In music, an eight-bar blues is a common blues chord progression. Music writers have described it as "the second most common blues form" being "common to folk, rock, and jazz forms of the blues". It is often notated in 4
4 or 12
8 time with eight bars to the verse.
Early examples of eight-bar blues standards include:
- "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" (Sara Martin, 1922)
- "Trouble in Mind" (Chippie Hill, 1926)
- "How Long Blues" (Leroy Carr, 1928)
- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (Bessie Smith, 1929)
- "It Hurts Me Too" (Tampa Red, 1940)
- "Key to the Highway" (Big Bill Broonzy, 1941)
- "Worried Life Blues" (Big Maceo, 1941)
One variant using this progression is to couple one eight-bar blues melody with a different eight-bar blues bridge to create a blues variant of the standard 32-bar song: "I Want a Little Girl" (T-Bone Walker) and "Great Balls of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis)(
Eight bar blues progressions have more variations than the more rigidly defined twelve bar format. The move to the IV chord usually happens at bar 3 (as opposed to 5 in twelve bar); however, "the I chord moving to the V chord right away, in the second measure, is a characteristic of the eight-bar blues."
In the following examples each box represents a 'bar' of music (the specific time signature is not relevant). The chord in the box is played for the full bar. If two chords are in the box they are each played for half a bar, etc. The chords are represented as scale degrees in Roman numeral analysis. Roman numerals are used so the musician may understand the progression of the chords regardless of the key it is played in.
"Worried Life Blues" (probably the most common eight bar blues progression):
"Heartbreak Hotel" (variation with the I on the first half):
I I I I IV IV V I
"Get a Haircut" by George Thorogood (simple progression):
I I I I IV IV V V I7 I7 I7 I7 IV7 V7 I7 V7
Howlin Wolf's version of "Sitting on Top of the World" is actually a 9 bar blues that adds an extra "V" chord at the end of the progression. The song uses movement between major and dominant 7th and major and minor fourth:
I I7 IV iv I7 V I7 IV I7 V I I7 IV iv I VI7 ii V I IV I V IV7 IV7 I7 I7 V7 IV7 I7 V7
There are at least a few very successful songs using somewhat unusual chord progressions as well. For example, the song "Ain't Nobody's Business" as performed by Freddie King at least, uses a I–III–IV–iv progression in each of the first four bars. The same four bar progression is used by the band Radiohead to make up the bulk of the song "Creep".
I III IV iv I vi ii V7
The same chord progression can also be called a sixteen-bar blues, if each symbol above is taken to be a half note in 2
2 or 4
4 time. Examples are "Nine Pound Hammer" and Ray Charles's original instrumental "Sweet Sixteen Bars".
- Riker, Wayne (1994). Complete Blues Guitar Method: Mastering Blues Guitar. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-7390-0408-1.
- Barrett, David (2000). Blues Harmonica Jam Tracks & Soloing Concepts #1. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7866-5653-0.
- Hal Leonard (1995). The Blues. Hal Leonard. pp. 210–212, 224–225, 160–161. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1.
- "8 bar blues Leroy Carr". Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "It Hurts Me Too". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 445. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
- James, Steve (2001). Inside Blues Guitar, p.18. ISBN 978-1-890490-36-2.
- "Eight-bar blues Big Maceo". Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day, Music Theory For Dummies (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 244. ISBN 111805444X
- Form in Rock Music: A Primer, p. 70.
- Alfred Publishing (2002). Beginning Delta Blues Guitar, p.41. ISBN 978-0-7390-3006-6.
- David Barrett, John Garcia (2008). Improvising Blues Harmonica, p.50. ISBN 978-0-7866-7321-6.
- Barrett, David (2006). Blues Harmonica Play-along Trax, p.16. ISBN 978-0-7866-7393-3.
- Riker (1994), p.92.