Boogie Woogie School: Form

The most basic skeleton of boogie woogie is the 12-bar blues form:

 
Phrase #1
Phrase #2
Phrase #3
Chords in key of C:
C
%
%
%
F
%
C
%
G
%
C
%
Harmonic Analysis:
I
%
%
%
IV
%
I
%
V
%
I
%

Within each 12-bar chorus, there are three 4-bar sub-phrases:

The first 4-bar phrase presents the main rhythmic/melodic theme and establishes a clear sense of tonic harmony I:

C
%
%
%
I
%
%
%

Listen to a typical phrase #1:

As you listen, sing the root note of the I chord (Do) out loud.

The second 4-bar phrase is either a repetition or variation or complement of the main theme played over a temporary IV harmony, with a return back to the tonic I:

F
%
C
%
IV
%
I
%

Listen to a typical phrase #2:

As you listen, sing the root notes of the IV chord (Fa) and the I chord (Do) out loud.

The third 4-bar phrase is almost always 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. It is played over a temporary V harmony with a return to the tonic I:

G
%
C
%
V
%
I
%

Listen to a typical phrase #3:

As you listen, sing the root notes of the V chord (So) and the I chord (Do) out loud.

Such phrasing is absolutely essential to playing boogie woogie (and related styles like blues) in authentic style. In order to sound/feel “right”, each 12-bar chorus should be rhythmically and melodically coherent, say something that moves and satisfies and delights the listener, and lead to the top of the next chorus or to a logical ending. Think of these three phrases as interrelated musical sentences that tell a story.  With some tasty licks in your bag and a commitment to this basic character, your boogie playing will sound right in style.

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

 

Common Boogie Woogie Variations

 
Phrase #1
Phrase #2
Phrase #3
Variation #1:
C
F
C
C
F
%
C
%
G
%
C
%
Variation #2:
C
%
%
%
F
%
C
%
G
F
C
%
Variation #3:
C
%
%
%
F
%
C
%
Dm
G
C
%
Variation #4:
C
%
C
C
F
%
C
%
G
%
C
G

Noitce that all of these variations still preserve the basic harmonic essence of each 4-bar phrase.

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