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Blues: Everything

Table of Contents
  • Intro
  • The Feel
  • Standard 12 Bar Blues
  • Breakdown of the I chord
  • Breakdown of the IV chord
  • Breakdown of the V chord
  • The Turnaround
  • Minor Blues
  • Other Blues Forms (8 bar, 16 bar)
  • Last edited by The_Strat_Man at Aug 30, 2005,
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    5. Breakdown of the IV Chord
    The IV chord is probably one of the most underrated chords, especially in blues music. With this chord there can be some really special, harmonic moments when playing over it. This chord is where the tension starts to begin its ascent. When you play over this chord you can use a tritone as a good way to build tension.

    The Tritone
    A tritone is an interval of an augmented fourth or diminished fifth. In the transition between the I7 chord and the IV7 chord, there's a cool lick (that uses a tritone) that can be used to build tension and it's rather nifty. The tritone in the IV7 chord is between the major third and the b7 of the chord. Here's the lick used in transition:
     I7       IV7

    When you play this example, try gradually bending the tritone over the IV7 chord one quarter step.

    If you're wondering why this sounds so intriguing or different, it's because the tritone contains notes from both the major and minor scales of the parent key (E major, E minor). The C# on the B string is taken from the E major scale, and the G on the high E string is taken from the minor scale. When playing this over the IV7 chord, you're just getting the major third and b7, not the root. So, it seems like you're missing something, but you still get the taste of the chord. This is a great way to add tension in your playing.

    6. Breakdown of the V Chord
    The V chord is where everything hits its peak. This is where the tension finally stops its ascent and begins its descent. The point of the V chord is for resolution, a place to stop and work your way into the I chord again. Over the V chord your lyrics begin resolving the conflict in the first two lines (of an AAB format). An end is finally in sight for the listeners. They can tell that something is happening when you finally hit the V chord.

    In any musical genre the V chord is the best chord to resolve back to the tonic with because the third of the dominant is the leading tone of the tonic. If that makes no sense, keep reading, it will. Look at this:
    C major scale: C D E F G A [b]B[/b] C
    C (I): C E G
    G (V): G [b]B[/b] D

    Do you see how the major third in the G triad is the seventh tone in the C major scale. The seventh tone is one half step away from the root, which is why it has the tendency to resolve upwards to C. When you add the dominant seven form of G resolving to C, it resolves a little bit stronger. This is because the F in G7 (G B D F) is only one half step away from the major third in C (E). The F resolves downward and the B resolves upward making sound so distinct.

    So, now you know the basic harmony of the V chord is to resolve the progression. BUT, if you look at the 12 bar blues diagrams I made earlier, then you would know that the first time you play the V chord is doesn't go back to I. It travels to the IV chord. A little bit tricky, eh? This move partially resolves the tension but the tension really gets resolved in the next section, and you'll see how it's such a big deal...

    7. The Turnaround
    This is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the 12 bar blues. How so? Well, because everything gets fully resolved in this two bar passage. The turnaround can make or break any blues progression. So, when you're playing the turnaround or soloing over it you want to make it sound good. I'm not talking about half good, or semi-good, I'm talking good. The turnaround takes place over the I chord, and then back to the V chord. These two bars mark the end of your 12 bar progression, and how you're about to start over.

    The turnaround usually consists of a downward or upward movement of three to four chords that usually end on the tonic, and then go directly into the dominant so you can resolve your progression. That's all a turnaround is, and you may think it sounds simple. It is simple, but, simply, it's the best part of the blues progression.

    Here are a few tabbed examples of turnarounds that you could implement into your playing. Each one of these has a different overall sound, but convey the same message, that your 12 bars are up, and it's time for a new 12 bars:
     A(I)                  A(I)  E7(V)
     C                      G9
     E                       E          B7

    By building off of those three examples, you should be able to come up with some excellent turnarounds in your own blues playing.

    8. Minor Blues
    For the previous seven sections, the focus has been on major key blues. In this section the focus will be switched to a minor key setting. This kind of blues can be darker, and if played in a slow blues fashion, very emotional.

    Instead of 12 bars of this:
    |: I7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 | IV7 | IV7 |
       I7 | I7 | V7 | IV7 | I7 | V7:|

    we have 12 bars of this:
    |: im7 | ivm7 | im7 | im7 | ivm7 | ivm7 |
       im7 | im7 | bVImaj7 | V7#9 | im7 | V7#9 :|

    To the naked eye, it looks pretty complicating but, really, it isn't. We're going to apply the latter formulas to a Cm Blues progression, so you can see how it works. All of these chords are based off of the C major scale though. So, for a im7 chord, we are going to make the C, a minor 7 chord (C Eb G Bb).

    |: Cm7 | Fm7 | Cm7 | Cm7 | Fm7 | Fm7 |
       Cm7 | Cm7 | Abmaj7 | G7#9 | Cm7 | G7#9 :|

    That basically sums up the gist of minor blues, but for a more complete post try this by Redwing: The Minor Blues: A "Quick" Tutorial
    Material in this section borrowed from the above link

    9. Other Blues Forms (8 bar, 16 bar)
    Now that you know about the 12 bar blues forms, here are some more forms for you. An 8 bar blues form is one used to shorten the progression and a 16 bar form would be used to lengthen the progression. Like I said earlier, the main progression is 12 bars long, but these two can be used for variation, or for when you get stuck, and want to try something new.

    [b]8 Bar Blues[/b]
    I7  V7   IV7  IV7
    I7  V7   I7   V7
    I7   I7   IV7  IV7
    I7   V7   I7   V7
    [b]16 Bar Blues[/b]
    I    I    I    I7
    IV7  IV7  I    I7
    IV7  IV7  I    I
    V7   IV7  I    V7

    10. Conclusion
    And this concludes my lesson on blues. I hope you enjoyed reading through this long lesson. I hope to have covered the basics and a little bit more than that on my journey through this daunting task. Please be grateful for what I've done here, and leave some comments. I hope you enjoy!
    Last edited by The_Strat_Man at Aug 30, 2005,
    Join date: Feb 2005
    269 IQ
    Good lesson, I think maybe you should post some mp3s with examples of your turnarounds and rhythm examples.
    In blues the turnaround really is the song, its the part people remember so having audio examples might help those who don't listen to alot of blues identify what you mean by the "feel".
    Also I think you made a typo with "(expect in a more bluesy rock context)." and I think the structure of the lyrics should be discussed after the theory talk.
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    Join date: Jul 2005
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    Great article! It was very informative and helpful and will definately help my blues playing. 5 stars.
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    1. Intro
    Well, I'm taking on this lesson, and we'll see how it goes, I'm hoping it goes well. This could take a while, and it might be pretty long, but I hope it cuts it. I'm going to need a lot of critique and addition to this seeing as I don't know everything, and would love some additions. Also, make sure you know how to form chords, and how to name them before reading this lesson.

    Fix that parentheses I deleted and you're good to go I think. Approved (with correction )

    Registered User
    Join date: Sep 2002
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    Awesome lesson, well laid out and described. So long as SD agrees the info is correct we can close this.
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    Registered User
    Join date: Sep 2002
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    ^ No worries, as long as the thories textbook. APPROVED.
    <Dobzilla> because "when you were born, they thought yo' momma shit herself."
    <Frehnchy> ...
    <esther_mouse> ...
    <Rankles> ...
    <RaNdOm-FeLiX> ...