12 Bar Blues – Form & Introduction ~ Free Lesson

The 12 bar blues is one of the most common forms in all of music.  There are literally thousands of songs written using the the 12 bar blues form.  The great thing about the 12 bar blues is once you internalize it, you can follow along to all of these songs.  Later on, you’ll be able to improvise and solo over this form.  Another fantastic thing about the 12 bar blues progression is it uses only THREE chords in it’s most basic form.  Otherwise known as the I, IV, and V chords.

What is the 12 bar Blues Form?

In this video, I cover the form.  It’ll be easier to watch me review it on the screen, rather than read a wall of text about it. 

In summary there are some things to pay close attention too:

  • Group Each chord into sets of two for easier memorization
  • The Right side of the page is always the I chord
  • The Left side of the page goes in order I-IV-V
  • There is an innate call and response feel to the blues

Learn the 12 bar blues in the KEY NEUTRAL system, that way you can play the form in any key you want.  This closely represent how those of us without perfect pitch hear music as well.  We hear things in terms of DISTANCES.  Guitar players love the key of E, jazz players play the 12 bar blues in F or Bb a lot.

There are more elaborate forms of the 12 bar blues.  People add more chords or change some of the chords.  One thing most people do is add 7th chords to each of the chord changes (more on that later).

12 Bar Blues Songs- Suggested Listening

  • Foggy Mt Special by Earl Scruggs
  • Shucking the Corn by Earl Scruggs
  • Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash
  • Tush- ZZ TOP
  • Hound Dog- Elvis Presley
  • Sweet Home Chicago– Robert Johnson
  • Mustang Sally– Buddy Guy
  • Dust my Broom- Elmore James
  • The Right Time- Ray Charles

I recommend listening to “Stormy Monday” by T-bone walker or The Allman Brothers for an example of what’s possible with a 12 bar blues form.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.