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Encyclopedia > Twelve bar blues

The 12-bar blues has a distinctive form in both lyrics and chord structure. Most commonly, lyrics are in three lines, with the first two lines almost the same with slight differences in phrasing and interjections:

I hate to see the evening sun go down,
Yes, I hate to see that evening sun go down
'Cause it makes me think I'm on my last go 'round
W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues"

The chord progression is simple to identify after some study and attention as it rises and falls in a regular and very familiar pattern. W.C. Handy photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941 William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 - March 28, 1958) was an African American blues composer, often known as The Father of the Blues. ... St. ...

A basic example of the progression would look like this, using T to indicate the tonic, S for the subdominant, and D for the dominant, and representing one chord per measure: The tonic is the first note of a musical scale, and in the tonal method of music composition it is extremely important. ... In music, the subdominant is the technical name for the fourth degree of the scale. ... In music, the dominant is the fifth degree of the scale. ... Fingering for a first position C major chord on a guitar. ...

 T T T T S S T T D S T T 

The tonic is also called the 1-chord, the sub-dominant, the 4-chord, and the dominant, the 5-chord. These three chords are the basis of thousands more pop songs which thus often have a blue sound even without using the classical 12-bar form. Depending on context, pop music is either an abbreviation of popular music or, more recently, a term for a sub-genre of it. ...

Hence it can be written as:

 1 1 1 1 4 4 1 1 5 4 1 1 

The first line takes 16 quarter note beats (4 measures X 4 beats), as do the remaining two lines (for a total of 48 beats and 12 measures). However, the vocal or lead phrases, though they often come in threes, do not coincide with the above three lines or sections. This overlap between the grouping of the accompaniment and the vocal is part of what creates interest in the twelve bar blues. In music a phrase is a section of music that is relatively self contained and coherent over a medium time scale. ...

Many variations are possible. For instance, seventh chords are often used just before a change, and more changes can be added. A more complicated example might look like this, where "7" indicates a seventh chord: A seventh chord is a chord consisting of a triad plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chords root. ...

 T S T T7 S S7 T T7 D S T D7 

When the last bar contains the dominant, that bar can be called a turnaround. Jargon used in the chemical manufacturing and petroleum refining industries. ...

There are also minor 12-bar blues, such as Big Bill Broonzy's "Why Don't You Do Right?". Big Bill Broonzy (1893 or 1898-1958) was a prolific United States composer, recorder and performer of blues songs. ... Why Dont You Do Right? is Peggy Lees first hit song, recorded July 27, 1942 in New York with Benny Goodman. ...

Finally, here is an example showing the pattern in the key of D, and how it fits with the lyrics of a given verse. One chord symbol is used per beat, with "-" representing the continuation of the previous chord:

 D - - - Woke up this morning with an G - - - D - - - D7 - - - awful aching head G - - - Woke up this morning with an G7 - - - D - - - D7 - - - awful aching head A - - A7 My new man had left me G - - G7 D - - - D - A A7 just a room and an empty bed. 
From Bessie Smith's "Empty Bed Blues".

While the blues is most often considered to be in sectional strophic form with a verse-refrain pattern, it may also be considered as an extension of the variational chaconne procedure. Van der Merwe (1989) considers it developed in part specifically from the American Gregory Walker though the conventional account would consider hymns as the provider of the blues repeating chord progression or harmonic formulae (Middleton 1990, p.117-8). Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) is largely regarded as the most popular and successful blues singer of 1920s and 1930s, and by some as the most influential performer in blues history. ... Strophic form, or chorus form, is a sectional and/or additive way of structuring a piece of music based on the repetition of one formal section or block played repeatedly. ... Verse is a writing that uses meter as its primary organisational mode, as opposed to prose, which uses grammatical and discoursal units like sentences and paragraphs. ... A refrain (from the Old French refraindre to repeat, likely from Vulgar Latin refringere) is the line or lines that are repeated in music or in verse; the chorus of a song. ... In music a chaconne is a musical form. ... The Gregory Walker or passamezzo moderno (modern half step, also quadran, quadrant, quadro pavan) was one of the most popular harmonic formulae in the Renaissance period, divides into two complementary strains thus: I|IV|I|V|| I|IV|I-V|I|| (Middleton 1990, p. ...

Other progressions include the basic jazz blues progression:

 I7 /IV7 /I7 /v7 I7 IV7 /VII7 /I7 /iii7 VI7 ii7 /V7 /I7-VI7 /ii7 C7 


"Twelve-bar" oddities

  • "St. Louis Blues" is unusual in having a bridge, the famous habanera that gave us "the Spanish tinge".
  • Eccentric boogie woogie pianist, Cripple Clarence Lofton frequently truncated the chord continuation, ending up with some verses at nine, ten, or eleven bars.
  • The blue yodels of Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakemen, are usually of twelve bars, including the repeated first line, but the three lines of lyrics are delivered across the first eight bars, with Rodgers' trademark yodeling obligatto filling the last four lines.
  • Chuck Berry's "Oh Carol" is a 24-bar blues, with each line doubled in length by the addition of a guitar lick after the vocal part.

The habanera is a musical style or genre from Cuba with a characteristic Habanera rhythm; it is one of the oldest mainstays of Cuban music and the first of the dances from Cuba to be exported all over the world. ... Boogie woogie has two different meanings: a piano based music style, boogie woogie (music) a dance that imitates the rocknroll of the 50s, boogie woogie (dance) This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Biography Cripple Clarence Lofton, was born Albert Clemens on January 9th, in Kingsport, Tennessee Though he was born with a limp (from which he derived his trade-mark name), Clarence actually started his career as a tap-dancer. ... Jimmie Rodgers was the name of two singers: Jimmie Rodgers (country singer) Jimmie Rodgers (pop singer) Jimmie Rodgers (SPC Deputy Director General) Note that there was also a Jimmy Rogers (note the spelling), a blues singer born in 1924. ... There are several uses of the term Yodel: Yodeling, a form of singing Yodels, a cream-filled cake make by Drakes This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Charles Edward Anderson Chuck Berry (born October 18, 1926) is an American guitarist, singer, and song writer. ...

See also

An eight bar blues is a typical blues chord progression, taking eight 4/4 bars to the verse. ... The thirty-two-bar form, often shortened to AABA, is a musical form common in Tin Pan Alley songs, later popular music including rock and pop music, and jazz, though there were few instances of it in any type of popular music until the late teens, it became the principal... The blues ballad synthesizes blues feeling and attitudes (using the blues scale and chord progressions) with the conventional 32-bar popular song from Tin Pan Alley. ... The Talking blues was a style of rhythmic speech or near-speech where the melody is free but the rhythm is strict. ...


  • Covach, John. "Form in Rock Music: A Primer", in Stein, Deborah (2005). Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517010-5.
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Van der Merwe, P. (1989). Origins of the Popular Style. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4. Cited in Middleton (1990).

External links

  • Marc Sabatella's Jazz Improvisation Primer.

  Results from FactBites:
Twelve Bar Blues, by Patrick Neate, published by Penguin, won the 2001 Whitbread Novel award. (1160 words)
Twelve Bar Blues, by Patrick Neate, published by Penguin, won the 2001 Whitbread Novel award.
Neate's background as a music journalist adds credibility to his vivid portrayal of the early jazz and blues scene - the buzz from the the crowded, steamy honky-tonk dance floors is pretty vivid.
Cleverly written, the book is structured around the simple musical pattern of the 'twelve bar blues', with each of the different stories playing either the tonic, dominant or subdominant harmonies.
blues: Definition, Synonyms and Much More from Answers.com (5668 words)
The use of blue notes and the prominence of call-and-response patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of the blues' West African pedigree.
Blues performances were organized by the Theater Owners Bookers Association in nightclubs such as the Cotton Club, and juke joints, such as the bars along Beale Street in Memphis.
Jefferson was one of the few country blues performers to record widely, and may have been the first to record the slide guitar style, in which a guitar is fretted with a knife blade or the sawed-off neck of a bottle.
  More results at FactBites »



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