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Blog // Sounds
May 25, 2006

How To Play The Blues

Here’s my rough and ready guide for playing a 12 Bar Blues. I don’t like it when people get too caught up in scales and modes with the blues; to me it is all about tension and release and movement. Thinking to much about scales locks you into each present moment, rather linking you in […]

Here’s my rough and ready guide for playing a 12 Bar Blues. I don’t like it when people get too caught up in scales and modes with the blues; to me it is all about tension and release and movement. Thinking to much about scales locks you into each present moment, rather linking you in the direction of the music. It wasn’t till I studied with Jim Kelly and read his book on blues, that this became apparent.

When you are playing a blues, any blues, the important thing to remember is that amost all blues preogression follow a basic pattern of tension and release. That holds even for what appear to be complex patterns like the one you describe. Once you can imagine the whole progression as a pattern of tension and release from the basic key tones, then soloing becomes much
easier. Set up a backing track and try soloing with this in mind.

Bar1 – No tension, just establishing the key centre
Bar2 – small tension, move to the IV
Bar3 – build tension to bar4
Bar4 – major tension, set up a tension that pulls to bar5
Bar5 – release, often full release
Bar6 – some tension, often dim
Bar7 – no tension
Bar8 – tension, pull towards bar9
Bar9 – either tension or release (tension often a sign that solo will continue past turnaround)
Bar10 – tension, pull into turnaround
Bar11&12 – either tension or release, but aim to play over turnaround as a whole.

Notice that we don’t mention scales at only, only chords and relaionships to chords. Also, there is a sense of the direction of the music, the way one bar sets up another bar. This is what makes any good chord progression work, but specifially with the 12 Bar Blues there is a logic that once identified give you a lot of freedom. Of course that is not hard and fast, but if you break down those progressions into that schema it should make it easier to see how the chords are functioning and in turn make it easer to imagine where to follow the chords and where to play against them.

[tags] Blues, 12 Bar Blues [/tags]

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