12 Bar Blues

Structure & Variations

The 12 bar blues is one of the most popular chord progressions in popular music. Also referred to as the Blues, or blues changes, it is based on the I-IV-V chords of a key.

In its most basic form, here's how it is set up:

  • 4 bars - I chord
  • 2 bars - IV chord
  • 2 bars - I chord
  • 1 bar - V7 chord(can be V chord)
  • 1 bar - IV chord
  • 2 bars - I chord

... and it repeats over, and over again. There are MANY slight variations to this basic pattern. The most common variation starts with:

1 bar - I chord, 1 bar IV chord, 2 bars - I chord

It would be set up like this:

  • 1 bar - I chord
  • 1 bar - IV chord
  • 2 bars - I chord
  • 2 bars - IV chord
  • 2 bars - I chord
  • 1 bar - V7 chord(can be V chord)
  • 1 bar - IV chord
  • 2 bars - I chord

Hundreds of songs have been written using this chord pattern:

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Play a 12 bar blues & improvise BY EAR

Here are a couple of examples of the 12 bar blues in the key of C. 1st is the most basic pattern with a simple walking bass line.

12 bar blues

The next one has the slight variation in the chord pattern (also with a walking bass line.) This begins with 1 bar of C, then 1 bar of F, then continues through the pattern.

12 bar blues 2

Now let's "SPICE THESE UP" and make them sound a little more "BLUESY"! An easy way is to use sevenths (dominant 7ths) for all the chords (not triads.)

Also, this next example is 24 bars long - it goes through the blues pattern twice. There are examples of TURNAROUNDS in bars 11-12 and bars 23-24.

The turnaround chords are in red.

12 bar blues 3


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my minor blues - uses Cm, Ab7 & Bb7 Not rated yet
Cm/// - Ab7/// - Cm/// - //// - Ab7/// - //// - Cm/// - /// - Ab7/// - Bb7/// - Cm/// - ////

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