This is the first in a short series of lessons devoted to playing bass on a 12 bar blues. I’ll be covering Blues Rock and Jazz Blues in upcoming lessons.
Please Note: On this video the backing track has a very full sound and the bass can sound a little overpowered on smaller speakers. If you have problems hearing it be sure to use either headphones or larger speakers (desktop etc.)
The Twelve-Bar Blues
Many styles of music, ranging from pop to jazz, use a common chord progression called the twelve-bar blues. It is really important to learn this sequence and develop a good feel for it. Once you have it firmly memorised, you’ll have the advantage of instantly knowing hundreds of thousands of songs based on this progression.
The general progression for the Twelve Bar Blues is as follows:
Learning the sequence by number helps with moving to different keys.
For now, we will only be using chords I, IV and V. It is important to know those particular chords in every key as they are so common and are used in 99% of tunes you hear. You might get other chords in there, but I, IV and V are the main chords of the key. They are sometimes called primary chords.
Blues Progression in C
To understand the chords within a key by number, first you need to learn the Major scale. Here is a simple fingering for a C Major Scale:
Next we can number the notes of the Major Scale from 1 to 7:
Using this number system we can easily find the chords 1, 4 and 5:
- Chord I – C
- Chord IV – F
- Chord V – G
The beauty of knowing chords by number is that we can easily move keys.
To find chords I, IV and V in Ab for example, then we would simply count up through the Ab major scale:
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
- Chord I – Ab
- Chord IV – Db
- Chord V – Eb
We can also use basic intervals to quickly calculate the chords within a key. A perfect 4th from the root with take you to chord IV and a perfect 5th will take you to chord V:
In blues, I, IV and V are normally played as dominant chords, which contributes to the classic blues sound. To make each chord dominant, we simply take the triad and add a minor 7th.
Chord I – C E G Bb – C7
Chord IV – F A C Eb – F7
Chord I – G B D F – G7
This may seem confusing to those of you with a knowledge of diatonic harmony. Normally, the chords in the key of C major would be as follows:
Chord I – C E G B – C Maj 7
Chord IV – F A C E – F Maj 7
Chord I – G B D F – G7
This goes against standard diatonic harmony so don’t think about it too hard! The main reason we make every chord dominant is so we can take that bluesy sound and move it around.
C Blues Bass Line
Here is a simple bass line for the twelve-bar blues in the key of C:
Although practical, playing root notes like this can become a little tedious. We can make use of simple melodic devices to add some interest. First of all, let’s have a look at a basic chromatic approach from chord I to chord IV:
Here we are using a double approach to lead into the F. Try adding this lead into the chord progression between chords I (C) and IV (F).
We can also use chromatic approaches from two notes above or below the next chord, (this works for every single chord in there). Here is one example of approaching the F in this way:
Here is the approach from below:
Learning progressions by number makes it easy to transpose a song to any key. As an example, we’ll transpose the twelve-bar blues into the key of F.
First of all we need to count up the F major scale to find the root notes.
F G A Bb C D E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
- Chord I – F
- Chord IV – Bb
- Chord I – C
We know that every chord must be dominant as we are playing in a blues style so the notes of each chord would be as follows:
- F7 – F A C Eb
- Bb7 – Bb D F Ab
- C7 – C E G Bb
Blues In F
In blues, the bass will often play a steady, repeating riff made up of the notes of the chord in use. You’ll hear these riffs in loads of different songs so just listen out for them and learn as many as you possibly can. They are a great way to get to grips with this style and are handy for blues jams.
Here’s an example of a simple Blues Riff:
This uses degrees 1, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale. We can transpose this to the key of F to find the notes we need to play this riff over our F7 chord:
If we play this riff over chords I, IV and V, we can play through the whole progression as follows:
To spice this up a little, we can add a sneaky little triplet… (B.B. King fans will recognise this from his song Paying The Cost To Be The Boss).
Twelve-Bar Blues Variations
There are many variations on the twelve bar blues progression that can become quite far removed from the original. For now, we are going to concentrate on two simple variations.
Our first variation makes use of an additional chord IV in the second bar and again in the tenth bar:
The second variation is the same as the first, but we return to chord V (G7) for the last bar:
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backing track is a bit to loud, we need to hear the bass more.
How can I get the Backing Track?
The backing tracks are available to buy in the Talkingbass store if you want them in a bunch of styles and loads of different keys. IF you only want the one key, just sign in and go to the practice tracks page.
hi mark, great job as usual! can you just explain why you use the 6th note and not the 7th on the chord progression while you are playing a C7? even if it sounds nice and blusy. cheers from france and keep on enjoying us!
You don’t need to limit yourself to only the chord tones. The chord tones are the framework you work from because they are the consonant notes (they work!). You can also use any scale notes or chromatic notes in your lines but they have to work around that solid chord tone framework. As long as you emphasize the chord tones on strong beats you can pretty much put anything in there. Then it’s down to the kind of line or sound you’re personally trying to create.
Really nice to have something so instinctive to learn the different chord fingerings, and fretboard positions for.
REALLY GOOD….YOU ARE THE BEST TEACHER I EVER HAVE…
REALLY GOOD….YOU ARE THE BEST TEACHER I EVER HAD…
I am a beginner and I must say that you have made learning to play this instrument a joy……thanks
Thanks Mark, Great stuff much appreciated…
thanks Mark, got a lot from this lesson “chock full of goodness”
Thanks, couldn’t come at a better time.
I just got invited to jam with a band doing blues.
Definitely look forward to more lessons.
Hello, Mark. First, thank you for your lessons, i started 5-6 months ago, they’ve been really helpful.
After some of your lessons i found myself browsing wikipedia reading about tonality, harmony etc, but i always feel like i’m missing something important, so i thought could you recommend some books on music theory? To systematize some of the knowledge you gave us and to learn the basics that lie in the foundation of it all? Preferably something that would be relatively easy to read, like in your lessons you are good in simple explaining complex stuff.
Thank you again,
Yes Sir I am an absolute beginner
A whole lota juicy goodness here… had to watch through a few time to gather everything…Love it when things are presented this way as if broken down into understandable parts and which grant you the freedom to explore as well.. This is a great lesson !!!
Anyway to download that backing track? I thought you said it was available for download in the video?
Another great beginner lesson — thanks!
But, I think the backing tracks were erroneously omitted from the lesson material–all I see is the pdf.same problem noted by the previous commenter.
The backing track is on the backing tracks page in the Practice Room. These blues lessons are intended as a companion to the Blues Tracks. https://www.talkingbass.net/bass-practice-tracks/
Thank You Mark. I get it now…
Thanks Mark! Your lessons are awesome,
Thanks Mark, you really the best. I’m learning sight read using your program.
Thanks Mark, you really are the best. I’m learning to sight read using your program.
Hi Mark, most of your stuff is really great, but I was watching a lesson on scales and you were doing two octave major scales and when I could not find the notes that went with that lesson, I bought the scale book but that does not have two octave major scales either. You might want to add those. Thanks for all the great stuff.
Thanks Mark, for another great lesson. Can you just make a comment on the rhythmic timing of the fills and approach notes? Should we always be aiming to hit the “target” note on beat one?
I have computer plugged into HiFi system , Marantz amp ,Celestion speakers — no problem with balance , sounds great .
Fantastic. as always, been shuffling all day, now it feels as if my finger tips will fall off! I really appreciate the presentation of each lesson, the .pdf resources and how your teaching has moved my practicing along in leaps and bounds, thank you so much.
Is there any way for me to mark this lesson as a favorite to make it easier to find later?
Great stuff! I love the idea of the walkup. The backing tracks in the Practice room are fantastic! However, the link to other tracks in different keys is not working.
where is the backing track?
Where is the practice track? I can’t find any practice tracks on the site at all, even the mentioned ones in the store don’t appear to be there.
I’m in the process of creating new practice tracks for the site. This video was released a long time ago and the site has changed a lot since then. The backing track packs were removed a few years ago.
It would be helpful if you would remove the old comment so we don’t all go hunting for the backing track packs. Likewise references to the tracks being in the Practice Room seems invalid (they’re now at https://www.talkingbass.net/bass-practice-tracks/). I expect many people get frustrated trying to chase down the resources. An otherwise OUTSTANDING lesson. Thanks, Mark!
Hey Mark. The first finger on the F pattern is a major breakthrough for me! love your teaching style!! Thanks again
Is there a way we can print the information from the lessons?