What is a 16 bar blues?

Let’s start with the easy bit, what is a 12 bar blues? From here it’s easier to show the difference with a 16 bar blues.

Typically the 12 bar pattern is

1 1 1 1

4 4 1 1

5 4 1 1

If you are wondering what these numbers mean the simplest way to explain is to think of the 8 major tones in music  CDEFGABC, then number them 1234 and so on…the pattern shown relates to the number of bars played using those chords corresponding with those tones.

I’m probably not explaining it very well so let me show you. If we play an 12 bar blues in A, for example, we can number the chords as A1 B2 C3 D4 E5 F6 G7 A8. So now our 12 bar blues pattern comprises 4 bars of A, followed by 2 bars of D followed by 2 bars of A and so on which we can rewrite as

A A A A

D D A A

E D A A

The 16 bar blues is a variation on this pattern. Interestingly there seems to be numerous permutations and possibilities as to how a 16 bar blues pattern can be constructed.

The simplest is to make the first 4 bars into 8 bars like this

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

4 4 1 1 5 4 1 1

or we can repeat the 9th an 10th bars 3 times like this:

1 1 1 1 4 4 1 1

5 4 5 4 5 4 1 1

or we can repeat them twice like this:

1 1 1 1 4 4 1 1

5 4 5 4 1 1 1 1

or we can do this:

1 1 1 1 4 4 1 1

4 4 1 1 5 5 1 1

and there are more besides those.

Reminds me of something Robben Ford is meant to have said along the lines of ‘if it sounds good, play it!’

Here’s an example of what I think is a 16 bars blues, Blue Jean Blues by Billy Gibbons (of Z Z Top). I’ve got the ZZ Top version elsewhere but it’s a live version. I think the album version is more flattering to Billy and so I am going to include that here


 

What’s an 8 bar blues?

Not all blues is 12 bar blues!

Typically the 8 bar pattern is 1 5 4 4 1 5 then a turnaround of 1 5

If you are wondering what these numbers mean the simplest way to explain is to think of the 8 major tones in music  CDEFGABC, then number them 1234 and so on…the pattern shown relates to the number of bars played using those chords corresponding with those tones.

I’m probably not explaining it very well so let me show you. If we play an 8 bar blues in A, for example, we can number the chords as A1 B2 C3 D4 E5 F6 G7 A8. So now our 8 bar blues pattern comprises 1 bar of A, followed by 1 bar of E followed by 1 bar of D and so on which we can rewrite as

A E D D A E A E

Here’s a famous example of an 8 bar – Key to The Highway – originally written and recorded by ‘William Charles Segar although Eric Clapton has pretty well made it his own, having done numerous versions including with BB King on the collaboration album ‘Riding With The King’

see also ‘What is 16 bar blues?’

 

Singing the blues – at least singing your licks

A top tip my guitar teacher gave me is that top blues players can always ‘sing their licks’.

If you think about it, it makes sense. If you can’t hear in your head what you want to play  before you play it, what you’ll produce will be a bit random!

My teacher would literally hum the licks he wanted to play as he played them.

When I started doing the same I noticed two things.

First, at the start, I couldn’t remember my licks well enough to be able to hum them. This explained why I found it so hard to play them. I couldn’t even remember what they were meant to sound like so what chance did I have?

Second, once I actually started ‘learning’ how the licks go, and remembering them, I could ‘sing’ them and it made a massive difference to the ease of playing them.

 

 

Why do directors of music videos do that?

Here’s just a quick observation.

I don’t know about you but when I’m watching a DVD or video of one of my blues guitar heros, I really want to see what he’s doing on the fret board.

But it often seems to be the case that just when he launches into an amazing solo, the director cuts to a shot of the bassist, or the drummer tapping limply on the hi-hat – infact he’ll cut to anything rather than show how that solo is being fingered and played.

Frustrating or what?

Still, I guess the answer is keep plugging away with the blues guitar lessons and perhaps then I’ll be able to play those solos by ear!