How to Make the 12 Bar Blues Chords Fun to Play in Your Music Lessons
What are the 12 Bar Blues Chords?
The 12 Bar Blues chords are the first, fourth and fifth chords from any given scale or key signature. There are several variations that people play and use while playing the 12 Bar Blues Chord progression. These variations to the 12 Bar Blues Chords, usually come in the form of adding a flattened seventh note to the chord. This added “blues” note gives the 12 Bar Blues Chord progression some added “color” to the chord and creates some interest in the repeating 12 Bar Blues Chord pattern.
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12 Bar Blues Chord Progression
The 12 Bar Blues Chord progression follows a set chordal ostinato that is performed over 12 bars. The pattern is 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 4, 1, 1, 5, 4, 1, 1.
Often when the pattern is repeated, the last chord is replaced with a 5-7th chord. This added seventh to the 5th chord creates a feeling of “leading” into the next section and helps to drive the music forward.
Below you can see a diagram of the chord pattern.
12 Bar Blues Chord Progression in G
When playing the 12 Bar Blues chords in the music classroom, a good place to start to play in is the key of G Major. This key has nice and easy chords to play on the guitar, ukulele and the keyboard or tuned percussion instruments. This key, with only one sharp, is a great way for your students, at any level, to find success while playing the 12 Bar Blues Chord pattern.
If you want to add the keyboard into the class performance of this chord progression, the notes for each chord are below:
G Chord – G-B-D
C Chord – C-E-G
D Chord – D-F#-A
For your students on the keyboard or tuned percussion, give them the freedom to play any note from the chord when it is time to play the chord in the 12 Bar Blues pattern. For example, a beginning student could just perform the bass or root notes of each chord, each chord equalling 4 beats –
||: G, G, G, G, C, C, G, G, D, C, G, G :||
Another way that students can play this 12 Bar Blues on tuned percussion, that does not include the F#, is to play the fifths of the chords. This would be playing two notes together during the chord pattern. It is fun to do this, and again give the kids a bit of freedom with how they perform these notes. They can vary the rhythms, the register, or even make it like a little melodic ostinato alternating between the two notes!
- G Chord – G & D together
- C Chord – C & G together
- D Chord – D & A together
Or if they are more capable, they could try playing block chords in either the left or right hand, playing all three notes of the chord together in a rhythmic pattern.
To help your guitar and ukulele students, use this YouTube video that includes 3 different speed versions of the 12 Bar Blues in G chord progression. In this video, at each different tempo, the 12 Bar Blues chord progression is repeated 3 times, with a four-bar introduction.
If you love the idea of playing the 12 Bar Blues in class, try these guitar and ukulele classroom resources for the 12 Bar Blues. There are several different keys to choose from, and each set comes with 12 different music play along tracks. There are four different music styles, 3 tracks in 4 beats, and 1 in 3 beats. Then for each different music style, there are 3 tempo versions! Each style comes in slow, medium, and fast tempos. This means that you can start slow and build up speed as your student’s progress and become more confident in playing the 12 Bar Blues. The play along tracks will be great to use for in class performances, assemblies and even performance evenings and shows for parents and caregivers.
12 Bar Blues Music Assessment
These resources are also fantastic as part of an assessment in the music classroom. Follow the steps below to help you assess your students on their performance and arrangement skills on their chosen instrument.
- Teach the 12 Bar Blues Chord progression that you want your students to use.
- As a class, create an arrangement of the 12 Bar Blues, giving everyone a part to play, on their chosen instrument, at their level of expertise.
- Give students the chance to work in small groups. You might want to give directions like – only one guitar, keyboard, and ukulele in a group. Or each member of the group must perform a small solo in the arrangement.
- Give the students choice about which 12 Bar Blues track to play along with. This way they can play at a tempo that suits them and their ability.
- Give your students time to arrange and rehearse their performances.
- Do some check in on progress – either with each group individually, or more as a workshop type check with the whole class listening and watching.
- Set a date for the final performances and perform! Try recording their performances on video, that way they can watch themselves and even write an evaluation on their own performance!
Until next time
Julia from Jooya