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Getting intimate with 12 bar.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DerrickShaney, Oct 19, 2013.

  1. DerrickShaney


    Jun 18, 2011
    St.Cloud MN
    Hello, I am looking for some information getting really familiar with 12 bar blues. Are there any good tutorials or books on this that I should check out. I am playing in a blues band now and would like to really get 12 bar in the bag as it seems to be the standard for blues musicians.

    I understand the structure and I IV V. Where I seem to be struggling is with the fills and what to play in between each sequence.

    There are countless videos with people playing 12 bar on youtube but nobody really explains why or how to play the fills that they do.

    Any advice on the best route to take to get my blues chops up 100 percent? Thanks!
  2. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    A lot of folks will recommend Ed Friedland's "Blues Bass", and they're right... up to a point. It's a good primer, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Your best instructional material is the wealth of recordings that exist.
  3. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    What you play is what you have experience with, and i am afraid no book will teach you that, they will only teach you the standard mechanics of Blues.

    In Blues you have a duty to the song and the genre, move to far with what you use and you are no longer playing Blues...this is the challange for all Blues Players.

    Even though there is a riff, there will be a melody, so there be a harmony, there will be a beat so there will be syncopation. Look to these elements not any riff, the riff is good to come back to of imply in your lines. Look at the vocal delivery, Blues is about the story being told not so much about any virtuosity as such, so listen to the vocal melody, there you will find all the elements mentioned to create a line.

    Also sometimes a simple pedal line will sit and support a lot in Blues music, so become the whole song and story and sell it, after all that's what its all about. :)


  4. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    There's a lot more to 12 bar blues than just I-IV-V. Check out jazzbooks.com and get the free book Jamie sends out. There's a nice collection of chord variations on 12 bar blues in that book, and that's just with forms that start with the I. The Blues is a huge and important subject and really is a lifetime of study. As noted earlier, Ed's book is a great place to start, and there are other books too. But going to blues jams, listening to recordings and dealing with Blues performers is the real motherlode of information. Fortunately Blues musicians are some of the nicest people you'll meet. Many are incredibly generous with information and help.
  5. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    I wouldn't start with a book in this case. I would listen, listen and listen some more to any blues you can get your hands on. What are those bass players doing? Learn what they're doing and if you're going to use a book, use it to learn why they are playing what they are.
  6. Sparkdog

    Sparkdog Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2006
    Burbank, CA
    This is great advice. As a guy who plays blues 2-3 nights a week and with some incredible players I am always looking to learn from them. To me the trick is to be able to apply some theory and jazz sophistication when it's called for, but exercise restraint and play REALLY simple grooves when that's what the music requires. Dynamics is a big element that many new players overlook, but it's one of the ways a great band will really connect with the audience.

    Learning all the little tricks that are part of the blues vocabulary is important...for example, bandleaders will yell out things like "uptown shuffle" for instance. You need to know the difference from the "downtown shuffle". (Both use a I-V-b7-8 arpeggio but one is ascending and the other is descending, and the feel is different)

    There are common heads and endings for tunes, if you know them you're better equipped to catch it when it comes unexpectedly.

    None of this stuff is hard, but it's a language and the more of it you know the more fluent you will be.
  7. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan
    +1 to what everyone has said. With the blues, it's all about serving the song. There certainly is a place for more sophisticated chops, but you have to choose the right place in the right song. Listen to Chicago legends like Dave or Jack Myers.

    Seeing as you've already started with a blues band, however, I think it's important to get an idea of a few different fills you can use, so as to not sound dull and repetitive. The intricacies come with time, but for now you just need the basics.

    So, for example: in the bar preceding a chord change, you can approach the new chord with a chromatic walk. In the key of A, in the 4th bar, you can walk A-B-C-C#, landing you on D for the IV chord. This same pattern works when you're moving a 5th, like from the IV to the I chord, (D-F#-G-G#), or the I to the IV (A-C#-D-D#). The differnce between these is that in the first instance (I-IV) you're going root, second, minor third, major third, fourth and in the second instance (IV-I or I-V) you're going root, major third, fourth, sharp fourth/flat fifth, fifth.

    Does that make sense? There's a lot more to it than just this, but, to be honest, you can get a decent amount of mileage out of those two chromatic approach fills.

    Also, for the right type of song, you're going to need to know the 1,3,5,6,8,6,5,3 shuffle pattern. Many people put the b7 here in place of the 8. This definitely works, and sounds great, but avoid it unless you're about to change chords. So, use the first instance on bars 1-3, for example, and add in the b7 in chord 4. With the b7 two options are 1,3,5,6,b7,6,5,3 and 1,3,5,6,8,b7,6,5. Either one works fine. I prefer the second. And something important to remember in a shuffle: the quickest way to kill the groove is to play BUM-BA BUM-BA BUM-BA on each note, like the drummer plays. Of course, there are times when you need to double-up on notes for the sake of a specific feel or just to build tension for a bar or two. For the most part, quarter notes are the way to go.

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