Someone I used to work with once described me as “predictible.” Let’s call this person Craig. That is in fact his real name, but I’m completely calling him out here in an attempt to be unpredictable.
That badge of predictability given to me by the great and powerful Craig stuck with me and truthfully, was probably somewhat accurate.
That one word, really cut right to one of my core fears: being predictible. I’m certainly guilty of being safe and predictable but I know that you’ve got to shake things up a little here and there.
That applies to my guitar playing too. One way to shake up your blues playing is to go beyond the normal 12 bar blues.
That’s right, THIRTEEN BAR BLUES! Ha!
But seriously, there are several small tweaks to the standard 12 bar blues progression that will add a little variety to your rhythm playing.
The first simple tweak to consider is Quick Change Blues.
Change One Bar and Add Some Variety to Your Blues
Sometimes all you need is a little change here or there to add something special to a blues progression. You want your rhythm to scream blues, but you don’t want to play the same 12 bar shuffle pattern each and every time you jam on some blues.
In the case of quick change blues, changing one bar in the standard 12 bar progression makes the song move. This is just one rhythm tweak you can use to expand your knowledge of blues rhythm guitar.
See the Possibilities of Blues Rhythm
Keep in mind, this change may be small, but it is definitely a slick way to add some life to a predictable progression.
Full disclosure: quick change blues is common enough that it could be seen as predictable itself. So before Craig comes around and points this out to me, I want you to know that the quick change blues tweak will be the jumping off point for many other tweaks to the 12 bar blues pattern.
I believe this is the first tweak that you should get to know. It will help you see what’s possible, even within the 12 bar framework.
Learn the 12 Bar Quick Change Blues Pattern
Before we get into the quick change blues progression, let’s make sure the standard 12 bar blues progression is ingrained in your subconscious. Remember that using Roman Numeral analysis, we can write the standard 12 bar blues progression as a formula. Then using the formula, fill in the chords depending on the key. The formula looks like this:
Read the grid from left to right and you will see that the formula is four bars of the I chord followed by two bars of the IV chord and two more on the I chord. The last four bars are a bar on the V chord and a bar on the IV chord then, finally, two bars on the I chord.
Plug in the chords of any key and you have the chords for a 12 bar blues. So in the key of A the chord pattern looks like this:
Quick Change Blues Progression
The change in quick change blues, happens in bar 2. This progression, so called since the change from the I to the IV chord happens so early in the progression, is identical to the traditional 12 bar blues progression with the exception of bar 2. In quick change, bar 2 is the IV chord instead of the I chord.
Here’s what it would look like tabbed out in the key of A in a typical shuffle pattern.
Learn a Few Great Quick Change Blues Songs
While the standard is certainly cool and should be mastered to the point where you could almost play it in your sleep, listening to the greats shows they often deviate from the standard. My guess is, that’s what makes them great.
The quick change blues progression is common, sure; but it does add a little twist and make things a little less predictible.
If you want to play some quick change along to some of the blues masters, here is a short list of songs that use this technique:
Sweet Home Chicago – Robert Johnson
Before You Accuse Me – Bo Diddley
Boot Hill – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Give these a try and work the quick change blues progression into your playing. I would hate for someone to call your blues predictable so add some variety to your rhythm. You don’t have a bassist named Craig, do you?