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Key Changes in a Blues

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by blues.bass, Dec 5, 2012.

  1. Hi guys,
    I wonder if you can help me.. my theory isn't great and I'm trying to write a blues tune that changes keys several times after a 12 bar (I-IV-V) verse, and then resolves back to the original key.
    Using the IV chord I have made the keys changes like this:

    Verse 1 = 12 bar in E
    Verse 2 = 12 bar in A
    Verse 3 = 12 bar in D
    Verse 4 = 12 bar in ?
    Verse X = 12 bar in ?
    Verse 5 = 12 bar in E

    Could anyone explain how do I get back (if I can) to the E again, without using A or the D again?

    :help: Thanks!!
  2. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    I think B and F# will work but I haven't tried playing it yet to hear how it sounds.
  3. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    There are no rules about that, it doesn't have to rely on a common chord to modulate. But here are some ideas that sounds good to me:

    G then C. It is a nice come back to E
    C to B.
    G to F.
  4. That's a lot of key changes. The first rule is "If it sounds good,
    it's right." But I'm wondering what that is going to sound like.
    It might be weird; I don't know. You can always try it.

    I've encountered a number of great tunes (the band Bondi
    Cigars comes to mind) that use a very simple chord
    progression (sometimes only one or two chords!) and then
    switch keys to a 12-bar blues progression for a solo (usually
    guitar) and then switch back to the simple progression.
    Sometimes they even switch to yet another key for another
    solo using the 12-bar blues progression again.

    Experiment and see what happens. I'm just providing one
    more idea you can try.
  5. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    My first question is why are you changing keys so many times. Beyond the fact that it's your song and you can write anything you want, why do you need a new key for each verse?

    We normally change keys because the vocalist wants to sing in a certain key, but a new key for each verse - WOW.

    How do you get back to E? It's your song pick a key, any key...... When in doubt I let the circle lead me. But in this case that's not going to help. I suggest you start over with one key. Each verse stands on it's own, i.e. let the key of E run for all 5 verses. Songs normally keep the same key for all verses. Yes you may see a chorus be in another key. Easiest way to modulate to a new key is with a secondary dominant. What key do you want the chorus to be in? Use the chorus' dominant chord to lead you into your new key. Your in the key of E wanting to modulate to the key of C. Only reason I can think of is your vocalist likes the key of E, and the chorus is going to be sung by another vocalist that would rather have it in C. OK...........

    What is C's dominant chord? It's the G7. Fine, instead of looping back to the start of another verse in E let the last chord in the progression be the G7 chord - now instead of looping back to E that G7 should pull you right into the key of C. Now getting back to E from C. What is E's dominant chord? It's the B chord so let the last chord in the 12th bar of C be the B7 chord. That should pull you right back to the key of E.

    Now if you still want a new key for each 12 bars that secondary dominant method should do it for you. You just have to decide what new key you are going to use and then let the secondary dominant of that key lead you. You first gotta have the chicken to get the egg.

    Good luck.
  6. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan
    I'll echo some earlier sentiments by saying: don't fall into the trap of complexity for its own sake. Remember, especially with the blues, less is always more.
  7. Hey guys,
    Thanks for all the help so far...
    What I wanted to go for was an instrumental piece with a fairly simple groove, with the harmonica player blowing away on the E sections (probably 2 choruses at the start of the tune), then shifting gears as the guitar player solos over the key changes, then back to the harmonica when we get back to the ending E section (again probably 2 choruses).
    Maybe there is one change to many in there...
    So perhaps it should look more like this:

    Verse 1 = 12 bar in E
    Verse 2 = 12 bar in E
    Verse 3 = 12 bar in A
    Verse 4 = 12 bar in D
    Verse 5 = 12 bar in ?
    Verse 6 = 12 bar in E
    Verse 7 = 12 bar in E

    No vocals to worry about and because the groove is pretty simple I wanted to add interest with the key changes.
    I guess we'll have a play through it and see what works :)

  8. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    The Blues is dirt simple. If you liven up The Blues you take it into jazz. Which is fine........ and opens up all kinds of doors. But, then begs the question; are you writing Blues or something else?
  9. I'm a blues head, and I agree. One modulation can sound cool, but generally you want to keep it simple. I can remember a charity concert with Clapton and others playing a blues where they did what you're talking about. Muddy Waters used to do it quite often, but it was a more of a spontaneous jam thing, not actually a song written that way.

    The only song I can think of with that many modulations is My Generation (which started as a blues), so there's certainly no law against it.
  10. You could play verse 5 in C and verse 6 in B. Then, what you've basically done is made the last 3 verses in the keys of C, B, E. If you want to apply some classical form-theory (and believe me, this is a pretty big stretch to apply this to the blues ), then you can call those three verses an expansion of the classic minor-blues bVI-V-I cadence, with each chord being expanded into a key center (i.e. a whole verse) of its own. Plus, if you look at the key centers of verses 4-7, the tonic movement is D-C-B-E, which sounds like a pretty decent bassline by itself.

    Like I said, though, it's a pretty big stretch to think of it like that. Or, if you wanted to go crazy, why not just keep going up in fourths through the entire cycle - you'll get back to E eventually, plus you'll get to laugh at your guitar player when you get to keys like Db and Gb/F# (or as a blues guitarist I knew once called them: "the keys between the dots".