Build Your Guitar Repertoire with the 8-Bar, 12-Bar and 16-Bar Blues Variations | Will Edwards | Skillshare

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Build Your Guitar Repertoire with the 8-Bar, 12-Bar and 16-Bar Blues Variations

teacher avatar Will Edwards, Artist. Creative Problem Solver. Musician

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Blues is Universal!

    • 3. The Blues Practice "Sandbox"

    • 4. Tip: "Quick to the 4" is Common

    • 5. Understand the 8 Bar Blues

    • 6. Learn the 16 Bar Blues, too!

    • 7. Playing in 12 Keys is a Great Habit

    • 8. The Blues Wrap-Up

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About This Class

Tips and best practices for playing different blues variations is useful to almost any guitar player.  Together, let's learn to play the blues variations on guitar.  This opens a world of opportunity to play/jam with other players.  By learning the 8-Bar, 12-Bar and 16-Bar blues, a guitarist can have command of all the most popular forms of the blues.  This course will help you:

  • Recognize how many hit songs use the blues
  • Jam/play with other musicians more easily
  • Use the blues to practice anything else (scales, chords, etc.)

This course is for beginners.  But, even if you're an experienced guitarist and you have never taken time to learn the blues then this course is for you :).

I've played the blues in places where we didn't speak the same language, but we all knew the blues!  The blues is known all over the world - as a musical form, not just a genre - and knowing how to play these variations will mean you can join in and play music with musicians around the world!  So get on board, learn the blues - you don't have to be a fan of the blues genre to benefit from learning the blues on guitar, I promise you that!  When you've finished the lessons, I've created a collection of downloads and a course project that will help you get comfortable and start rockin' ASAP.  Best of luck!  Reach out to me with any questions - I'm always glad to help :)

Meet Your Teacher

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Will Edwards

Artist. Creative Problem Solver. Musician


I am a full-time professional musician who has broad teaching experience with guitar & bass students in rock, blues, jazz and many other genres. I perform live on bass, guitar and keyboards.  In addition, I perform live electronic music improvisation.  I've devoted over 26 years to my own well-rounded musical education, focusing on a mastery of all aspects of modern music - from music theory to ear training; from live performance to composition and practice routines.

I specialize in bridging the gap between music and technology, focusing on using modern tools to demonstrate all aspects of music.  I compose and perform with Ableton and Push 2 and I have experience with Cubase, ProTools and Logic.  I'm extremely comfortable using web-based to... See full profile

Related Skills

Music Blues Creative Guitar

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Will. I've been playing guitar for well over two decades. I played in a lot of gigs. I have done performance as a living. And I've also taught thousands of guitar students. And one of the most common topics that we discuss, and one of the ones that really has the most benefit to my private students is the blues. Now there, there's generally the 12-bar blues, but we're going to in the following lessons, also be discussing some variations like the eight bar and 16 bar blues. And one of the reasons that this is such a valuable insight for beginner and intermediate guitars to have and learn how to play these different forms is because first of all, they function as a really great practice sandbox away TO start exploring learning scales, strumming chords, playing bar chords, learning rhythm. It's just a great environment to explore, just about learning anything else on the guitar. But it's also representing a form that a lot of musicians from around the world are really familiar with. So if you know the blues and you know how to play the eight bar in the 12 bar and the 16 bar blues and you learn how to hear it with your ears as the following lessons are going to help you learn. Then it's a way for you to immediately start communicating with a whole lot of musicians out there, not just blues players, it's important to stay and we're gonna talk a little bit about that. This is not just for blues enthusiasts, This is just for guitar players who want to play with others and want to learn a little bit more about how the blues works. So let's get started. 2. The Blues is Universal!: One of the things that a lot of students always ask me or I can kind of sense in their tone of voice when I start bringing up the 12-bar blues with them is that they're not big blues fans, right? And this is pretty reasonable misunderstanding, but it's a misunderstanding that the 12-bar blues is only going to be useful to you if you're a blues player or you love the blues. Alright, it is called the blues and no doubt, blues music as a style and genre is very much based on the 12-bar blues. So that's true. But that's not really the whole scope of it. And I don't think he really even have to develop a love of the style of music we call the blues in order to enjoy the blues and certainly to find a way to use it. Let me tell you a little bit about how I've used the blues as a musician, practicing as a teacher, and also as a gigging musician as a professional musician. So in my gigs, the 12-bar blues is as, is a framework, it's a recipe, if you will. For music, it's a form to use an academic term that has pervaded pretty much all of popular western music. Okay, so anything that's been on the radio, let's say in the last 60 years, has been influenced by the blues and has a digging musician and somebody who likes to play a lot in bands and play on stage and play with other musicians. Understanding the Blues by year and understanding its form has helped me navigate countless, countless situations where I'm on my feet. I have to think fast and I have to be ready with an answer immediately. Musically speaking how my instrument, because I can hear and I know the form of the blues. And even though I might be playing a rock song or might be playing a Rolling Stone song or a Tom Petty song. The chances are that it's going to be so heavily influenced by the structure of what we call the 12-bar blues that it can actually help me predict what's going to happen in the music, even if it's a song that I don't already know. So that's one huge advantage. Now as a teacher, I've used the 12-bar blues at tn as I am here to kinda help students understand how to work with it as a sandbox. How to work with it as an environment in which you can learn and practice different things with your practicing scales or improvisation, or bar chords or a composition, songwriting, whatever you're practicing, the 12-bar blues will give you a good framework, and I'll talk about that in the coming lessons so you'll get a clearer idea of what I mean. Okay, but another great way that the blues has really benefited me as a musician is that it's a form that has pervaded Western music to such a great extent that it's, it becomes almost like ear training. I can hear when songs are gonna change sections or the cords are going to change because my ears trained on the 12-bar blues. So when we, when we go through and play the 12-bar blues, you'll hear right away that you recognize this. But this could be an electronic song, This could be a pop song, This could be a rock song, This could be a metal song. Okay, this is the chord progressions and the underlying structure. It could be Miles Davis or it could be Tom Petty or, you know, not just blues like George Thurgood, but rock that a lot of us don't think is blues like the pretenders or, or, or, you know, eighties pop music, stuff like that. Also is going to, going to get a lot of its structural design and influence from the 12-bar blues. Ok, so let's continue on and look at some of this in more depth. 3. The Blues Practice "Sandbox": Now the 12-bar blues is a perfect sandbox. I've said that before and I want to give you some more depth of understanding of why that is. Okay. So if we look at a very basic 12-bar blues in g, and we're gonna go over this a little bit more in depth later, but we'd have four bars. Okay, it's all going to add up to 12 bars. The first four bars, which is be a one-quarter, let's say G three. And for the next two bars would be four chords, which in this key would be C. So d bar 56, back to G for bar 78. And then we'd have a bar, nine bars. And oftentimes there's a turnaround on bar 12. So the three chords I used there with G major, C major, and D major. But they're in an arrangement that makes a 12-bar blues form. And I use numbers. It talks about one chords for chords and five chords. The thing about knowing these forms numerically is that now we can move it into any key. So for example, the one chord in the key of C is a C chord. C, you'd have four bars of the four chord in this key is f, z, you have two bars of f. Then back to two bars of the one chord. Then you'd have the five chord, which in this key would be G. Then you'd have f, the four chord back to the one and turning around on the 54. So what I did there was I transposed the 12-bar Blues from our original key of G major into C Major using numerals. And by doing that, I can see that there's wallet or 12-bar blues is really just a form that determines when the one, the four, and the five chords are being played. Ok? Now there are some variations and we're gonna talk about that a little later on. But for right now, I just wanna make sure you understand why this is such great sandbox. So when you're practicing a scale, let's say practicing the minor pen scaling you want to practice improvising a solo could be practicing rock solos doesn't have to be Blues, but you play along with a 12-bar blues and that we always know where you are because it's the structure that is always the same as four bars of the one chord to the 4215415. Because you always know where the structure is in your ear starts to get used to that pattern and whatever key you're in, you start being able to kind of know where you are in the chord progression. Whereas if every time you sit down and you practice scale, say you load up, you load up a new jam track from YouTube or you have a collection of jam tracks that you use. Are you playing along with a friend or a band or somebody else? What can happen in that context is that you are having spent a lot of energy thinking about, well, what are the chords when in the core is changing? What's the next chord? Right? If you're using the 12-bar blues, is just this repetitive structure that's, on the one hand, got enough interesting complexity to inspire us musically and lay a great foundation for us to venture out a little bit. But it's consistent. It's simple enough that you don't really have to spend a lot of intellectual overhead thinking about where am I in the context of this 12-bar blues, okay, that's why it's a great sandbox is high, I highly recommend you learn to use it whenever you're going to practice anything, arpeggios, scales, bar chords, anything you want to learn, alternate picking, even technique. Use it. Use the 12-bar blues as kind of your sandbox. There's a ton of 12-bar blues recordings, jam tracks online. I've made a couple available in different keys, available as downloads along with these lessons as well, so you can download those. And I've also got a GarageBand projects that you can pull up on your iPhone or iPad that we'll kind of play 12-bar blues in the, in the same keys for you as well so that you can kind of interact with it a little bit more and maybe change the tempo, that sort of stuff that you can do on GarageBand. All right, let's continue on with the course. 4. Tip: "Quick to the 4" is Common: Now the first of the variation that want to look at is by far the most common is called quick to the four. Okay, so in our first example, we're going to look at the key of G, and we have four bars of G. Now we've got two bars of see, the four chord, back to two bars of G. And we have one of d, one C, one of G. The turnaround going back to the five chord of D on the 12th bar. Ok, so the four chord in this key is seen. Now quick to the four, refers to the four chord. So instead of playing four bars of g, at the beginning, we play one bar G followed by one bar of c, the four chord, followed by 12 bars of the one chord, so is 1411 instead of 1111, okay, so it sounds like this. G, C, G, G, C, C, G, G. That would be quick to the four. Now the nice thing about quick to the four is it kinda breaks up that first four bars and prevents it from sounding too redundant to kind of simplistic to just be sitting there, Plan that one chord so many times for so long. So the quick to the four breaks it up a little bit. You'll hear this a lot, for example, in blues-based rock bands like cream. Cream songs. Have quick to the four. You also can find it in Led Zeppelin and a whole lot of British invasion bands that were basically influenced heavily, heavily by American blues. So that's quick to the for, of all the variations there are in blues that is by far, by far the most common. And it's almost sort of the most musical too, because again, like I said, you break up the monotony of those fours, four bars. Now we're gonna move forward, look at a couple other variations, the eight bar and 16 bar blues. 5. Understand the 8 Bar Blues: So now we're going to talk about the eight bar blues. And the eight bar blues is kind of simplified version nationally in the 12-bar blues, the 12-bar blues is by far the most common structure. And really the form that you wanna get to know first to eighth bar blues has a lot of variations within it. So I'm not going to try and address all those variations, but rather give you a good foundation for working with the eight bar blues. So earlier in our talk, we looked at the 12-bar blues. And you can download the 12-bar blues chord diagram cheat sheet, which is basically the 12-bar blues in chord diagrams here in key of G, We have four bars of G. This is just a review of the 12-bar blues to see the four chord back to the one chord and they have 5415. Ok? What we're gonna do here is we're going there's, there's two variations I want to make sure you understand. The first is basically take the 12-bar blues, but just play the first four and the last four measures that, OK, so you'd have G, G, G, G All the one chord, and then you'd have the 5415. Ok? That would be one variation where you just kind of take out the middle four chords from the 12. Are you sandwich the first four bars in the last four bars together you get eight bars. That's one variation is pretty common. Another variation that's really common is you kind of built more on the last four bars of the 12-bar blues. So the 541 turnaround, right? So what we're gonna do there as you're going to start on a one chord. We'd play then 54 and back to the one. That would be the first four bars of our eight bar blues. Than the last four would be switching between the one and the five. So 1515. Ok, so totally That would be 1541151. Okay, that would be another real common variation, a eight bar blues. Set both patterns. The first eight bar blues I gave you in the second eight bar blues, you can download those PDF chord diagrams in the key of G. And I've kinda labelled them, then the coordinate like G, but also the, the numeric value one. So C is the four chord, D is the five chord. So you can learn to think about these things in, in terms of numerals as well. That's really helpful. Again, there are so many variations, slight variations that you'll encounter with, with all the blues. Certainly eight bars is maybe among the most varied. But the 12-bar blues as well, that it makes it a lot easier to navigate to small changes. You're always thinking in terms of numerals instead of actual coordinate. Jim's like g, c, and d. Think about 145, right? Generally the blues is just gonna be made up of those chords, 145. So in most cases, that's what you're going to be dealing with. You can afford to just focus on those three chords when you're looking at almost any blues pattern. But there are subtle differences are the leisure and negotiate if you're thinking numerals instead of coordinate. Next, we're going to look at a 16 bar blues, which is also a pretty common format and then form. So I want you to be familiar with that. We'll cover that in the next lesson. 6. Learn the 16 Bar Blues, too!: Alright, so now we're going to tell you about 16 bar blues. And because you already know the Twelve, the 16 bars is gonna be really easy. I'm gonna talk to you about three variations here, but don't let that discourage you. These are very simple variations once you really know the 12-bar blues. Okay, so again, looking at G, we're going to follow the original 12 bars, which was four bars of g. Four bars, the one chord to the four to the one. Then 541, turning around on the five. That's our 12 bars. Now what we can do is in the first variation, we're just going to take the first four bars, which is four bars of the one chord. We're just going to double that. Okay, so we're gonna adding four bars and now we've got 1111111144115415. Ok, so that would be a very simple variation, the 12-bar blues. To make 16 bars, we're just taking the first four and we're adding them to the existing 12 to make 16. Another thing that we could do is we could double that second line, right? So we can have 11114411441541. Turn around on the five, okay, that would be another variation that we could do. The final variation is that we could take the last four, but we're not going to just kind of double it and plug it on there. We're actually going to kind of we're gonna make it take twice as long. Okay, so instead of having fitting the core progression of 5415 into four bars, we're going to fit it into eight bars like this. So instead of playing the 5415, we're going to play two bars of each. So we have 55441155. In that way, we've added another four bars to our 12 for a total of 16. So let's look at how that whole thing would be to have the 111144115544159. Ok, so in all three of those variations, you can see that we've just kind of elongated certain sections of the 12-bar blues. It's not really a whole new form. It's really just making some of those parts a little longer in duration. And one of the reasons that they do that in the blues is, you know, just to fit in more lyrics to make the cadences and the meter of the lyrics work better. Or maybe to give the player some time to play some cool riffs are Lex or whatever. You know, a lot of time the blues is really a sort of playful structure. It's very organized, it's very structured, but it's playful because ultimately you really try to have fun with it. And you'll find that people have had to bend the rules a little bit by making an eight bar or the 16 bar blues. Because, you know, it's more fun. It did suited their song better, right? It's still inextricably linked to the blues. And as you hopefully noticed from these lessons, everything pretty much comes back to the 12-bar blues. The 12-bar blues is really where it's at. That's the one non-negotiable thing you really want to know. And the eight bar, 16 bar just variations on the 12, but they're all three going to provide you with great sandbox for practicing, which we had talked about earlier. Okay? So I'm gonna talk a little bit more, giving them more of a perspective on the 12-bar blues and the use of the blues as a sandbox in the next lesson. So let's go head of the noun. 7. Playing in 12 Keys is a Great Habit: Now I've made the 12-bar, the eight bar and the 16 bar blues available to you in audio recordings in a couple of different keys and also coord diagram sheets. So you can download those kinda lead sheets and there's actually guitar chord diagrams to follow. Okay, but one of the things I wanted to talk about is changing, this key is changing, changing to any key using numerals, ones, fours, and fives. Okay? And one of the best ways to do this is with bar chords. Now if you're not comfortable with bar chords, Check out my lessons in the Demystifying the fret board workshops, because in there I talk about how to play bar chords and how to get comfortable with bar chords and how to use them and how to demystify the fret board. Start playing bar chords. The bar chords are great because they make playing the blues, the 145 chords specifically much easier. And it sort of becomes a visual formula on the neck, which is what you'll see here in this lesson. Okay, so let's take the G 12-bar blues, but we're going to play it in bar chords, right? So we've got a one chord in this case, let me give you a refresher. This is going to be our one chord, the G. But as a bar chord, this is R, c, which is the four chord is a bar chord. And then our bounds that we got 145. And the nice thing is here, when I'm playing these open chords and rely on open strings, I can't just move up a half fret and play with bar chords. I can. So bar chords allow me to navigate over the fretboard with ease and I didn't have to worry about the open strings sounding wrong. Okay? So that's, that's one of the main things here. And then you can actually get to a place where you're playing the 12-bar blues in any key you want. We're starting with G here because that's been a good practice context all along. So we're starting with, with the 12-bar blues in bar chords, 12-bar blues in G. So we have 1234. Moving to the four chord, back to the 15 for one turnaround in the five, right? So you can take the same formula and you can play it in eight bar blues version where you're playing 12345678 K. And I'll make some PDFs downloadable for core diagrams using the barcodes as well so you can get those. During the 16 bar blues, the variations we talked about would be playing the first four bars twice, right? So we'd have eight bars of our one chord, 5678. And then you play this 9101112 and then the turnaround, 13141516. That would be one variation of the 16 bar blues, but played with br courts, right? You couldn't look at the other variations and figure those out as well. What I want to make. The point about now though, is not just how to play all these different variations we've already covered, but how to do it in, in all 12 keys. So now let's take these bar chords and move them up, let's say to a. So now we've got a and we're playing the 12-bar blues in a, were still using the same fingerings, that same sort of muscle memory and our hands on the fretboard, we've just moved everything from G up two frets to a. Now you've got 23456789101112. That was a simple 12-bar blues or an eight bar blues in a 1234567. Alright? So we're using exactly the same formulas. We're actually using the same muscle memory and our fingers to make these bar chords. But because we're using bar chords, we can move around any key. Let's play in the key of G flat, 123456789101112. And that was a 12-bar Blues in F sharp or G flat. Okay, let's talk about an eight bar blues, I'd say in B-flat, 12345678, right? So by using bar chords, I'm able to navigate anywhere on the neck, play in any key. And this comes in handy because you might be jamming with somebody who is, familiarity with fret board is stronger in one key and they want to be able to jam and sold in one key. And then you can just quickly do that. You can just say, okay, well, I'm gonna play 12-bar blues in whatever key you needed, D. And then you can hang with that. Another place this is handy is if you're playing with a vocalist, singers, there is a key, they're comfortable in. A lot of male singers, for example, it comfortable singing in the key of E, alright, or E-Flat. So you want to be able to play in that key. And you can do so just by getting used to these, these sort of chord shapes, if you will. And then realizing their relationships on the fret board are consistent no matter what key you're in, you just move it around. Okay? So I hope that helps you, or what I encourage you to do with this information is play the eight bar variations, play the 16 bar variations play 12-bar variations like this standard and the quick to the foreplay, those along with a metronome. Trying to keep time and count the bars, get used to counting the measures, know exactly where you are, whether it's eight bar, 12, bar, 16 bar. Know where you are and learn to navigate that as you're playing, okay, and then try doing it in all 12 keys. That could maybe take you a couple days, that could maybe take you a couple of years depending on how much time and energy you can dedicate to the guitar and you practice. But all of that information will definitely benefit you. I guarantee that if you could go almost anywhere in the world and sit down with some other guitarists. And even if you didn't speak the same language as they did, you would start playing the 12-bar blues. And somebody that would say, I know what they're doing, they could just start playing along and that's a lot of fun when you can actually, it's like a form of communication. And you'd have maybe don't speak the same language. But you can play the 12-bar blues. And it's certainly more prevalent in Western cultures. But western music has pervaded the whole world. So you will find that the 12-bar blues is a structure that you can use to encounter musicians locally and also globally as some really, really cool tool that way. Alright, so in the next lesson I'm going to wrap things up and give you some practice tips. And if you have any questions about anything in this course, please reach out to me, just let me know. And I'm happy to extend the course. I'm happy to answer any questions you have makes more supplements downloads that would be helpful just to be in touch. Okay. Alright, lets move on. Thanks. 8. The Blues Wrap-Up: So we've completed this section of lessons. And the main thing I want you to take away is that there are some variations on the blues, quick to the four standard 12-bar variations in eight bar variations in 16 bar. But they all basically are built off the 145 chords. And learning to use numerals to understand where your app is really, really a very powerful feature. That's one thing. The other thing is that this is a great sandbox, right? So whether you're using the eight bars, 16 bar, the 12-bar, it just makes a great sandbox for you to practice things and get comfortable. We can practice playing scales ever you can download the GarageBand projects I've made available here. You can download the audio. Examples where it's basically just the GarageBand being played at static tempo. The GarageBand project allows you to change the tempo and also change the key on the fly. So that's kinda more flexible. But you can definitely just use the audio files but download them and practice your scales over them. Practice, try and play riffs. Try to play a blues solo, you know, use your arpeggios, major scales and minor scales. I've got lots of lessons that cover how to play arpeggios are scales of different varieties. But you can practice of the 12-bar blues. It's just a great, great environment. You can also go on YouTube and you can do a search for jam tracks, 12-bar 16, barn 18 by jam Jack's, there'll be slow blues of the rock blues, there'll be traditional blues, right? You can use those as a sandbox as well because some people have put a lot of time into making a really classy sounding tracks. There are a lot of fun to jam with, but the idea is that you can use your knowledge of the 12-bar blues, your ability to think in terms of coordinate numerals like 145, develop that skill, and then use that to jam with other people, you know, and practice, practice your technique practice you're playing and improvisation. It's just a very, very powerful thing to know. And I call on the 12-bar blues. And my knowledge of the blue's, not because I, I actually don't play traditional blues almost at all ever. And most of the bands I play in, they don't either, right? So the blues is, it's not that I'm a big blues player, is just that. The 12-bar Blues is one of the, one of the very few forms that pervades Western popular music. And it trains your ear really well. It's very musical. Most people recognize it right away. And it's super easy to explore things ever, right? To play things ever. So. It's just a great environment.