Have you ever heard someone complain that the blues has no variation? "Its always the same 12 bars over and over?" Let me challange you and state that the blues has as much variations as your imagination allows it to have.
What does this mean? This means that the blues is present in so many populair music forms and genres today that to know the blues is to know popular music. When I was younger and my knowledge of the blues didn"t go any further than those 1990"s blues brother reissue movie, I had no clue that the blues was so much deeper than I ever could have imagined. There is somuch more than the same 12 bars over and over again.
But with MTV playing cartoons instead of music videos and an abundance of mind-clutter today, there is hardly any way to come into contact with this steaming, hot and juicy part of the blues. When !Walk the line", the movie that tells the story of Johnny Cash, was released to the big public in 1995, Johnny Cash was re-introduced an enjoyed by a whole new generation. Since B.B. King probably will be around for a couple more years and I suppose a movie about the man is not for anytime soon I wrote this article to showcase the deep world that the blues is made off.
Letʼs get started with our good old 12 bar progression. This is one off the first things most people learn when they take guitarlessons. This is part of the reason why they wrongly assume the blues is easy and boring.
Standard 12 bar blues
Ok, I admit, we want to move away as quickly as possibly from this kind of guitar playing.
It IS quite boring! But this doesn't mean we have to move away from the idea of using 12 bars to play to blues. The 12 bar progression is the backbone of the blues and it is the basis off thousands of blues songs. So it's quite common, but this doesn't mean it's boring at all. Let's take a look into some of the ways to put some variation into this 12 bar progression.
Here we are playing the same shuffle-rhythm, but with a little variation inserted at the end of each bar. This spices things up a little, but we should take this a little bit further I think. Let's incorporate some chords in this rhythm.
Now we are playing the same shuffle as above, but we insert some chords during the rhythm. We can use any dominant 7th chord for this matter. For this sort of playing I really love to use the 7#9 chord, as found in the last bar of the following 12 bar progression.
In the following example, things are starting to get really hot! It's the same 12 bar progression, but we are starting at the 5th fret right now. Play this one with attitude, hit your strings hard, they can take it!
If your having trouble with the rhythm of this example, try playing it at half speed. Simply tap your foot to the quarternotes in the example below. If you find this alot easier, just start playing twice as fast and you"ll get the example above.
Nowadays people seem to be forgotten that rock has deep roots in blues music. Let this next example serve as living proof. The first bar is the same rhythm we played in the previous examples, while in the second bar we are digging in to some syncopated powerchord riff.
I hope I have given you some insight in the various ways blues guitar can be approached. If you are interested in learning to play blues music, one of the best words off advice I could give you is to listen to what turns you on. Go find music you like and try playing along with the record and really listen to the music! This article is just the tip of the iceberg and the possibility"s are endless. We can turn this 12 bar upside down with jazz-chords or compose a rock-riff out of it. The choice is yours. Just remember, the next time someone tells you the blues has no variation tell him the blues is present in so much variation all around us, all the time.