Blues School: Major Blues 12-Bar Form & Harmony – Variation #1


Welcome to the Major 12 bar Blues presented in its most basic form…

… with chord roots in the bass and closed position stacked 7 chords with voice leading in the right hand.

The complete 12-bar form consists of three distinct 4-bar phrases…

  • The first phrase presents the main rhythmic/melodic idea.
  • The second phrase typically repeats or presents a variation of the main theme.
  • The third phrase is usually different from the first two phrases, but something that complements or answers the first two phrases and leads the listener back to the top of the next chorus.

Think of these three phrases as interrelated musical sentences that tell a story. Such understand of the form, phrasing, and harmony is absolutely essential if you want to play blues in authentic style. (More on this in subsequent lessons).

Listen to Frank playing an example based on the form above (Hint: play along with the basic chords above so that you start to hear and internalize the changes)…

Read the chart, listen, and note the following:

  • Unlike classical harmony where the I and IV chords are typically major triads, the Blues I and IV chords are typically (although not always) played as dominant seventh chords (I7 & IV7).
  • This very “un-classical” usage of dominant sevenths is a defining aspect of major Blues harmony.
  • Although they are called “dominant” seven chords, they do not serve the traditional dominant function used in the major and minor systems of music. They still act as the tonic (I) and sub-dominant (IV).
  • The V7 chord, however, still serves a true dominant function.

learn more… 12 Bar Major Blues Form & Harmony – Variation #2