Blues School: Major 12-Bar Harmonic Variations

There are many harmonic variations of the basic 12 bar blues form. Let's explore some of those most commonly-used...

Variation #0

Just a reminder of the basic skeleton...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #1

Insert a IV7 chord in bar 10 in order to create harmonic motion...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #2

Insert a IV7 in bar 2, creating a short harmonic diversion away from the prevailing I7 chord...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #3

Play a short turnaround on the V7 chord in the very last bar, ending the chorus with a maximum of harmonic tension that sets up the next chorus...

12 Bar Blues


Important: Notice that each variation still preserves the three-phrase structural essence of the 12-bar form.

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Variation #4

Substitute a ii7-V7 chord progression for the bare V7 chord in bars 9 and 10. This opens up some more harmonic possiblities and is the beginning of a jazzier sound...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #5

Insert a secondary dominant A7 chord in bar 8 to feed the Dm7 chord in bar 9. Secondary dominants are a great way to create a sophisticated, jazzier sound...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #6

Play a full turnaround using secondary dominant seven chords in bars 11 and 12. Extended secondary dominant 7 chords create lots of harmonic interest and strong harmonic motion leading back to the I7 chord at the top of the next chorus...

12 Bar Blues


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Variation #X...

You can also mix and match any or all of the above variations to come up with interesting hybrids...

12 Bar Blues


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