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The Most Important 12-bars of Music in the World Today

By In Uncategorized On November 6, 2017


In my opinion—and I welcome argument—the 12-bar blues, which evolved from the culture of black Americans, mostly slaves, in southern states is the most important 12 bars of music in world musical culture today. Jazz is played in most parts of the world and jazz musicians know and play the blues. Someone in a group could say, “Let’s play blues in F,” and everyone would know what to do.

In addition, many songs that are not called blues are actually 12-bar blues—much of Elvis Presley, such as Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog, much of Rock and Roll, such as Rock Around the Clock, At the Hop, Jump, Jive an Wail, and the beginning of  In the Mood, to name just a few well known examples. Although the 12-bar blues are the most common, there are also 8-bar and 16-bar blues. Basin Street Blues is an example of 16-bar blues. and Sittin’ on Top of the World is 8-bar blues.

Give it a Try

Since this is such an important factor in music, it’s worth learning about it. Try playing these notes using this rhythm (or any other rhythm) on every measure:

Play measures with the following pitches:

C    |  C   | C    |   C  |

F    |  F    |  C    |  C   |

G   |  F or G  |   C    |  C or G  |

G would often be used in the last measure when repeating.

Those are the bass notes of 12-bar blues in C. Play and sing that pattern hundreds of times, making up your own rhythms (you don’t need to use the same rhythm in every bar). Think of it as 3 sections of 4 bars each.

Now listen to some of the songs above and see if you can hear the bass line. Try singing along with it.

Make up Some Lyrics

The form of the 12-bar blues probably evolved from the form of lyrics. Stating a phrase, then repeating it, and then a third phrase that answers or resolves the first. Try making up your own blues lyrics to express something in your life, like:

My chops too tired to play anymore.

My chops too tired to play anymore.

Can’t get any better if my chops always tired.

Have fun! Listen to more blues. Play and sing the blues!

Contributed by Roy Ernst, Founder New Horizons International Music Association

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