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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Blues Plus (1)

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

A 4-lesson series concerning common variations on the 12-Bar Blues form.

I took a phone call at my teaching studio one day that went something like this;

”I’m new in town, I recently moved here from Austin. I got your number from the guitar player at the jam at Jimmy’s Jigger last night.”

[Jimmy’s Jigger was a Sunday night jam session with Bill Maness on Hammond B3 and Rick Hendricks on guitar.]

He continued,

“They called a Blues in Bb. I’ve been playing guitar professionally for over 20 years and what we call a Blues in Austin ain’t what you Kansas City guys are doing! There were tons of chords! I was totally lost! It was humbling. I need you to show me what y'all are doing.”

I'm going to give you what I gave him; I call it, "Blues Plus." It consists of common variations on the 12-Bar Blues form.

A word about keys; most guitar players play the Blues in guitar-centric keys like A, E and G. This is a manifestation of what I call the Inbred Guitar Culture.

In Kansas City, the Blues informed the Jazz music that was being created here in the 1930s, in which the principal soloists were horn players. Due to the nature of saxophones and trumpets, flat keys were more common; F, Bb, Eb etc. If you are more comfortable in A than Bb, you need to knock yourself out of your guitar-centric habits.

For that reason, all the examples I will give in this lesson will be in Bb; deal with it!

The chords will be written as basic Dominant 7th chords. However, many musicians will use extensions (9ths, 11ths and 13ths), as well as alterations (sharp/flat 5ths and 9ths among others) at the player’s discretion. For more information and some free content on 7th chords, see:

The first thing is to establish the basic 3-chord 12-Bar Blues form. I didn’t have to do this with my caller; he was already familiar with it, but I like to start at the very beginning because it’s easy for me to assume too much. So for the sake of beginners:

The Roman numerals are derived from the Major Scale of whatever key you're in; in this case Bb. If Bb is I, then Eb is IV (count up the Major Scale) and F is V. Blues guys (and musicians in general) often speak in terms of the numbers rather than letter names because the numerical relationships stay the same no matter what key you're in.

The first variation on this form you need to be aware of is before the song even starts. The leader may say, "From the I" or he might say, "From the V".

"From the I" - means you start at the top of the form - therefore from the I.

"From the V" - means that you start with the first bar of the 3rd line (bar 9), which is the V chord. In that case, you're using the last four bars of the form as an intro.

Another variation: some songs go to IV (Eb7) in the second bar. Everything else stays the same:

Other possibilities:

  • The 10th bar can stay on the V chord.

  • The 12th bar can stay on the I chord.

One more common variation on the basic form: in bars 9 and 10, instead of going from V to IV, II to V is employed:

II could be Minor as well as Dominant, so use your ears!

One other issue before we leave the basics; the last 2 bars can contain what's called a "Turnaround." Here’s a common one:

There are dozens of Turnarounds and I'm not going to get into any more of them here. There is a free lesson on the website called, "3 Common Turnarounds" that you can look at if you want, but you must be a Site Member and logged in to view it.

Any combination of these variations can occur.

In a straight-ahead Blues context, once the form of a specific song is established, it usually doesn't change; whatever variations are played the first time through remain the same through the whole song. When Jazz guys play the Blues (like what happened in Kansas City in the '30s), that's not necessarily the case (more on that later).

All the above was what the guitarist from Austin already knew. A Blues player with any experience knows most or all of it.

In the next blog, we'll start getting into the "plus" part of "Blues Plus!”


Want more stuff on the Blues? There are 10 free Blues lessons on the FREE LESSONS page of the website. Plus there are 22 free lessons called Soloing in a Blues Context on the same page.

The free lessons are accessible by Site Members only!

The soloing lessons are also available as a PDF download; for some free content (signup not required) and to get an idea of what's in the PDF, go to: Concepts for Basic Improvising.


Sign up as a Master Guitar School site member - it's free! - and get access to dozens of free site-based lessons, a monthly newsletter that contains a brand-new free lesson, and DEEP discounts on lesson series downloads - plus more!

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