Introduction to the 8 bar blues 16 bar blues and 24 bar blues

Welcome to this introductary lesson of the 8 bar blues 16 bar blues and 24 bar blues. Every guitar player knows the good old 12 bar blues. Okay maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to say EVERY guitar player but the vast majority do. Probably at least ninety percent. Certainly all the guitar players that I’ve had any musical involvement with have known the 12 bar blues and been at least moderately competent at using it.

It’s just one of those things that you end up learning fairly early on in the guitar learning process. I know that I’ve always taught it early on because it’s a great way to later introduce a guitar student to lead guitar and improvisation as well as oceans of songs that are composed with it.

The amount of people that learn the 12 bar blues or any kind of blues these days is more than likely in the decline due to musical trends but trust me, the blues will always be there as part of the guitar universe so being a good blues player will only prove beneficial to any guitarist.

With that in mind, a guitar lesson to improve and develop blues skills was a no brainer but I was very much torn between two ideas for this lesson. I was either going to teach what you’ll see here or how to add some variation to the standard twelve bar blues structure. I decided with the former simply because I believe that more people will have learned 12 bar variations than what you’ll see in this lesson.

How to play the 8 bar blues 16 bar blues and 24 bar blues

8 bar blues 16 bar blues and 24 bar blues

As you may already know or as you can tell from the title of this guitar lesson, the blues doesn’t end with the 12 bars. There’re other roads to go down. In this lesson I’m going to teach you the 8 bar blues, the 16 bar blues and also the 24 bar blues.

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I want you to learn and memorise these chord progressions just as you did with the twelve bar blues. Get the rhythm down first and then start to experiment with lead. When it comes to lead, you may find that you aren’t as “locked in” to the rhythm as you are with the 12 bar blues but that’s to be expected. It will come with time and experience just like it did with the twelve bar blues.

Onto the lesson. Let’s go shortest to longest and start with the 8 bar blues.

The 8 bar blues is probably the most common blues chord progression after the 12 bar blues. There’re several variations to the 8 bar blues but the one I’m going to show you here is one of the more commonly used. See the chord progression below.

8 bar blues chord progression

I7 / V7 / IV7 / IV7

I7 / V7 / I7 / V7

I’ve chosen to show you this variation instead of the others because it’s featured in a famous 8 bar blues songs called Key to the Highway which was recorded by several artists but the original recording was by pianist Charlie Segar in the year 1940. Jazz Gillum and Big Bill Broonzy followed with recordings in 1940 and 1941 using the arrangement that became the standard. Little Walter updated the song in 1958 in an electric Chicago blues style and a variety of artists have since interpreted the song including Eric Clapton.

Let’s move on to the 16 bar blues next. Again just like the 8 bar blues and the 12 bar blues for that matter, there are multiple variations. Below you’ll find three variations of the 16 bar blues. 2 based on the 12 bar blues and 1 based on the 8 bar blues.

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16 bar blues chord progression based on the 12 bar blues #1

I / I / I / I

I / I / I / I

IV / IV / I / I

V / IV / I / I

This progression may look familiar to you and so it should. This chord progression is the same as the standard 12 bar blues with the first section played through twice before moving on. To hear this in action, listen to Oh Pretty Woman recorded by Albert King. Its riff based but it follows the structure.

16 bar progression based on the 12 bar blues #2

I / I / I / I

IV / IV / I / I

IV / IV / I / I

V / IV / I / I

This progression is similar to the previous in that it’s exactly the same as a standard 12 bar blues progression with one of the sections repeated. This time, the repeated section is the second. This version of the 16 bar blues can be heard in Sleepy Time Time by Cream. There’s definitely potential for some interesting music with this.

16 bar progression based on the 8 bar blues

I7 / I7 / V7 / V7

IV7 / IV7 / IV7 / IV7

I7 / I7 / V7 / V7

I7 / I7 / V7 / V7

Remember the 8 bar blues progression I showed you earlier? Well this is exactly the same as that with everything doubled.

On the subject of things getting doubled, let’s take a little look at the 24 bar blues.

24 bar blues chord progression

I / I / I / I

I / I / I / I

IV / IV / IV / IV

I / I / I / I

V / V / IV / IV

I / I / I / I

This chord progression may seem long but (and I’m sure some of you will have spotted this already) all that’s happened is we’ve taken a standard 12 bar blues structure and doubled things. This can be heard in the brilliant Mustang Sally which is a perfect example of how this chord progression should be used.

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Lesson summary

In this lesson I’ve provided you with 5 new blues chord progressions and as I’ve stated above, if you dig deeper you’ll find even more.

Don’t just take the progressions themselves from this lesson. Take the knowledge that if you’re playing the blues, you don’t have to stay boxed into the 12 bars. There’s plenty of options available to take your blues music and blues guitar in a different direction. You can mix and match also if you like and really break free from the 12 bar box. Also be sure to practice the progressions in different keys, with different chords and with different styles of blues. Once you have the rhythm down, start playing around with lead but remember what I said earlier. Playing lead guitar with these progressions is different to playing lead guitar with the 12 bar blues.

What next?

Great. You’ve expanded your knowledge and learned about the 8 bar blues, 16 bar blues and 24 bar blues. Why not continue your knowledge building and move into the exciting world of jazz by checking out my lesson on an introduction to jazz chord progressions. Or, how about a blues based article. Here is my list of the greatest blues guitar players. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some inspiration or new music from that. 

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