Today I want to talk to you about the 12 bar blues. The 12 bar blues is a chord progression used in blues and rock music that lasts for 12 bars. Gee, I wonder where it got its name? The chord progression is easy for beginners because it only uses three chords, the root, the fourth, and the fifth. We will be playing it in the key of G, so our chords are G, C and D. The basic structure of the 12 bar blues is 3 lines of 4 bars each. In the key of G it looks like this:
G G G G
C C G G
D C G -
Most of that should make sense to you. Looking at the progression, you'll see that you play the G chord for four bars, the C chord for the next two, back to the G chord for two, then one bar each of the D, C and G. But what is it about the last bar. The last bar of the 12 bar blues is called a turnaround. It's just a little filler to get you back to the five chord, at which point the progression repeats. Generally at the end of the song, instead of ending on the five chord, you'll end on the root to give the song a sense of “closure”. There are all sorts of turnarounds in blues music, but we'll talk about those a little later.
For now, let's put our blues progression to work! I'm going to show you a simple pattern that you'll hear in a lot of blues and early rock music. With your left hand find the G key and the D key and strike them both together. The next part of the pattern is to strike the G key and the E key together. What you want to do is alternate between those two sets of notes. To really get that bluesy sound, try this combination of quarter notes:
If you can't quite get the feeling or the rhythm, watch the video and listen to me play. After you play that pattern four times, it's time to move it to the C chord. Just remember that you are playing the root note and alternating between the fifth and the sixth notes. See if you can work out what those notes are for the C and D chords yourself. I bet you can!
If you have gotten the left hand rhythm down, let's put our right hand to work! We could just play the chords with our right hand, but that isn't going to sound very bluesy. The blues gets its sound from the use of the flatted third or the flatted seventh (or both). We are going to create a simple little right hand pattern using the third and the flatted seventh. For the G chord play the third and flatted seventh together, that a D and an F. Now for variety, just move your fingers one key over and play the E and the G. As you play the steady rhythm in your left hand, experiment with different patterns of the right hand pattern I just taught you. Feel free to use it sparingly, it functions very well as accent notes. You can watch the video for ideas.
But when you get to the turnaround, what do you do? You can watch the video to see mine, or experiment with some of your own. A simple one is just to quickly play the first four notes of the scale that the song is in, in our case G major, then, when you get to the fifth note, play the chord instead.
Well, there you have it. You've just played your first full song, and maybe done a little improvisation in the process! But don't stop there, I've got plenty more piano song tutorials waiting to expand your piano playing ability.