Introduction to 12 Bar Blues

For those who don’t know, this is how 12 bar blues works (or at least it’s how I play it). You use the same chord progression, and the chords you play change depending on what key you’ve decided to play in. It goes like this:

I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I V

And then it starts again at the beginning.

That reads as:
 – 4 counts of the first chord
 – 2 counts of the fourth chord, 2 counts of the first chord
 – 1 count of the fifth chord, 1 count of the fourth chord, 1 count of the first chord, and 1 count of the fifth chord to finish it off.

On Saturday, we were playing blues in A. So the progression went:

A A A A
D D A A
E D A E

As Jay was saying, you can make all or any of those chords 7s (which sound nice and bluesy). So most of us were playing A, D and E7 – but you could also play A7, D7, and E7, or any combination of those.

[Just a reminder to beginners about chords that are 7s - for example, if a song goes from C to C7 and back to C, if you find that too difficult you can just ignore the C7 and play C all the way through. It reduces your chord changes, and will sound just fine.]

By way of example, if at the next meeting we decide to play blues in C, the progression would go:

C C C C
F F C C
G F C G

You repeat the progression over and over again, until a) you get sick of it, or b) your fingers hurt too much to play any more. And then over each couple of progressions, someone gets a chance to improvise a solo. Or if you don’t want to solo on the ukulele, you could do some improvised singing (I know all you choir members are good at that).

Some of the great things about 12 bar blues are:

  1. repeating the same chords over and over is a good way to practice smooth chord changes;
  2. it helps you work on your strumming;
  3. it gives you the chance to listen to everyone else, and hear how the sound you’re making mixes together;
  4. it helps you practice timing, and learning to hear where the next chord change will be coming up (hot tip – listen to the bass!);
  5. playing the same progression in different keys helps you learn what chords are in each key; and
  6. it gives everyone the chance to have a solo (or you can just keep playing the chords, if you prefer).
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