrase.
It's a very important thing,
all right I'll see you next time.
Well, now you've got those eight bar
progressions under your fingers and
if you've listened to the songs,
then you kinda hear the vocal
structure and that's what we're
gonna lean on combination of those
two things when we start soloing.
It's very common, both in 12 bar blues,
all styles of blues to
think of solos as licks.
And yeah, they are kinda, you learn licks.
That's important,
I'm not saying it's not important.
But the reason I'm kinda hesitating
here is that if you think licks,
you play licks.
If you think melody, you play melody.
We wanna think melody and
the licks are part of the melody.
They help you construct the melody and
sorta provide the familiar basic structure
that you can use to build a melody.
So yes, we need licks, but
licks are not what it's all about.
Licks are a way to get to a melody.
[COUGH] And when we talk about a melody,
the best place to start on
a given song and this is true,
this is what jazz players do, right?
When they play over standards, they say,
well, what's the melody of the song?
In blues, it's very common, I'm guilty.
It's very common to kind
of ignore the song.
Yeah, the singer's over there yammering
about something, I don't really care.
What time's the solo?
[LAUGH] That's a bad syndrome to get
into the guitar player frame of mind.
So we wanna listen to the song,
figure out what the song's about.
If it's a good song and I'm not saying
all blues songs are masterpieces,
a lot of them are very generic.
Ordinary, they don't really
say that much by numbers.
But when you get to these classics,
like How Long Blues, Key to the Highway,
there's a reason that they've
survived their standards.
They're just great songs.
The lyrics are great images.
The performances are captivating.
Now we wanna capture those ideas and
use them to inspire us when we play these
songs, so that we respect the level of art
that went into making these things happen.
So let's take Key to
the Highway as an example.
You'd be either one obviously, but
we will take key as our basic
platform here for soloing.
You don't have to be a great singer and
I am a proof of that, right?
But I got the key,
I got the key to the highway.
[SOUND] Now the melody actually introduces
a note that we haven't talked about.
We're gonna talk about it very soon,
but it's [SOUND] the second
degree of the scale, but it turns out that
that note happens over the five chord, so
he's really singing a melody
that fits the changes.
[SOUND] Playing over the kind of
the chord tones of the four chord.
Now a while back we talked about
vocalizing, about singing
while you play and
how using your voice kinda gives
your phrases direction and
keeps your fingers from running away with
themselves and this is a classic example.
If you learn the melody, play the melody,
sing the melody as you play the melody,
you really learn how to breath
your way through that progression.
Then when you take a solo, you don't
have to play the exact same notes.
And in fact, you don't really want to,
but you want to build on that foundation.
So I got the key.
Now, it doesn't have to be
even the notes of the melody,
it's the phrasing of the rhythm.
I got the key.
So [SOUND] right?
There is a lick that follows
that same kind of structure.
I've got that key [SOUND] to the high way.
[SOUND] You get the idea, so
I'm taking the melody of the song.
The thing that makes it unique and
say, okay,
how can I use that as sort of inspiration
for how I'm going to play a solo?
Now in addition to that, of course,
we've got to be aware of the changes,
especially that five chord there.
It goes to five in bar two and so
you have to sort of instantly take
care of that difference there.
A good way to do it is aim for that five.
Aim for, in this case,
E as the kind of the center of
your melody over the five chord.
Now we're still playing blues,
it's still got a key center of A.
So you don't have to be strict
about nailing the chord tones and
doing all this sort of technical stuff.
But the more you're aware of the changes,
the more it influences your choices and
makes them feel more like they're, as tied
to their harmony as the melody is and
the melody is definitely
tied to the harmony.
They go together in a way
that makes it sound unique.
[SOUND] Okay.
What we're going to do here is I'm gonna
give you a demonstration of a solo,
an eight bar solo,
we'll call it eight ball.
Why not?
And it's gonna be over the Key
to the Highway progression.
Now the backing track
here is kind of quick.
8 bar blues goes by quick anyway and
this is 100 beats a minute and
so yeah, it's moving right along.
So as the tempo gets quicker,
the response is the phrases get simpler.
That's really the blues style is
don't try to outplay the rhythm.
Just sort of let the rhythm carry the
energy along and play in the cracks, but
I'll play a two chorus solo here.
We've talked about building a two chorus
solo, how you want the first chorus and
the second chorus to
be a little different.
You build the energy with repetition,
with dynamics, with rhythm, etc.
All the same rules apply to 8
bar as we use for 12 bar, okay?
So let me just show you an approach,
how to tackle the eight bar.
And then as you listen to recordings and
you hear different players play this song,
there are a lot of recordings out there.
It will inspire you and
give you different ideas, but
you'll know kinda where
they're coming from.
Here we go.
it old school
at the end
our dominant
seventh chord
there, coming
up from below.
[SOUND] You could just as easily end it
with the ninth chord coming down from
what was the general idea there?
I was actually thinking about
the phrasing of the melody.
I got the key, right?
[SOUND] Right?
My opening phrase [SOUND] right?
And I just sort of phrase it more
in a guitar style, I didn't try to
literally play the melody [SOUND] and
then I knew that it was going to five.
[SOUND] Bent it up that E and
used my vibrato to give
it that sort of vocal quality [SOUND] and
here's D.
[SOUND] So I emphasize the note D.
So I'm thinking harmony,
as I'm playing melody.
And I've also got the phrasing,
the vocal in the back of my mind.
then coming
up to the five
chord again.
So I'm really playing
a series of phrases that,
even though it's not obvious are built
around the same phrasing as the vocal and
I'm also leaving some space in between,
some breathing room, cuz I know I'm gonna
go for another chorus and I don't wanna
jump the gun and get going too quick.
Classic blues advice you hear all
the time is take your time, son.
Take your time.
And if you're gonna play a longer solo,
you gotta leave some room at the front,
so that you have some room at the back,
where you can really let loose.
So the first the chorus is more or
less in its own way, vocal based and
I'm combining the vocal with my knowledge
of where those notes are in the harmony.
[SOUND] And when I come up to
the second chorus, which is like, wow,
it's already here.
I played a turnaround.
Sort of a Freddie King style turnaround,
just an extension of the normal
phrasing that I'm already using and
then in the second chorus.
Sort of building up the energy
a little bit, making it sound a little
bit more driving,
I guess I would say through repetition.
Classic, classic licks.
And they just definitely carry that
energy forward, they work every time.
And then here comes the.
Now remember, the riff chords?
[COUGH] I thought, yeah, why don't I
use some of that rhythm stuff in there?
There's no reason why the melody
has to be all single notes and
the rhythm has to be all chords.
So I'm actually playing riff
chords in there in the key of A.
And remember,
we talked about how do you
play over the four chord?
Well, one way to do it
is to stay in position.
And I'm using the techniques that we
discussed there,
[SOUND] separating the fourth note or
the fourth string [SOUND] and
using the fingers on the upper strings.
[COUGH] That's a melodic rhythm style that
fits perfectly in the context of solo.
At that point,
I feel like the solos starting to peak.
So I want to hit a high note.
And then play, I think I played
a classic turnaround in there.
brought it home with
a classic ending like that.
Down home Chicago style ending.
Now, [COUGH] as I'm playing that stuff,
of course, I've done this for years.
And so I can think and reorganize my
ideas more or less spontaneously.
I've listened to that song for years.
This is very familiar stuff.
And so it might seem like I'm just
pulling ideas out of the air here and
it's all happening at once,
that's a lot of information.
A lot of information and until you listen
to the songs and you get the techniques
under your fingers and you feel
that rhythm and hear that harmony.
It's gonna be very difficult
to just sort of freeform,
throw stuff out there and
have it be locked in on the same level.
So I want you to send me a recording
of yourself playing over this
progression here, but I want you
to play it in your own style and
I want you to play it using the skills and
the ideas that you feel confident about,
that you can express yourself confidently
and you could strip it way down.
You don't have to play one tenth of
the stuff that I'm doing in terms of
the techniques and the bending,
vibrato, all that stuff.
There's another two chorus solo on Key to
the Highway and I didn't tell you up front
what I was doing, but if you played the
changes along as I played that solo there,
you'll hear that, yeah,
I'm kind of following the changes.
I'm kinda following the rhythm of the
melody and the song is in there in that
solo, even though I'm only playing on
a couple of strings, I'm not using any
particular fancy techniques pulling the
strings here and there that's about it.
But the essence of the idea is to
build the phrases in a musical way
using the tools not just
that you're working on, but
the tools you've really got,
the things you own.
And over time, you own more and more
ideas and they become part of your style.
That's how you play convincing blues,
you gradually elevate your skill level.
But if you keep your ideas and your
skills sort of in sync with each other,
that makes you a musical player
rather than a technical player and
that's what we're aiming for in blues.
All right.
Have fun with that and
I look forward to hearing what you got.