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41 Free Resources for Teaching the 12 Bar Blues

Posted on October 16th, 2012 in Music Tech Tips.
The 12 bar blues has long been a favourite amongst music educators for teaching form, triads, the blues scale, cyclical chord progressions and music history. Here are some of my favourite online music resources:

Background information

1. Carnegie Hall history of African American Music. Includes an interactive timeline with historical information and listening examples.
2. Wikipedia Blues history article.
3. The Gullah Net website includes information about the evolution of blues music and how it influenced other styles. Head to Gullah Music and then visit the Journey section for an interactive map.
external image Gullah-Music-map.png

4. List of blues styles (including artist examples, further reading and recommended listening)
5. The Bluescentric interactive timeline (see image below).
external image Timeline-1024x694.png

Blues Musicians

6. List of blues musicians (includes some biographies) on Bluescentric
7. Wikipedia list of blues musicians

Blues Songs Lists and Listening Examples

8. A collection of links to recordings of 12 bar blues examples on Blues Imrpov.
9. The Wikipedia list of blues standards
10. Visit the iTunes store and search “blues” to find hundreds of blues examples. You can play 90 seconds of each track before purchasing it.
11. Clips from the 7-part PBS series The Blues.

Blues Instruments

12. The Bluescentric list of instruments commonly played by blues musicians

Memorable performances

Well this section could have been VERY long so I’ve chosen just a handful of songs. Most of the songs listed are in the 12 bar blues format.
13. WC Handy (known as the “father of the blues”) – Memphis Blues and St Louis Blues.
14. Mamie Smith singing the Harlem Blues
15. Glenn Miller and his band playing In The Mood
16. B.B. King The Thrill Is Gone
17. Rock Me Baby featuring BB King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Jim Vaughan.
18. James Brown singing I Feel Good
19. Herbie Hancock doing Watermelon Man

Music theory

20. The Wikipedia article on how the 12 bar blues is constructed
21. The blues section of Marc Sabatella’s Jazz/improvisation primer
22. Wikipedia article about the blues scale.

How-To-Play Resources

23. Lessons (mostly for guitarists) on Youtube.
24. One good example of a blues guitar lesson (by Next Level Guitar)
25. Fantastic video lesson series of 30 Must-Have Blues Piano Licks which includes videos, sheet music, MIDI files and backing tracks at different speeds

Blues Dictionary

26. Having trouble working out the meaning of those blues lyrics? This blues dictionary might help (warning: content may not be suitable for all age groups)

Blues Games

27. Play a little Desktop blues. Click on the Click Here button to start and then make sure to turn on the radio by clicking the appropriate button so that the backing track plays. You can then click on the coloured squares to “improvise” guitar licks and vocals. The vocals seem to work best: it’s difficult to get the guitar parts in time with the backing, but the vocals sound OK if the timing is “free”.
external image Desktop-Blues.png

28. Ever wondered what your blues name is? Use this blues name generator to find out [in case you're wondering, mine is Curly Bad Boy Bailey].

Lesson plans and ideas

28. Discover a range of lesson plans to accompany the PBS series The Blues.
29. Soundtree lesson plan for improvising the blues in the keyboard lab
30.Smartboard interactive whiteboard Notebook file The Blues by Mrs Alison Friedman. Visit this page , scroll down the the 4th grade section and download The Blues file from the end of the list. If you don’t have Notebook software, you can open the file using SMART Notebook Express.
31. Discover the secret code hidden in many blues songs on the Gullah Music website.
32. Learn about rhythms and percussion instruments used in blues music and then create your own “remix”.

Creative Activities

33. Using a software program like GarageBand, Acid Music Studio, Mixcraft, Sonar Home Studio or the GarageBand app on the iPad, have students create their own 12 bar blues backing. They can then play or sing a melody based on the blues scale over the top.
34. Write your own blues lyrics on the Gullah Music website
external image Gullah-Music-1.png

35. Visit the Quaver Music website and use the QStrum tool to create a 12 bar blues backing using chords and preset rhythmic patterns. Students will need to sign up with an email address in order to use the resource, but it’s well worth it (there are many excellent music tools available in addition to QStrum). Click on Kids Enter Here and sign up (or log in) to get started. Next, enter the Studio and choose QStrum (hover your mouse over the screen until you find it!). Using the QStrum tool, students can easily build their 12 bar blues backing using rhythmic patterns and chords and you can play it back using the controls at the top of the screen (extension activity: create a bass part and write some lyrics).
external image Quaver-Music-QStrum-1024x662.png

Useful Images

Add some visual interest to your own prepared materials by using these images in your Powerpoint or Keynote files and worksheets.
I’ve been a fan of Philip Martin for quite some time now. He is an artist who creates beautiful clipart for teachers and he has a number of images that would be useful for a unit of work on the blues, including these ones:
external image Trumpet-blues-300x235.png
36. Drummer
37. Guitarist
38. Guitar
39. Jazz
40. Fats Domino

41. You can also find a range of Creative Commons licensed blues music images on Flickr (see below) by using the search tool Compfight (ignore the few in the top section – paid advert)
external image Compfight-blues-search-1024x516.png