Getting Started with the 12 Bar Blues
Hello, all. Welcome to the introduction to the Twelve-Bar Blues. Whilst there are many blues songs that follow alternative formats and arrangements, by far the most popular – and probably the most recognisable to our ears – is the format known as the Twelve-Bar Blues.
This song-structure is rather unsurprisingly built around a repeating series of twelve bars, each of which comfortably resolves before the beginning of the next twelve bars. Let’s take a look at the Twelve-Bar format, which will help you analyse the song I’ve chosen as an example later on.
We will use the key of E, which is made up of the following seven chords:
|(major)||(minor)||(minor)||(major)||(major)||(minor)||(minor flat 5)|
As a handy tip, it’s worth noting that all major keys are made up of the above format. If you ever want to know what chords are in a particular key then follow the “major – minor – minor – major – major – minor – minor b5” format and you’ll get it right each time.
Although some of the above chords might look a bit daunting, the good news is the Twelve-Bar Blues only requires we use chords 1, 4, and 5, which in our chosen key of E are E, A, and B. However, to make them sound a bit more “bluesy” we are going to add a little flavour and use chords A7 and B7 from time to time.
If you’re not familiar with the A7 and B7 chords then this is a wonderful opportunity to add them to your repertoire. I have included chord diagrams at the bottom of the page of what I think are the simplest examples of each and they sound great.
Listed below are the 12 bars, and the chords you will play for each bar:
Example Song – Before You Accuse Me
So, let’s take a look at a live example of the Twelve-Bar Blues by listening to Eric Clapton. Go to your favourite music source (Vinyl, CD, iPod, youTube, Spotify, etc) and find the song Before You Accuse Me. If possible, try and find the acoustic version from his fabulous Unplugged album.
This song is also in the key of E and is a perfect example of a Twelve-Bar Blues. As with all types of music, what I have shown you above is a guide rather than a hard and fast rule and Eric has chosen to substitute the E chords that make up Bar 2 above, with A chords instead. This works extremely well, as you’ll see. The first verse of the songs is as follows:
Listen to the song as many times as possible and try to get to a stage where you can play along. As always, the main object is to learn something new and have fun. My chord examples are below in the order of E, A, A7, and B7. Have a great time and I’ll see you again soon.