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Learn a fresh simple approach to 12 bar blues for harmonica players

Take some new basslines, some easy jazz tunes, re-learn the 12 bar blues on harmonica and become the instrumental star!

Mostly this month…

Mostly this month and I have been teaching blues.

I have found a new and very interesting approach to playing 12 bar blues which consists of two parts.

  1. Playing the same phrase 3 times over the 12 bar blues
  2. Playing something different over each chord of the 12 bar blues.

The first allows you to glide over the chords whilst listening, being aware and observing the chords as they seem to come toward you and go away from you, and the second gets you right into the meat of the harmony.

It’s like the first one is polishing the shiny paintwork on your new car and the second is working on the engine!

The thing I like most about the first approach is that it is very simple, and it is very established as a way of theming a piece of music.

For example, Duke Ellington used this in his C Jam Blues. Another example is Milt Jackson’s Bag’s Groove. Another would be Jimmy Forest’s Night Train.

In each case you simply learn one short phrase which you play three times.

In 12 bar blues there are three sections each has four bars so the phrase fits into a four bar section.

This is known as the ‘Head’ and is usually played once or twice at the beginning and once at the end with the middle section being devoted to improvisation.

If you are a player who knows and can play some of these heads it puts you in a strong position and enables you to play an ‘instrumental’ with a band. That means there is no singing and it means the harmonica player can lead the band.

Imagine walking onto the band stand in a jam session or an open mike and say to the band let’s do a harmonica instrumental in the key of A, medium swing, come in on the V chord, we will play the head twice, and let’s go… one, two, one, two three four…


The second part of this new approach is to play bass lines on the harmonica.

There is a vast amount of bass lines to choose from so I have selected four that I hear commonly used and one that is common in left hand piano boogie woogie music.

In this case the idea is that you learn the bass line so it fits over each of the three chords in the blues – the I chord, the IV chord and the V chord.

Once you can figure out how to play these lines you will discover a great confidence in the structure of the blues.

No longer will you get lost in the 12 bar blues because you will have these bass lines in your head. You do not need to play them constantly although when you find you are playing where there is no bass player you can put them to use.

By playing these lines you will always be able to feel what chord you are on because the bass lines are nothing more than broken cords.

This will help you with your improvisation and chord surfing.

If you would like more information, downloads, tab and backing tracks please follow the link below.

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