The twelve-bar blues or blues changes is one of the most prominent chord progressions in popular music. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics, phrase, chord structure, and duration. In its basic form, it is predominantly based on the I, IV, and V chords of a key.
In the key of C, one basic blues progression (E from above) is as follows. (For the most commonly used patterns see the section "Variations", below.)
Chords may be also represented by a few different notation systems such as sheet music and electronic music. 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. In Roman numeral analysis the tonic is called the I, the sub-dominant the IV, and the dominant the V. (These three chords are the basis of thousands of pop songs, which thus often have a blues sound even without using the classical twelve-bar form.)
Using said notations, the chord progression outlined above can be represented as follows.
The first line takes four bars, as do the remaining two lines, for a total of twelve bars. 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.
"W.C. Handy, 'the Father of the Blues', codified this blues form to help musicians communicate chord changes." Many variations are possible. The length of sections may be varied to create eight-bar blues or sixteen-bar blues.
In the original form, the dominant chord continued through the tenth bar; later on the V–IV–I–I "shuffle blues" pattern became standard in the third set of four bars:
The common quick to four or quick-change (quick four) variation uses the subdominant chord in the second bar:
These variations are not mutually exclusive; the rules for generating them may be combined with one another (or with others not listed) to generate more complex variations.
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:
Using a seventh chord I IV I I7 IV IV7 I I7 V IV I V7
Basic jazz blues progression I7 IV7 ♯IVo I7 v7 I7 IV7 IVo I7 III7 VI7 ii7 V7 III7 VI7 II7 V7
In jazz, twelve-bar blues progressions are expanded with moving substitutions and chordal variations. The cadence (or last four measures) uniquely leads to the root by perfect intervals of fourths.
The Bebop blues:
This progression is similar to Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time", "Billie's Bounce", Sonny Rollins's "Tenor Madness", and many other bop tunes. "It is a bop soloist's cliche to arpeggiate this chord [A7♭9 (V/ii = VI7♭9)] from the 3 up to the ♭9."
There are also minor twelve-bar blues, such as John Coltrane's "Equinox" and "Mr. P.C.", and "Why Don't You Do Right?", made famous by Lil Green with Big Bill Broonzy and then Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The chord on the fifth scale degree may be major (V7) or minor (v7), in which case it fits a dorian scale along with the minor i7 and iv7 chords, creating a modal feeling. Major and minor can also be mixed together, a signature characteristic of the music of Charles Brown.
While the blues is most often considered to be in sectional strophic form with a verse-chorus 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 to have provided the repeating chord progression or harmonic formulae of the blues.
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The lyrics of most blues songs consist of verses of three lines, of which the first two are the same or vary slightly in wording, often with an interjection in the second line:
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
However, many songs using the blues chord progression have lyrics that are not in the three-line form. For instance, "I'm Moving On" has a verse in the first four bars and a chorus in the final eight bars:
That big eight-wheeler rollin' down the track
Means your true lovin' daddy ain't comin' back.
I'm movin' on, I'll soon be gone
You were flyin' too high for my little old sky
So I'm movin' on.
Here is an example showing the twelve-bar blues pattern 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:
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I - - - IV - - - I - - - I7 - - - Woke up this morning with an awful aching head IV - - - IV7 - - - I - - - I7 - - - Woke up this morning with an awful aching head V - - V7 IV - - IV7 I - - - I - V V7 My new man had left me, just a room and an empty bed.
— Bessie Smith, "Empty Bed Blues"
Line Pickup Measure 1 Measure 2 Measure 3 Measure 4 1 Deep B♭ (I) down in Lou'siana, close to B♭ (I) New Orleans, way B♭ (I) back up in the woods among the B♭ (I) evergreens, 2 There E♭ (IV) stood a log cabin, made from E♭ (IV) earth and wood, where B♭ (I) lived a country boy named B♭ (I) Johnny B. Goode. 3 He F (V) never really learned to read or F7 (V7) write too well, but he could B♭ (I) play a guitar just like a- B♭ (I) -ringin' a bell.
Examples of songs
The twelve-bar blues chord progression is the basis of thousands of songs. Most songs by blues genre-related artists, including boogie-woogie, jump blues, and various regional blues styles use the twelve bar format (more than half of the songs on the List of blues standards were originally or have been standardized to a twelve-bar I–IV–V format
- "Rock Around the Clock" – Bill Haley & His Comets (1954 & 1955)
- "Shake, Rattle and Roll" – Big Joe Turner (1954)
- "Tutti Frutti" – Little Richard (1955)
- "What'd I Say" – Ray Charles (1959)
- "Wipeout" – The Surfaris (1963)
- "I Got You (I Feel Good)" – James Brown (1965)
- "Wooly Bully" – Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1965)
- "Batman Theme" – Neal Hefti (1966)
- "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" – The Beatles (1968)
- "Tush" – ZZ Top (1975)
- "Give Me One Reason" – Tracy Chapman (1996)
- "Ball and Biscuit" – The White Stripes (2002)
- Thomas 2002, p. 85.
- Benward & Saker 2003, p. 186.
- Kernfeld 2007
- Alfred Publishing, p. 18
- Tanner and Gerow 1984, p. 37, cited in Baker 2004: "This alteration [V–IV–I rather than V–V–I] is now considered standard."
- Alfred 2003, p. 4
- Spitzer 2001, p. 62
- Spitzer 2001, p. 62.
- Spitzer 2001, p. 62.
- Spitzer 2001, p. 63.
- Spitzer 2001, p. 63.
- Middleton 1990, pp. 117–118.
- The rest are mostly variations on eight-bar blues, sixteen-bar blues, or modal (no chord progression)
- Doll 2009, p. 22.
- Covach 2005, p. 67.
- Alfred Publishing (2002). Beginning Delta Blues Guitar. ISBN 978-0-7390-3006-6.
- Alfred Publishing (2003). Electric Bass for Guitarists. ISBN 0-7390-3335-2.
- Anonymous (8-14-08). "Blues Chord Progressions and Variations: Common variations in the twelve bar form", How to Play Blues Guitar.com.
- Axelsson, Lars; Strängliden, Eddie, eds. (2007). "Johnny B. Goode". 100 Lätta Låtar: Gitarr [100 Easy Songs: Guitar]. 100 Lätta Låtar. 1. Erhrlingförlagen AB. Arc Music Corp. ISBN 978-91-85662-11-1.
- Benward, Bruce, and Marilyn Nadine Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, seventh edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
- 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.
- Doll, Christopher (2009). "Transformation in Rock Harmony: An Explanatory Strategy". Gamut (2): 1–44.
- Gerow, Maurice and Tanner, Paul (1984). A Study of Jazz, Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Publishers, p. 37, cited in Baker, Robert M. (2005). A Brief History of the Blues".
- Kernfeld, Barry, ed. (2007). "Blues progression". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz;. 2nd Edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
- Shipton, Alyn (2007). A New History of Jazz, 2nd. ed., Continuum, pp. 4–5.
- Spitzer, Peter (2001). Jazz Theory Handbook. ISBN 978-0-7866-5328-7.
- Thomas, John (2002). Voice Leading for Guitar: Moving Through the Changes. ISBN 0-634-01655-5.
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4. Cited in Middleton (1990).