Blues: Form vs. Genre

When the term “Blues” is mentioned in regards to music, the average person probably associates that word with the genre embodied by the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and their ilk. However, this website is going to focus on the compositional structure and accompanying chord progressions known as “Blues Form”, and its use in nearly every genre of popular music – not just blues, but also country, rock, funk, R&B, and beyond.

Musical form in general is the underlying skeleton of a musical composition. Blues form is a particular type of structure that is very commonplace in popular music, no matter the genre. Perhaps the most widely used type of blues form is the 12 Bar Blues. It is so named because various sets of standard chord changes are repeated in a 12 bar (12 measure) pattern.

In any given major scale there are seven different pitches, known as scale degrees, on which chords can be constructed by “stacking thirds” according to various rules of music theory. If we construct a chord on the first scale degree of any major scale, we would call that chord the “One Chord”. Likewise, chords constructed on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., scale degrees, would in turn be known as the “Two Chord”, “Three Chord”, “Four Chord”, etc.. Due to the intervallic relationship between the notes of each chord resulting from the process of stacking thirds, chords constructed on the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees will be of a “major” tonal quality; Chords constructed on the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th scale degrees will be of a “minor” tonal quality; And the chord constructed on the 7th scale degree will be of a “diminished” tonal quality. In traditional music theory classes, major chords are symbolized with uppercase Roman numerals; Minor chords with lowercase Roman numerals; And diminished chords with a lowercase Roman numeral followed by a small superscript circle (like the symbol used after a number to indicate degrees in Fahrenheit or Celsius).

Standard 12 Bar Blues chord progressions are three-chord patterns using the I, IV, and V chords in various 12 bar configurations. Below is an example of a simple, yet very common 12 Bar Blues chord progression. (Each Roman numeral represents that chord being played for one bar. So four I’s in a row means that the I chord is being played for four bars in a row.)


The following song, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Big Joe Turner, is an example of the above 12 Bar Blues progression.

Lots More To Come

This is a brand new website being developed as you read this. So please check back from time to time as more information gets added. Thanks for reading and listening!