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Blues Guitar Lessons: 16 Bar Blues

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All right, well I hope you had
some fun with those eight bar Blues.
It's refreshing when you play 12-bar
all the time, as great as it is,
it's always the same kinda thing.
And so, changing up the chord progression
makes you think a little bit different.
And then, when you go back to
playing 12-bar you kinda hear it
a little different as well.
It's expanding your horizons.
So we're gonna keep expanding now
with another common progression.
There are really, in my opinion, three
progressions that you describe by length.
12-bar blues, 8-bar blues and this one
that we're about to look at, 16 bar blues.
And each has its variations and
subtleties and so forth.
But they're generally understood
when you say one of those numbers,
kinda what it's gonna be.
And other than that we're talking
about songs and arrangements and
things that are made up that you
have to learn as individual pieces.
But these are more generic song structures
that have been used over the years for
a popular blues songs.
So the 16-bar blues well okay, that's
two times eight, how hard could it be?
Well it isn't any harder than 12-bar or
8-bar, but it is different.
It's not just two eight-bar progressions
jammed together end to end.
It's its own unique sound.
The best known 16-bar blues song
I believe would be My Babe,
which was a song recorded by again,
Little Walter.
He's a guy I'm going to keep
mentioning harmonica player,
but represented kinda
the epitome of Chicago blues.
He came up playing in Muddy Waters
band as a very young man.
He joined up with Muddy,
I think he was still in his teens.
And had a hit record early on 1952 maybe,
more or less.
With an instrumental called Juke and
he played the harmonica in a style
that no one had ever heard before.
It was electrified through an amplifier.
He was playing saxophone live,
just like outrageous and
really represented the potential of
electricity to change the sound of blues.
And he was backed up by electric
guitar players and man,
it just was like earthshaking.
And it made him a star right away.
And he became one of the biggest
selling artists on Chess Records,
which was the biggest label in Chicago.
And this was one of his biggest hits, My
Babe, which he recorded a few years later.
The songwriter that gets the credit is
Willie Dixon, who was a legendary bass
player, producer, all around musician
associated with Chess Records as well.
Now, Willie Dixon got the idea,
in all honesty,
from a singer named Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
When I talk about blues guitar,
I'm always saying the guys do this, and
these guys over here.
And it's true,
almost all of the famous blues musicians
were men, that's not a doubt about that.
But there are a couple of women in the
history of blues who have been extremely
powerful and influential figures.
Guitar players specifically.
Talking about Memphis Mini
who had a strong career
of her own in the 1930s, 40s.
And even better known,
Sister Rosetta Tharp.
And Sister Rosetta was a Gospel
singer who played guitar and
she really rocked it, boy.
She became well known
as a very young woman.
As a singer, singing gospel, and then she
switched over and sang more pop songs.
And went back and forth, but
she was extremely influential,
very well known and
a really powerful guitar player.
You can still see videos of
her playing electric guitar.
It's some knockout stuff.
Highly recommended.
But one of her best known
songs was called, This Train.
And it followed the same exact format
as My Babe, almost down to the beat.
So the change was in the lyrics.
And this is very common in blues.
Where you get artists that cross over
from gospel to blues and back again.
Some famous examples would be Sam Cooke,
wasn't really a blues singer,
but he was a gospel singer and sang pop.
He left the church and sang pop.
Sister Rosetta sang pop music.
Little Richard famously went back and
Jerry Lee Lewis,
all these figures in the history of blues.
Son House going back a generation.
So, the crossover between blues and
gospel, it's very porous.
Musically speaking it's hard to tell
the difference between blues and gospel.
They use the same melodic and
rhythmic figures much of the time.
The gigantic difference
is in the lyric content.
In Gospel you're singing to the lord,
you're singing about salvation.
Blues as we know is
a little bit different.
So that's what happened with this song,
is This Train,
which is talking about taking
the train to the promise land,
which changed into My Babe,
talking about that girl.
So we'll play it as My Babe
in the blues tradition.
And what make it 16-bar blues?
Well, the standard format
will be something like this.
And we'll count it, but again, you gotta
learn the songs cuz you don't wanna be
counting bars when you're playing music.
So it'll go something like this.
And I'll sorta croak out the lyrics for
you here so you can hear it as well.
So in the key of F.
Why not?
Let's try a new key down here, key of F.
Same rhythm patterns apply
as we've been using already.
So start with the F chord, play along with
me, play the boogie shuffle pattern and
get comfortable.
Here we go one,
two, three
staying on the one
the five
That starts the second verse.
Now, I threw an extra chord in there.
16-bar blues that like 8-bar,
and like 12-bar,
they're variations that
depend on the song.
So same three chords, but sometimes
people will throw in a five chord over
here instead of over there or they won't.
So that's where you listen, you learn, and
you just follow the bass
player in the end.
That's always gonna be your clue.
So, if you were counting or
attempting to count,
you would have found that there's
a long time on that one chord.
Let's count it out, so
you can really see how it works.
Okay, so 16-bar blues from the one,
two, three, four.
One, two, three, four,
five, six, now change to five,
seven, eight, back to one, nine, ten.
Now the four chord, 11, 12,
back to 1, 13, 14, 15,
16, start it over again, 1.
Now, at the end we expect there
to be a turn around, some way to
mark the end of the progression and set
us up to go back to the beginning again.
Not necessarily.
And in this case, the My Babe arrangement,
they don't go back to the five
chord again at the end.
So, that's a long time on one, and you can
easily get lost unless you know the song.
In which case it's like, well,
yeah obviously you're staying on the one
because you can hear that lyric and
the way it's phrased against the beat.
So, listen to My Babe,
learn My Babe, play My Babe and then
put it together over the chord progression
that I've got arranged for you here.
This is a 16-bar shuffle in F.
Now before we play it, I'm going to
show you two little rhythm patterns.
One of the things that made My Babe
such a hit was that it had such a cool
rhythm sound.
Little Walter sang great,
he played great harp, but
the rhythm patterns that the guitar
players played were very cool.
I wish I can tell you
definitively who played on this,
different names come up,
Robert Lockwood, David Lewis Meyers,
I really don't know, but
whoever it was doing their job.
One of the parts is built
around the riff chord
There I'm using the pick and the fingers,
in the style I described earlier.
Now that's three two bar phrases, and
then I go to the five chord
And play that same two bar phrase,
based on the five, which
is C in the key of F and then back to
Now in the My Babe arrangement they
stop and the singer sings you know,
the little Walter sings through the break,
we'll keep going
four [MUSIC] back to
the one
and on the one.
Now it starts again
And so on.
So if you don't know the song,
you can easily get lost in trying to
count how many phrases there are.
Was that four or five?
Aah, you know.
So if you know the song, no problem.
Now while that's playing there's a second
rhythm part which is on the bass strings.
And it goes like this.
Right now there's F,
first fret, sixth string open A.
And then up in half steps [SOUND] to C.
Now, stylistically,
what I'm doing here is I'm muting,
palm muting [SOUND] with my picking hand,
I'm using the flat pick.
Now what I'm doing is I'm playing
the note, fingering the note,
then I'm releasing the pressure.
[SOUND] And on the up stroke of the pick,
it's deadened.
So you don't hear the pitch,
you just hear the percussion.
Now when you play it faster,
you get it why I do that.
Sounds like there's a tape delay on there,
some kinda echo, but
its really just a pick technique.
Now I use the same lick
on the five chord C
Same exact lick just transposed to C
And for our purposes we'll
do the same lick on B-flat.
And repeat.
And so on,
all the way through the rest
of the progression.
Okay, we're gonna roll the track now and
it's two choruses of 16 bar,
lasts for a long time.
Opposite of 8-bar, which is so
short, 16-bar stretches out.
So I'll show you how each of those
rhythm parts fits over the track and
you can play along with me.
Okay, here we go.
Four chord.
Start it again.
Four chord.
Then we just make up an ending there.
Now, at the end of the progression
you kinda wanna hear that five chord.
And the bass player, on the track,
is implying the five chord
while playing the walking line.
Right, so you kinda hear it.
You can imagine that
the five chord would fit.
This is one of those judgement calls
as your playing rhythm you can
use that chord or not use that chord.
But you really depend on the bass
player to tell you if it's appropriate.
I don't wanna be too vague about it, but
that's the reality of the situation
is that you follow the bass.
And in certain cases
in blues progressions,
you hear the bass suggest
a chord that may or
may not really be like the official chord,
but you can kinda hear it.
And often the arrangements
are kinda fluid,
in that the five chord
appears in different places.
Where you wouldn't necessarily expect it.
Or in this case, you would expect it,
but it's not really there.
It's just sorta lurking in the background.
So long story short don't worry about it
just play that same pattern over the one
chord all the way through and you got it.
All right, learn that progression,
listen to My Babe.
Sing it get comfortable
with the feel of it and
all those bars that
you've spending on one.
And we'll come back and
talk about soloing.
Now that you have the My Babe 16
bar form under your belt, let's talk
about how to phrase on a 16 bar blues.
Now, what's working in our favor
is that 16 bars is 8 times 2.
And we know how to play two bar phrases.
And we've assembled plenty of 12
bar solos out of two bar phrases.
However, in this case, the chord changes
don't follow the same pattern, and
you're on the one chord for six bars,
and then you go to the five chord.
It's really different than the 12 bar
form, or the 8 bar form, for that matter.
So you have to think a little
different and again, the saving grace,
when you're trying to develop ideas over
a progression like this, is the song.
You're playing a song and if you think
about My Babe in the back of your mind,
you can use that as a way
to organize your phrases so
that you don't just feel like
you're endlessly churning licks and
sort of getting lost in the shuffle there
and where am I, that was the, I missed it.
So thinking about.
All right, that's pretty
much the melody right up, right.
Now, I'm using some little phrasing
techniques that we've talked about
using the bare finger hybrid technique,
pick finger, snapping the note,
I'm getting a little fingernail in there.
Now, another way of phrasing that we're
gonna come back to this and
talk in more detail,
[COUGH] especially as the solo is
longer and you're filling more time,
is that you kinda create a little call and
response with yourself.
Now, I'm playing rhythm
and there's a solo going on over the top,
okay, right?
The solo is ideally
responding to my rhythm.
They're hearing my rhythm
in the background.
And they're using my rhythm to
kind of bounce off of, right.
That's what rhythm is supposed to do
is create that sort of foundation for
the phrasing.
So, I can use the same idea in my solo.
I can, in other words, play a melody line
and then play my own rhythm part.
I know how that part works.
And when I integrated into the solo,
I create my own little call and response,
you know, I'm having a conversation
with myself, as it were.
And then,
Now, not every time do
you have to do that, but
the idea is that it's available to you.
If you're looking for a phrase, and
you can't think of another melody,
that's a good way to kinda go back and
It also allows you to build the solo,
keep it more relaxed at the beginning.
And then you open up as you go along.
So, what else was I gonna say here?
I don't think there's anything really,
technically, to add to the story.
We know all of the ways of
approaching one, four, and five.
And we're still playing in one position.
This is amazing.
I gotta keep reminding myself, we're
doing all this stuff within basically
one octave, plus a note or
two on either end.
And there's plenty going on, right.
That kind of reveals
the essence of the blues thing.
It isn't how much you play, or
how wide you go, it's how deep you go.
So we keep going deeper into
those same notes there, and
adding little embellishments to them and
so on, and you have a fully fleshed out
solo without ever going up the neck.
But in this case, we're playing two
choruses, I'm gonna throw something
a little different in there, and
then we'll talk about it afterwards.
So let me show you an example of how
to phrase over the 16 bar progression.
We'll call this number 16 train, right?
Real blues style.
[SOUND] Here we go.
Let's talk a little bit.
I started it off with the same
idea that I showed you earlier,
which is really echoing the melody.
Answered myself.
Played the melody again.
Fill in
a little bit.
Or notes to that effect.
Now, the second chorus is coming up.
And one thing we haven't talked about
is a way of creating excitement,
which is so obvious I probably
didn't even need to say it,
but heck, go up an octave and
start playing high notes, you know?
[LAUGH] Now one thing I notice
with guys that I've taught
over the years is that the tendency among
guitar players is whatever key you're in,
it's to start at the highest fret possible
at all times, you know what I mean?
It's a common thing.
You just want to be up there all the time.
Well, in blues, we don't wanna do that
because you're getting there too soon.
You're not taking your time.
So, we start in the low frets, and in the
key of F that might feel uncomfortable.
You're sort of bumping up against the nut
and it's an unfamiliar key and all that.
But it's a cool sound.
Using the low strings and the lower
register is a little bit different,
and it makes you sound like you
have more personality, right?
Plus when you go to the second
chorus it sounds really exciting.
If I played the whole thing up
in the 13th fret, you know,
it'd be like, okay after a while
I've heard that already,
but when I launch the second chorus at the
13th fret, it's like, wow, yeah, you know.
So I finished the first
chorus off,
Went right up there and
just nailed the high note.
Now, in all honesty,
I was thinking Albert King.
And we're gonna talk about
Albert King more later,
he's such an influential figure and I've
studied Albert King as almost every other
blues guitar player has and
sort of learned my versions of his licks.
So I was thinking, man, that Albert King
lick works perfect in there.
Now, that's a little bit different take
on phrasing through the pentatonic.
What I did at the end there was use my
finger and roll over from the fourth
string to the fifth string.
Familiar technique, but I'm applying
it in a slightly different spot.
very Albert King style.
He would play those phrases all the time.
Right, that's a little tricky,
because I bend on the third string,
go up to the first string, and
then I gotta reach right back
to the third string again.
So, I'm using my first
finger on the first string,
[SOUND] second finger on the third string.
All the time, when you play these phrases,
you have to adapt,
you have to sort of make up fingerings.
They may not be the most efficient
according to the book, but
they get you to the end result you want.
So, I don't really care what finger
I use As long as I can hit that note.
And then.
So I bend way up there to that high note.
then I did what you could call a trill.
a trill is really doing that multiple
times but what I did was
a quick hammer on, pull off.
I'm using my third finger cuz
I want that extra strength.
Now, there I used a partial bend,
it was a little different
way of phrasing the bend.
I used a whole step.
And then I only released it a half step.
In other words,
just put a little different spin on it.
No reason to do that other than I like it.
Now, all those phrases
are similar to what I was playing
in the first position.
I'm kinda echoing
the phrasing in the melody.
And then bring it home finally at the end
by playing those chords and
matching the band,
always a good way to kinda knock out
the ending is just bring it back
to the rhythm section,
sounds very authoritative, and final.
You know what I mean?
So, two chorus solo there with a lot going
on, there's a lot of technique involved.
Playing Albert King's style, which as we
will explore later, it's very challenging,
because he plays relatively few notes,
but they're very precise, and
you have to be really on your game.
That's where the grip, that solid,
solid fingering on the neck,
really makes a difference.
So we'll spend some time with that.
But what I would like you to do
now is record a 16 bar solo, and
make it a two chorus solo,
that's really gonna stretch out.
It'll test your ability to think of ideas.
But start low, end high.
And show me how you're
thinking over the 16 bar.
How do you organize your ideas when
you've got so much time to fill?
It's a real challenge,
it's a different kind of challenge
than you get with the eight bar.
But it's part of playing blues and
it opens up a new variety of ideas and
phrases that you'll be able to use for
the rest of your life as long as you play.
Okay, so send me your stuff and
give me a listen.
All right, see you later.