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The First Law of the Blues

 

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12 Bar Blues Form

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The First Law of the Blues is the 12 Bar Blues Form. It is very important for you to know this first law, so let's start there.

12 Bar Blues Form is a system of 12 repeating "bars", also known as "measures", that use a group of 3 specific chords. Musicians use 12 Bar Blues Form as a common, standard frame of reference.

12 Bar Blues Form is most often in 4/4 time. We will start by using 4/4 time. This means that we will have 12 counts of four: "1, 2, 3, 4" repeated 12 times. The standard group of chord that are used to play 12 Bar Blues Form are chords built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of a scale. In music we use Roman Numerals to represent this: 1 is I, 2 is II, 3 is III, 4 is IV, 5 is V, etc.

Therefore, we use the I (one) chord, IV (four) chord, and V (five) chord from a specific key signature in a specific order. The basic pattern is this:

  • I chord (built on 1st note of scale) 4 measures
  • IV chord (built on 4th note of scale) 2 measures
  • I chord (built on 1st note of scale) 2 measures
  • V chord (built on 5th note of scale) 2 measures
  • I chord (built on 1st note of scale) 2 measures
  • Repeat or end!

    All this adds up to a system or "form" of 12 total bars, or measures, or "counts of 4". Then you can repeat the pattern until you decide to end the song. The important point here is that all the people playing together have a common frame of reference. All they have to do is to decide ahead of time to play 12 Bar Blues Form and everyone knows what to expect: when the chords will change, which chords to use, etc.

    At this point the only other piece of information needed is which key will be used in order to know which specific chords will be used. Let's pick A major for the purpose of this tutorial and explore that in the next lesson.

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