Blues School: Major Blues 12 Bar Form

Here is the Major 12 bar Blues presented in its most basic form, with chord roots in the bass and closed position stacked 7 chords with voice leading...

12 Bar Blues

Unlike classical harmony where the I and IV chords are typically major triads, the Blues I and IV chords are typically played as seventh chords (I7 & IV7). These chords types are essential elements that define major Blues harmony. Although they are called "dominant" seven chords, they do not serve the traditional dominant function used in the major and minor systems of music. Note: The V7 chord does serve the dominant function.


Sub-Patterns in the 12-Bar Blues Form...

Within the overall 12-bar pattern of each chorus, there are three distinct 4-bar phrases. Understanding these three phrases is absolutely essential to playing blues in authentic style.

Phrase 1 of 3 ( bars 1-4): The first 4-bar phrase establishes both the home key and major-ness of the piece with the C7 chord (I7). The Bb (Te) as part of the tonic chord is a defining feature of Blues harmony... Compositionally, the first phrase is naturally where the main rhythmic/melodic theme is presented...

12 Bar Blues

Listen to a typical blues phrase #1:

 

Phrase 2 of 3 (bars 5-8): The second 4-bar phrase creates harmonic tension with the F7 chord (IV7) that is released with a return back to the tonic C7 chord (I7). This mixture of the minor feeling Eb (Me) in the F7 chord with the major feeling E (Mi) in the C7 chord is another defining feature of major Blues harmony. Compositionally, the second phrase is typically either a repetition or variation of the main theme...

12 Bar Blues

Listen to a typical blues phrase #2:

 

Phrase 3 of 3 (bars 9-12): The third 4-bar phrase creates harmonic tension with the G7 chord (V7) that is released with a return back to the tonic C7 chord (I7). Compositionally, the third phrase is usually different from the first two phrases, but something that complements or answers the first two phrases and leads the listener back to the top of the next chorus.

12 Bar Blues

Listen to a typical blues phrase #3:

Think of these three phrases as interrelated musical sentences that tell a story. Such understand of form and phrasing is absolutely essential to playing blues in authentic style.

Listen to all three phrases combined into a 12-bar chorus:

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Learn more... Common Variations of the Major 12-Bar Blues