Blues School: Major Blues 12-Bar Form & Harmony, The First Lesson

Welcome to the first and most important lesson in Major Blues 12-Bar Form & Harmony

Within each 12-bar chorus, there are three 4-bar sub-phrases…

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The deep appreciation of this three-phase structure is absolutely essential for playing 12-bar blues in authentic style.

Phrase #1 presents the main rhythmic/melodic theme and establishes a clear sense of tonic harmony (I)…


Phrase #2 is typically a variation of or complement to the main theme played over a temporary IV harmony, with a return back to the tonic I.


Phrase #3 typically complements or answers the first two phrases and leads the listener back to the top of the next chorus. It is played over a temporary V harmony with a return to the tonic I.


Now let’s put all three phrases together…

Think of these three phrases as interrelated musical sentences that tell a story. In order to sound/feel “right”, each chorus should be rhythmically and melodically coherent, say something that moves the listener, and lead back to the top of the next chorus or to a logical ending. With some simple comping patterns and tasty licks in your bag and a commitment to this basic formula, your blues playing is guaranteed to blossom!

Watch on YouTube

learn more… Major Blues 12-Bar Form & Harmony, Variation #1