What notes to target over a 12 bar blues

Nov 11, 2015 | 12 Bar Blues, Intermediate Harmonica Lessons

Hello, today’s lesson is for all you people who have heard about playing through the changes but are not entirely sure what that means.

I’m going to show you what notes to target over a 12 bar blues. You will need a harmonica in the key of C and we’ll be playing in 2nd position.

This lesson is for people who feel like they are just playing the blues scale in various sequences rather than targeting the chords.

Root note targeting

A root note is the dominant tone in a chord. For example, the root note of a C chord is a C note. Just to clarify, a chord is a selection of notes played together at the same time as against a note which is just a single tone.

The simplest way to play through the changes is to target the root notes of the chords in the 12 bar blues.

I chord – 2 draw or 6 blow
IV chord – 4 blow or 1 blow
V chord – 4 draw or 1 draw

If you’re not sure which order these chords come in, I suggest you check out my lesson on 12 bar blues structure.

When the chord change happens you will need to shift which note you are emphasising to the root note of the chord being played. In order to emphasise this note you can choose to start and/or end your phrases on that note. It will feel like it is a natural resolution.

You can play any version of the root note.

Chord arpeggios

If you are comfortable with root note targeting, it is time to look at playing chord arpeggios. What is an arpeggio? Well, it is just the notes from a chord played in sequence.

In a standard 12 bar blues the chords used are known as dominant 7ths and contain 4 notes each which are;

Root, 3rd, 5th, b7

So, if you know each of these notes for each chord you can choose to target them in the right place.

This is a very powerful way to improvise because it shows everyone that you know what the band is doing.

The arpeggios;

I chord – 2 draw, 3 draw, 4 draw, 5 draw
IV chord – 1 blow, 2 blow, 3 blow, 3 draw (semitone bend) or 4 blow, 5 blow, 6 blow, 6 overblow
V chord – 1 draw, 2 draw (half step bend), 3 draw (whole step bend), 4 blow or 4 draw, 5 overblow, 6 draw, 7 blow

Practice all these arpeggios and then when you are comfortable with where they are, practice improvising over each chord change using arpeggios only.

When you first start jamming with arpeggios, it will sound like an exercise. So, I suggest just picking a couple of the notes from each arpeggio and only play those. Get comfortable with this before you introduce the rest of the notes.

Eventually you will find that you are playing notes from the blues scale as well as arpeggio notes specific to each chord which will sound very musical.

If you can’t bend confidently

If, you want to play the arpeggios but you are not entirely confident bending/overblowing then just pick out the notes you can play which will be;

I chord – 2 draw, 3 draw, 4 draw, 5 draw
IV chord – 1 blow, 2 blow, 3 blow or 4 blow, 5 blow, 6 blow
V chord – 1 draw, 4 blow or 4 draw, 6 draw, 7 blow

Backing Track

Thank you

Thank you so much for taking part in this lesson. I hope it was useful for you. If you enjoyed this lesson, please share it with your friends.

See you again for the next harmonica video!

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