Structure: Twelve Bar Blues

In our continuing series looking at structure in writing (we’ll get to novels, but I want to persuade you that this is important by showing you various non-novel structures first), here’s a short one.  The twelve bar blues (which is your basic blues form, and covers the majority of true blues songs (as opposed to songs merely named “Blues”)) is named for its musical structure (which we will ignore). 

It also has a lyrical structure, consisting of three lines per verse, which can be summarized as AAB.  A line is sung.  The line is repeated, verbatim or close thereto.  Then a different line is sung, usually rhyming with the first two, and completing or advancing the idea. 
Here, for example, is Son House’s “Preachin’ the Blues”:
Oh, I’m gonna get me a religion, I’m gonna join the Baptist Church 
Oh, I’m gonna get me a religion, I’m gonna join the Baptist Church 
I’m gonna be a Baptist preacher, and I sure won’t have to work 

Oh, I’m a-preach these blues, and I, I want everybody to shout 
I want everybody to shout 
I’m gonna do like a prisoner, I’m gonna roll my time on out 

Oh, I went in my room, I bowed down to pray 
Oh, I went in my room, I bowed down to pray 
Till the blues come along, and they blowed my spirit away
 
Oh, I’d-a had religion, Lord, this every day 
Oh, I’d-a had religion, Lord, this every day 
But the womens and whiskey, well, they would not set me free 

Oh, I wish I had me a heaven of my own 
Hey, a heaven of my own 
Till I’d give all my women a long, long, happy home 

Hey, I love my baby, just like I love myself 
Oh, just like I love myself 
Well, if she don’t have me, she won’t have nobody else
How important is this structure?  It’s the basic building block of rock and roll, and the vehicle by which the poor black sharecroppers of the American South conquered the whole doggone world.

About David

I’m a writer. This is my blog.

This entry was posted in How to Write, Song. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *