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The 12 Bar Blues - Guitar Lesson 2

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate


12 Bar Blues Lesson 2 explained.

Here is the second lesson in the 12 Bar Blues series.

The 12 Bar Blues Lesson 1 is here
The 12 Bar Blues Lesson 3 is here

Lesson 2 is a lot more difficult than Lesson 1, as you will discover. To begin with, it's mostly played halfway up the fretboard which can be disconcerting at first. For another, the main riff consists of a double stop in which one of the notes is bent while the other remains static. There's also an open string note inserted into the riff which takes some getting used to.

The similarities with Lesson 1 are the bass line, which is just thumping out the roots of each chord on each beat of the bars and the fact that it's a 12 bar blues in E using the same standard progression. The ultimate goal here is to have a few different ways of expressing yourself over the 12 bars. You can either tack this whole 12 bar section at the end of Lesson 1, or use bits from each Lesson to create a third part of your own making. I've slowed this one down a tad compared to Lesson 1 just to make it a bit easier to see/hear what's going on. I will add more variations over the next few weeks.

From the top

The obvious 'glue' to the whole sequence is the steady, unrelenting bass line. If you've learned Lesson 1, you should have a good feel for that already. It's just as important in Lesson 2 to get that down first. As you work on this, keep your attention on that bass line. It's got to be rock solid. Keep referring to the tab if necessary to see how the bass line and riffs connect up.

The riff: it's much easier to see what's happening in the overhead shot that you get in the downloadable version, but the main gist of it is to keep that B note on the 1st string held down with your index finger while you bend the G note on the 2nd string up to G#. What you're doing is bending the minor third of an E chord up to the major third. I think you'll hear right away what a mournful, plaintive, bluesy sound it is too. The bends come in pairs and that bass line is locked in with them. Refer to the tab to see how. The lines are all built around the 12/8 feel, which can be seen here as 4 sets of 3, in other words each beat is subdivided into three. Again, the tab will show you how it works. It's that triplet feel that makes it bluesy. Watch the picking hand and you'll see that each time I grab those two top strings with two fingers (ring and middle) in unison. It's like the two fingers are glued together. I do three pairs then the double stop breaks into a single note run which uses the open B string note. This may seem weird at first, but because you don't need to fret anything there, you'll find that it actually makes the riff easier to play and flow properly. I slide up to the last note in both times and let it ring on.

Bending strings takes some getting used to and can be quite painful at first. If it starts to hurt, stop it for while and build up those calluses until they're good and tough. The essence of it all is to push that second string string away from the first so that the added tension makes it go up in pitch. Make sure that it stays in contact with the fret wire or you'll lose the note. The pitch you're aiming for is the pitch of the note on the 9th fret, the G#, so don't bend it too much or you will go beyond that G# and it will sound awful. It's an art and takes some practice, just like all other aspects of playing guitar.

When the A chord comes along in bar 5 the riff changes slightly, but it's very close to the E riff. You'll notice that I call the chord A9 in the tab. That's because it is. The B note on the top string remains and a B note in an A chord is the 9th. The double stop riff keeps on going, but this time the bend becomes a hammer on. You can bend it if you want, but it just seemed a little easier to hammer on, plus the contrast in sound makes it all a little more interesting. So now we're hammering on from the 7th to the 8th fret of the second string, which are the 6 and flat 7 of the A9 chord. This again is a very bluesy sound, especially in the context of what preceded it over the E. You can hear that the riff is almost the same, but not quite. The little one semitone movement (bend/hammer-on) is down in pitch by a half step, but everything else is pretty much identical. The open string part is the same as over the E. I don't slide up to the last note over the A, but of course you can ... you can do either any time.

Back to the E chord at bar 7 and the same pattern as before.

Over the B7 (bar 9), I kept it very simple for you. I didn't want to bring barre chords into it, so I opted for this fairly odd but effective fingering which consists of three different B notes from different octaves, so even though I call the chord a B7, it's not a chord at all. But it certainly lets you know that the V chord has arrived.

Back to a bar of A (bar 10) as before with just a tiny change then back to E (bar 11) but this time with a descending bass line bit that tells us the sequence is almost over. Bar 12 is a pretty standard 'turnaround' which brings back the B7 -- this time a real B7 -- to end the 12 bars.

Something to take note of:

That B note played on the top string is there in all three chords. In the E sections, it's a 5 of the chord; in the A sections it's the 9 of the chord and in the B sections it's the 1, the root. The sound of that common note is a very bluesy sound and can be used over and over again in any blues. All you need to do to apply this little tidbit of knowledge is to treat the IV chord as a 9th, in this case the A chord. The note is part of the other two chords (the I and V) anyway, but it needs to be added as an extension to the IV chord. It's also used in Lesson 1 in a different way.


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A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange