The Blues



The Blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.

Willie Dixon












The diagram below shows you the form of 12-bar blues. 

Each bar (or measure) contains 4 beats - those are the slashes.

The main 3 chords typically change in the same bar each time.


Beats/  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  / /  /  /  /
ChordsI   IV I VIVI 



Here is a blues song that shows you the 3 chords used.

Sweet Home Chicago


12-bar blues form is used in country and rock songs also.  It's everywhere!!

Led Zeppelin


Now try some interactive composition!

Interactive Desktop Blues

Another blues loop

Backing tracks



Blues Lyric Form


Line 1: 

Make a statement. 

We think of the blues as being sorrowful,

but a better way to think of it is a statement of conflict -

something that needs to be resolved



Woke up this mornin' with a hammer in my head


Line 2: 

Say it again

(sometimes with slight variation)







Yes, I woke up this mornin' with a hammer in my head


Line 3: 

This line develops or resolves the idea,

 sort of like a punchline

Important:  This line rhymes with the other two





Well, I see the best solution is to go straight back to bed.



Another example:

I'm gonna lay my head on some lonesome railroad line. (make a statement) "A"

I'm gonna lay my head on some lonesome railroad line. (say it again) "A"

And let that 5:15 train pacify my mind. (add a punchline and make sure the last word rhymes) "B"


This is sometimes referred to as AAB form

Here is an example of one verse from a BLUES CHICK

(Remember - your assignment requires 3 verses:  see your Course Outline)

OK, your turn.  For this assignment, you will compose your own blues song (no music, just words). 

For fun, if you'd like to try singing your song, click on the Desktop Blues again and sing along with the fellow playing the guitar -

he is playing correct 12-bar blues form and your lyrics should fit!


Note that you should be able to say your blues words with the music if you have written it properly.  It should flow (not have too many or too few words per line).  That's what the 'rhythm' refers to in the rubric below.


Here's how your assignment will be graded


Blues Lyrics Rubric

CriteriaPerformance Indicators
Blues FormMissing or unacceptable formLess than 3 phrases per verse, incorrect blues form3 phrases in each verse, incorrect blues form3 phrases in each verse, form partially correct3 phrases in each verse, correct blues form
0 points35 points40 points45 points50 points
ContentNo versesOne verseTwo versesThree verses, but incompleteThree complete verses
0 points21 points24 points27 points30 points
Rhyme SchemeNo rhyme schemeIncorrect rhyme schemesIncorrect rhyme scheme in at least one verseOne or more close rhyme schemesExact rhyme scheme
0 points7 points8 points9 points 10 points
RhythmNo regard for rhythmInconsistent rhythmPartially consistent rhythmMostly consistent rhythmConsistent rhythm
0 points7 points8 points9 points10 points
Total Points0708090100








Sounds like the blues are composed of feeling, finesse, and fear.
Billy Gibbons


Go ahead and play the blues if it'll make you happy.
Dan Castellaneta

There was one emotional outlet my people always had when they had the blues. That was singing.
Ethel Waters

It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives it most distinctive characteristics. 

James Weldon Johnson






Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson