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Study of a 12 Bar Blues Progression

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Here is a post about musical phrase patterns in a

song. We're going to be using a 12 bar verse.

First, I'm sure all of us are familiar with the

traditonal blues 12 bar phrase pattern.

It can be thought of as 3 phrases, each 4 bars in

length. The first and second phrase often use the

same lyric with a variation of the melody. The 3rd

phrase sort of

winds up the melody.

Also note that each 4 bar phrase is 2 bars of melody, with bars 3 and 4 just chording.

Such as:




There are obviously countless progression variations for this.

Phrase 1:

Boy I really feel so bad today

Phrase 2:

Man, I mean I REALLY feel bad today

Phrase 3:

I feel so bad, I think I'll take 2 aspirins

Listen to Rober Johnson here. He adds a few bars

here and there. But the basic form is clear.

Here is a another 12 bar verse musical phrase pattern.





An example form Garth Brooks:


Yeah she's my lady luck hey I'm her wild card man


Together we're buildin' up a real hot hand


We live out in the country, hey she's my little queen of the south


Yeah we're two of a kind, working on a full house

Note that the 1st 2 phrases are 2 bars in length and rhyme.

The 3rd and 4th phrases are 4 bars in length, with the first 2 bars of each phrase containing melody.

It's best just to listen to some songs to hear how

the phrase pattern works in a few songs.

Listen Here:

Two of A Kind Working On A Full House - Garth



Other examples:

I'm Into Something Good - Herman's Hermits


In The Summertime - Mungo Jerry

Sombody Like You - Kieth Urban


Just some examples of how some common

musical/lyric patterns are used in songwriting.

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It's an interesting illustration of how the same rhythmic template can be used differently in different genres.

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Hullo Yukon,

Man I just love the blues. I remember when learning guitar, I just wanted to play the blues over and over, all night long. I started getting beat up by the guys though. I guess they didn't share my appreciation for it. Blues- the roots of rock, man...


I totally like that you're giving kudos and digging into the early masters also. They should not be forgotten. I think I like the blues so much because of the feeling and emotions. You can hear it in the VOX and in the guitars. Hat's off to you for going down this road man. I thoroughly enjoyed it.



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It's amazing what you can do with just a few chords. Skilled blues players take such a simple thing and put so much emotion and embellishment on it. It's neat to hear.

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Blues is one of our basic song-writing food-groups.

And the aspect from which I think I have personally most benefited is the nature of its harmonic evolution and development.

After sketching out the basic 12-bar skeleton (4 bars of the I chord, 2 bars of the IV chord, 2 bars of the I chord, 2 bars of the V chord, 2 bars of the I chord), Yukon said "There are obviously countless progression variations for this" but without any indication of what these progression variations might be. So the topic didn't really get very far at all.

Now, for me, there doesn't seem to be one single sniff of "obviousness" to the variations unless we have a firm grip on the lever of some theory.

And my own grasp of the theory lever was helped enormously by taking a good look at how those only hinted-at variations actually developed across the years.

Now we have a dedicated department, and a new technical facility for uploading images of charts and tables and sketches and such, if anyone is vaguely interested in knowing more about this blues stuff (and finding relief from the ploddingly repetitive musical boredom of 4 bars of the I chord, for example) I am willing to take a swing at sharing what I learned about these harmonic variations and how they come about.

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Sounds good Lazz, if you're willing to impart your knowledge and wisdom, I'm willing to listen, maybe you could do a quick refresher of the basics to start.

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