If you have ever heard of the term, “Twelve-bar Blues,” there is a good reason… it is not only the most popular chord progression in Blues music, but it is the most popular chord progression in popular music in general. The term “twelve-bar” refers to the length of chord progression; it is 12 bars (or measures) long.
Simple Twelve-Bar Blues
While there are many variations to this simple concept, all of the variations stem from a simple, three-chord progression that is 12 measures long. The three chords in this example in the key of G are: G, C, and D. On the 3-String guitar in Open G tuning, the G is played simply by strumming all three strings in the open position, the C is played by barring all three strings at the 5th fret, and the D is played by barring all three strings at the 7th fret.
In this example, there are 4 beats per measure, and I’ve broken the 12 bars into 3 sets of four measures. To hear a musical example of this progression, and play along, you can watch and refer to the accompanying video with this article.
“Stormy Monday” Progression
While the simple, three chord progression above is the backbone of countless classic songs like “Crossroads,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Dust My Broom,” there eventually comes a time when you want to add a little more harmonic complexity to the twelve-bar progression. To me, the best example of a more complex, and “Jazzy” arrangement of a twelve-bar Blues progression is the T-Bone Walker original, “Stormy Monday.” You can look closely at the chord changes in this song, and see close similarities to the simple twelve-bar progression… in fact, other than the addition of the “7th” voicing for the chords, the first 6 measures are exactly the same. The characteristic difference starts in measure 7, adding a very distinct and tasteful variation on the original chord progression.
Again, to hear musical examples of this progression on the 3-string guitar, just watch the accompanying video with this lesson. Below the chord progression for “Stormy Monday,” is a collection of chord voicings that will work well together in the context of this arrangement.
Once you learn the progressions on these charts, make sure you watch the accompanying video with this lesson. It will dive deeper into how you can add more complex rhythms, fingerpicking techniques, and balking bass lines to make the “Stormy Monday,” progression come to life. …and don’t stop there, look around RootsMusicSchool.org, and check out some of the other lessons, many of them are walkthroughs of other twelve-bar Blues songs like “Dust My Broom,” and a variation of the twelve-bar progression with “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
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