Have you ever heard someone complain that the blues has no variation? "Its always the
same 12 bars over and over?" Let me challenge you and state that the blues has as much
variations as your imagination allows it to have.
What does this mean? This means that the blues is present in so many popular music
forms and genres today that to know the blues is to know popular music. When I was
younger and my knowledge of the blues didn't go any further than those 1990"s blues
brother reissue movie, I had no clue that the blues was so much deeper than I ever could
have imagined. There is so much more than the same 12 bars over and over again.
But with MTV playing cartoons instead of music videos and an abundance of mind-clutter
today, there is hardly any way to come into contact with this steaming, hot and juicy part of
the blues. When !Walk the line", the movie that tells the story of Johnny Cash, was
released to the big public in 1995, Johnny Cash was re-introduced an enjoyed by a whole
new generation. Since B.B. King probably will be around for a couple more years and I
suppose a movie about the man is not for anytime soon I wrote this article to showcase the
deep world that the blues is made off.
Let's get started with our good old 12 bar progression. This is one off the first things most
people learn when they take guitar lessons. This is part of the reason why they wrongly
assume the blues is easy and boring.
Standard 12 bar blues
Listen here to an example of this 12 bar blues.
Ok, I admit, we want to move away as quickly as possibly from this kind of guitar playing.
It IS quite boring! But this doesn't mean we have to move away from the idea of using 12
bars to play to blues. The 12 bar progression is the backbone of the blues and it is the
basis off thousands of blues songs. So it"s quite common, but this doesn't mean it"s boring
at all. Let's take a look into some of the ways to put some variation into this 12 bar
Here we are playing the same shuffle-rhythm, but with a little variation inserted at the end
of each bar. This spices things up a little, but we should take this a little bit further I think.
Let"s incorporate some chords in this rhythm.
Now we are playing the same shuffle as above, but we insert some chords during the
rhythm. We can use any dominant 7th chord for this matter. For this sort of playing I really
love to use the 7#9 chord, as found in the last bar of the following 12 bar progression.
Take a listen to what the entire 12-bar progression would sound like:
In the following example, things are starting to get really hot! It"s the same 12 bar
progression, but we are starting at the 5th fret right now. Play this one with attitude, hit
your strings hard, they can take it!
Take a listen to a 12 bar progression played in this style.
If your having trouble with the rhythm of this example, try playing it at half speed. Simply
tap your foot to the quarter notes in the example below. If you find this a lot easier, just start
playing twice as fast and you'll get the example above.
Nowadays people seem to be forgotten that rock has deep roots in blues music. Let this
next example serve as living proof. The first bar is the same rhythm we played in the
previous examples, while in the second bar we are digging in to some syncopated
power chord riff.
Click and listen:
I hope I have given you some insight in the various ways blues guitar can be approached.
If you are interested in learning to play blues music, one of the best words off advice I
could give you is to listen to what turns you on. Go find music you like and try playing
along with the record and really listen to the music! This article is just the tip of the iceberg
and the possibility"s are endless. We can turn this 12 bar upside down with jazz-chords or
compose a rock-riff out of it. The choice is yours. Just remember, the next time someone
tells you the blues has no variation tell him the blues is present in so much variation all
around us, all the time.
Antony Reynaert is a blues guitarist and teacher based in Belguim.
He has studied with Trevor Darmody in Ireland, and is currently studying jazz-guitar, and being mentored by virtuoso Tom Hess.
He gives guitar lessons and workshops on both a national and international level.
Antony feels great joy in teaching others and helping them improve their abilities. As
founder of Guitar Training Studio, he is training students of all ages and backgrounds onthe guitar in his hometown Ostend.
He is currently working on his debut-album "Spirits in Revolution"
It is his goal in life to become the best musician he can be and to share his music with asmany people as possible!