Eight-bar blues

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One boogie woogie bassline for 8-bar blues progression in C, chord roots in red. audio speaker iconPlay 

In music, an eight-bar blues is a common blues chord progression. Music writers have described it as "the second most common blues form"[1] being "common to folk, rock, and jazz forms of the blues".[2] It is often notated in 4
or 12
time with eight bars to the verse.


Early examples of eight-bar blues standards include:

One variant using this progression is to couple one eight-bar blues melody with a different eight-bar blues bridge to create a blues variant of the standard 32-bar song:[8] "I Want a Little Girl" (T-Bone Walker) and "Great Balls of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis)([9]

Eight bar blues progressions have more variations than the more rigidly defined twelve bar format. The move to the IV chord usually happens at bar 3 (as opposed to 5 in twelve bar); however, "the I chord moving to the V chord right away, in the second measure, is a characteristic of the eight-bar blues."[1]

In the following examples each box represents a 'bar' of music (the specific time signature is not relevant). The chord in the box is played for the full bar. If two chords are in the box they are each played for half a bar, etc. The chords are represented as scale degrees in Roman numeral analysis. Roman numerals are used so the musician may understand the progression of the chords regardless of the key it is played in.

Eight-bar blues[10]
I V7 IV7 IV7
I V7  IV7 I V7
audio speaker iconPlay eight bar blues in C 

"Worried Life Blues" (probably the most common eight bar blues progression):

audio speaker iconPlay eight bar blues progression in C 

"Heartbreak Hotel" (variation with the I on the first half):


J. B. Lenoir's "Slow Down"[11] and "Key to the Highway" (variation with the V at bar 2):

I7 V7 IV7 IV7
I7 V7 I7 V7

"Get a Haircut" by George Thorogood (simple progression):


Jimmy Rogers' "Walkin' By Myself"[11] (somewhat unorthodox example of the form):

I7 I7 I7 I7
IV7 V7 I7 V7

Howlin Wolf's version of "Sitting on Top of the World" is actually a 9 bar blues that adds an extra "V" chord at the end of the progression. The song uses movement between major and dominant 7th and major and minor fourth:

I I7 IV iv
I7 V I7 IV I7 V

The first four bar progression used by Wolf is also used in Nina Simone's 1965 version of "Trouble in Mind", but with a more uptempo beat than "Sitting on Top of the World":

I I7 IV iv
I VI7 ii V I IV I V

The progression may be created by dropping the first four bars from the twelve-bar blues, as in the solo section of Bonnie Raitt's "Love Me Like a Man" and Buddy Guy's "Mary Had a Little Lamb":[13]

IV7 IV7 I7 I7
V7 IV7 I7 V7

There are at least a few very successful songs using somewhat unusual chord progressions as well. For example, the song "Ain't Nobody's Business" as performed by Freddie King at least, uses a I–III–IV–iv progression in each of the first four bars. The same four bar progression is used by the band Radiohead to make up the bulk of the song "Creep".

I vi ii V7

The same chord progression can also be called a sixteen-bar blues, if each symbol above is taken to be a half note in 2
or 4
time. Examples are "Nine Pound Hammer"[6] and Ray Charles's original instrumental "Sweet Sixteen Bars".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Riker, Wayne (1994). Complete Blues Guitar Method: Mastering Blues Guitar. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-7390-0408-1.
  2. ^ Barrett, David (2000). Blues Harmonica Jam Tracks & Soloing Concepts #1. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7866-5653-0.
  3. ^ a b c Hal Leonard (1995). The Blues. Hal Leonard. pp. 210–212, 224–225, 160–161. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1.
  4. ^ "8 bar blues Leroy Carr". Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  5. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "It Hurts Me Too". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 445. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  6. ^ a b James, Steve (2001). Inside Blues Guitar, p.18. ISBN 978-1-890490-36-2.
  7. ^ "Eight-bar blues Big Maceo". Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  8. ^ Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day, Music Theory For Dummies (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 244. ISBN 111805444X
  9. ^ Form in Rock Music: A Primer, p. 70.
  10. ^ Alfred Publishing (2002). Beginning Delta Blues Guitar, p.41. ISBN 978-0-7390-3006-6.
  11. ^ a b David Barrett, John Garcia (2008). Improvising Blues Harmonica, p.50. ISBN 978-0-7866-7321-6.
  12. ^ Barrett, David (2006). Blues Harmonica Play-along Trax, p.16. ISBN 978-0-7866-7393-3.
  13. ^ Riker (1994), p.92.