In a nutshell. Playing the blues, finding some blue notes, is a nice part of all we do as Americana artists. For it's stripe is wide in our Americana fabric of musics. Just seems there's always some room for some tastefully added 'blue hue' in all of styles. The hue becomes a 'rub' as we steep deeper in the blues, its origins and meaning in our storytelling. That we can find the 12 bar blues form in songs through a wide spectrum of styles speaks of its originality and keystone place in our musics.

From traditional blues into folk, rock and country, through pop and off to jazz. The form and blue notes are Americana mainstays. So these next ideas are some key blue components, mixed together to form a start point into the music and it's magics. Super rote learn these licks here if need be, and take them on down whatever road you go.

Need a melody? Need a melody to get started? How about a 'three notes and the truth' styled line? Is this like 'three chords and the truth?' Yep, but with melody notes. Thinking 12 bar blues in 'A', find this one by ear, starts on the guitar's 'middle 'C', so 5th fret and 'G' string. Example 0.

Just two good choruses ... Ever hear something like this ? 'Man, I'd sure like to play two choruses of 12 bar blues back to back, and get it that story just right.' Rule of thumb here? Always try to take two choruses :)

'Muddy' walkdown. This first idea is very common in the blues music. Named for blues artist Muddy Waters, it'll work every time in lots of different spots to keep things humming along. Rote learn it here if need be, adding your own accents. Thinking 'G' blues and starting on our root pitch 'G.' Example 1.

wiki ~ Muddy Waters

Cool? Lot of 'direction to' in the line, pretty definite sounding to where its going ? Right on yea it's supposed to be, 100 years on down it's a cliche now. Once under your fingers, learn it in a couple of more keys; 'E, A, C', are common. Flat keys for working with horn players usually. So 'F', 'Bb' etc. Write a song in each one.

Also, do find this pattern in 'G' blues in a few spots on the neck. Anywhere there's a 'G' note on your ax, this lick is nearby. For it'll get you riding the neck on the blues elevator, for that feeling of 'going up.'

Reverse 'Muddy' walkup. In this next idea we reverse the direction of the line from our root pitch 'G' and it still works perfect. Again, thinking blues in 'G.' Example 2.

Getting down to bottom of things here pitch wise, this idea, actually both the descending and ascending, make great bass lines too. So share them with your pals and turn up some blues ! The closing 'D'9 chord is a common blues, jazz and funk chordal color.

'Holwlin' lick. In this next idea we outline the three chords of blues song. This basis triadic motif can go about a couple of dozen different ways. Named for bluesman Howlin' Wolf himself, this is one of our traditional blues guitar riffs. we reverse the direction of the line and it still works fine. Here thinking blues in 'A.' Example 3.
wiki ~ Howlin Wolf blues

Three chords and the truth? Yep, just a shorthand sort of four bar version of the truth. Got a story to tell ? Shape it how ya need to, and motorize, to make your songs.

12 bar blues. Of all of the musical forms we inherit today, the four bar phrase is the core of it all. In the 12 bar blues, we simply create an idea of four measures, we then repeat it three times to make a song. In the following chorus, we'll just root pitch the One, Four and Five chords and jazz it up with a fast Four. Same One, Four Five as the last idea? Yep, now back in 'G.' Ex. 4.

Sound familiar? Scoots right along huh ? Yep, it's at 180 beats per minute. Dig the turnaround in the 12 bar? We've been hearing this sort of line for near seven decades now in our Americana musics. The 'Batman' theme comes to mind. Here's an arpeggiated version of the triads. Just rockin' around the clock. Example 4a.

Master this last 12 bars and string a few choruses together. Internalize the sounds and form, own them forevermore globally. Once under your fingers, add the 7th colortone for each triad to jazz it all up and bring a deeper blues hue to your cool. From there the '9's, '11's and '13's will beckon.

The 'muddy' lick through 12 bars. This next idea, for beginning blues leaning artists, is a game changer. Here we take the 'muddy' licks from above and create a 12 bar blues form / song. Master this 12 bar song, even in just the one key, and a 'ton' of musical skills will begin to fall in place. Run it through a couple of keys and begin to knit this puzzle together over your fingerboard. Ex. 5.

Learning some four string bass too along with six string guitar? Thoroughly mastering this last idea might just get you some gigs. For now you've a musical form to work with and cool lines to connect up the dots. A song's form is what gets the band on the same page together, and keep them there as the stories unfold. Twelve bar blues is a base we build songs of all the styles upon.

Honky tonkin' 12 bars a la boogie woogie. Once the triads are cool, our next evolutions is to add a blue 7th to each of the triads. In doing so we create the coolness of musics that gave rock and roll its first few go's. Ex. 5a.

wiki ~ honky tonk
wiki ~ boogie woogie
blue 7th

Cool? Sound familiar? Cool. Yea, jazzed it up a bit with the 6th too. Blues rockers of all the stripes should master this last idea in a couple of keys. Easy pattern to follow, easy way to get a room up dancing :)

Find your mojo lick. Here we go back to the basics. Every blues inspired artist needs their own mojo lick, a lick they can blast into the mix without a moments hesitation. It's just super super solid under your fingers and because, you invented it, it's yours. Even if ya mess it up sometimes it'll still be yours, so cool. And chances are you'll go back to it a time or two again. Just something we all like to do.

So the trick is to find it. One way to start is to run this scale shape's pitches ascending and descending till your muse shakes and idea loose your lines. Stop anywhere along in the pitches and search if you hear some coolness. Just find it. And in the meantime, as we run these pitches / scale shape up and down, we also are rote learning the original, core of it all, 'box' scale shape.

Here in blues in 'A', run this blues scale shape up and down the pitches, in position, and find yourself a mojo lick or two along the way. Mostly around the 5th fret puts us in 'A.' Example 6.

Find something? Cool. The 'x's ? The tritone blue notes. And is this the one scale shape we all use? From the brightest stars on the scene on through all the decades? Yep. This one shape yields bushel baskets full of great ideas every day. And has for the last couple of hundred years or so, for countless blues leaning artists with every sort of genre. Rockers, country, even jazz.

Every Americana blues leaning guitarist will know something of this shape and its pitches. A totally movable form and shape, begin to learn it here and now if need be, master it and its yours too forevermore :)

A first diminished chord lick. So much of what we do in mixing up the blue colors and its hues, and blending them into all of our Americana musics, revolves around the tritone interval. Encapsulated into the pitches of V7, we easily can further build up the tritone colors into diminished triads and chords. And while a rare color indeed in the folk toward pop musics, in the blues and especially jazz, the diminished colors opens the Giant's doors into new realms of creativity and explorations. Know this sound yet ? Example 7.

A first diminished chord lick. This last idea goes way back now to the early blues. Notice how the voicing just sort of collapese on itself to alter the color? Collapsing the intervals of a chord, in this case with V7, evolves the diminished color for us.

Write a blues song. Well did you shake loose a mojo idea from the scale shape and it's pitches? Find some words to express an idea for a song? Maybe a hook shook loose with the pitches and lick you found ? Cool. Can you make it all into a four bar phrase? Even cooler then, let's write us a 12 bar blues song. Just take your four bar idea and repeat it three times over the form and chords of a regular old, 12 bar blues song and viola ... your song is born.

Still searching for the coolness within? Need an idea? A bluesy, testify, I know this story too, took a piece of my heart now ... blues hued and feels good too ... ? Easy. Borrow one of mine. Here's some of my words for a hook / chorus for your song, ones that everyone in the band can sing too.

"The truth is ... ya just don't love me no more."

"The truth is ... ya just don't love me no more."

"The truth is ... ya just don't love me no more."

Here's the pitches. Example 6.

Three's a charm eh ?

My first verse starts ... 'There was a time ... "

What U got ? Have some blues rhymes ?

Think you can now write a four bar phrase into a 12 bar blues form? Very cool, and a super super theory game changer for certain :)

Review. So, have a few licks under your fingers with our blues colors now? Each of the ideas presented above create ways to play the blues. Team any up with Franz, and let your strengthening begin anew. For within musical time is where we can measure and shape all of the above.

"I'd love to knock an audience cold with one note, but what do you do for the rest of the evening?"
wiki ~ Eric Clapton