12 Bar Blues

"The Banjo Player"

The 12 Bar Blues was born out of slavery in America in the late 19th/early 20th century. The slaves sang rhythmic work songs and spirituals from their own country, Africa, and this music combined with that of the European settlers, which included their folksongs and Marching Band music.

Have a look at:

  • the BBC Bitesize resources on Blues to learn more about the origins of the Blues
  • the BBC Bitesize True Stories videos, with Harriet Tubman explaining how she escaped slavery and then helped others to do so; and how Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus changed the rules of American Society

To learn how to improvise in the 12 bar blues, first learn to play the chord sequence below, either in the treble or bass clef. Eventually you will need to be able to play it with your left hand. (If you don't understand the chord symbols below the staffs, visit our chords page to learn more.) 

Next learn to play the blues scale below:

Now put the chord sequence together with the scale with the following rhythm:

Now start playing around with the scale, repeat notes, change the rhythm, alternate between the first two notes of the scale, do what you like! Keep the chords pulsing in time underneath.

You can then start to improvise with the rhythm in the chord sequence. Here is one example to try:

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