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Rock'n Roll Saxophone

BASIC BLUES CHORD PROGRESSIONS

By John Lull


Longa part of the Oakland California Bay Area rhythm & blues scene,John Lull has played in numerous blues and R&B bands, including Drivin'Wheel, Good Life Band, Third Street Blues Band, and Souled Out, with appearancesat local clubs, including Eli's Mile High Club, JJ's Blues Club, OldPrinceton Landing, Biscuits and Blues, Lou's, Half Moon Bay Brewing Co, theBoom Boom Room, and the Blue Lamp. Henow plays with the South City BluesBand* and is a guest artist in several other local bands. John currentlyliveson the coast south of San Francisco, California.



Thousandsof blues tunes have been written on the standard twelve-bar I-IV-V progression.However, several variations on the basic progression are commonly used,even in the standard blues genre. It'simportant to be familiar with some of the more common blues progressions, whichwill be listed below. Keep in mindthat many other variations are possible. Thisis not an exhaustive list, but it covers most of the progressions that arecommonly used.

Noteon chord symbols: [/I]The Roman numeralrefers to the chord root in the key. Sothe "I" chord in the key of C would be a C chord, the IV chord would be an Fchord, the V chord would be a G chord, the VI chord would be an A chord, etc.The chord quality will follow the Roman numeral:I7, IV7, V7, etc. denote dominant 7th chords, and IIm7, IVm7,VIm7, etc. denote minor seventh chords. Theminor chord is denoted with the "m" symbol, rather than using lower casenumerals, to avoid any confusion.

MajorBlues

"Majorblues" simply means a blues where the I chord is a dominant seventh chord, amajor triad, or a major sixth chord. Inall cases, the major third is present in the chord (although the minor third canbe played in a melodic passage or a riff).

Hereis the most basic progression, still in common use.

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

Here is an example of the basic blues progression shuffle in G.

Youcan use a major triad or major 6th chord for the I chord instead ofthe dominant chord, except on bar 4, where the I chord is almost alwaysdominant, leading into the IV7 chord:

/ I/ I / I[/B] / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I / I/

/V7 / IV7 / I / I/

Variations(chords that deviate from the original progression are shown in bold):

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / IV7 / I7 / V7 /

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / IV7 / I7 / V7 /

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / V7 / I7 / V7/

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/ IIm7/ V7 / I7 / V7[/B] /

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / VI7 /

/ IIm7/ V7 / I7 / V7[/B] /

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 IIm7/ IIIm7bIIIm7 /

/ IIm7/ V7 / I7 / V7[/B] /

/I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / IIIm7b5 VI7/

/ IIm7/ V7 / IIIm7 VI7[/B] / IIm7 V7/

Notes:[/I]The changes to the original chord progression serve to decorate, enhance,and create more movement; but the original sound and feel of the 12-barprogression is maintained.

TheIV7 chord in bar two is very commonly used and is known as a "quick four."The V7 chord in bar 12 is known as a "turnaround," and tends to move theprogression back to the I7 chord at the beginning of the chorus. The last three variations above are more common in jazz, but the II-Vchange in bars 9 and 10 is common in swing and jump blues.

Minor Blues

Ina minor blues the I chord is always minor.It contains a minor 3rd and you definitely don't want toplay the major 3rd on the Im chord.The IV chord is also usually minor, but in some cases it can be dominant.The V chord can be minor or dominant.

Basicminor blues progression, using all minor chords:

/Im7 / Im7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/IVm7 / IVm7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/Vm7 / IVm7 / Im7 / Im7 /

[/I]

Note:[/I]These chords don't have to be minor seventh chords. They can be minor triads, leaving room for different types ofminor harmony (harmonic minor, melodic minor, etc.). But in the basic blues, the b7 is usually implied for thesechords.

Variations:

/Im7 / Im7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/IVm7 / IVm7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/ V7/ IVm7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/Im7 / Im7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/IVm7 / IVm7 / Im7 / Im7 /

/ bVI7/ V7 / Im7 / V7[/B] /

Note:[/I]It is common in a minor blues to play abVI7 to V7 in bars 9 and 10 instead of the standard V7-IV7 change often used ina major blues. "The Thrill isGone," by B.B. King is a well-know tune that uses the bVI7-V7 change.

OtherBlues Forms

Theblues is usually a 12-bar form, but not always.Other forms include 8-bar, 16-bar, and 24-bar blues.

16-barblues:

Onecommon 16-bar structure adds an extra 4 bars on the I chord:

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /



/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

Insome cases, the 16-bar progression is partly standard blues, with an additional4 bars using a different progression. Oneexample is the tune "Watermelon Man" (the section in bold type differs froma standard blues progression):

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / IV7 / V7 / IV7 /



/V7 / IV7 / I7 / I7 /

Some16-bar blues have a chord progression all their own, to fit the melody andlyric, such as the WillieDixon classic, "My Babe" (it still sounds like the blues, but you haveto learn the specific progression for tunes like this):

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/I7 / I7 / V7 / V7 /

/I7 / I7 / IV7 / IV7 /

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

24-barblues:

A24-bar blues is usually a 12-bar blues with twice as many bars on each chord.One example is the tune "Mustang Sally:"

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/IV7 / IV7 / IV7 / IV7 /

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

/V7 / V7 / IV7 / IV7 /

/I7 / I7 / I7 / I7 /

8-bar blues:

Here is a typical 8 bar blues progression:

/ I/ I7 / IV7 / #IVdim7 /

/ I/ V7 / I7 / I7 or V7 /

Notethe use of a major triad, rather than a dominant chord in the first bar.This helps put some emphasis on the dominant nature of the I7 chord,which leads into the IV7 chord. Alsonote the #IV dim chord in the fourth bar.

Playingthe Changes

Whenpracticing these progressions, you can play chord arpeggios, guide tone lines onthe 3rd and 7th chord tones, and generally learn your wayaround the chord tones. However,when improvising on the blues, it's not enough to simply play chord tones.Practice using chromatic approach notes and neighbor tones.For example, you can precede the major third of a dominant seventh chordwith a minor third as a leading tone. Youcan use chromatic runs between chord tones.Pentatonic scales and the blues scale can also be used liberally.It is very effective to play one chorus on the chord changes and a secondone using notes from the blues scale.

Listento lots of blues recordings and try to see what progressions are being used.The more you know about the harmony, the better your notechoices will be. But knowledge of the harmony is only one component. In the end, the goal is to play rhythmically, with feeling, good phrasing, someinteresting melodic content, and to connect with the audience.Listen to the blues and jazz greats to get an idea how to putit all together and really play the blues.


Blues and the Dominant Chord




The Rules and How to Break Them

www.saxontheweb.net
Created: October 23, 2006.
Update: July 15, 2007
©2006-7, HarriRautiainen and respectiveauthors

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