What is an 8 bar blues?

Most blues songs are based on a 12 bar form. There are also many blues songs that use an 8 bar form. We are going to take a look at some classic examples of these

Introduction

12 bar blues guitarist

We took a look at the 12 bar blues already. Now we are going to focus on the 8 bar blues, and concentrate on three main examples of this.

If at a jam someone calls out a 12 bar blues then it is usually quite clear what the chord sequence will be. This is not the case with an 8 bar blues. There are several possibilities, often associated with certain songs, so it is good to know the songs too.

On the bandstand the song might be called out as a reference to the chord sequence, even if that’s not the song you will play! It is easier to call out “Worried Life Blues” chords in E rather than detailing the chord sequence.

We are going to be using at total of 5 different chords for these 12 bar blues examples. We will use the I, IIm, IV, V and VIm chords. This charts shows which chords to use in several different keys:

Key I Chord IIm Chord IV Chord V Chord VIm Chord
E F#m E A B C#m
G G Am C D Em
A A Bm D E F#m
B B Dm E F# G#m
C C Dm F G Am
D D Em G A Bm

So let’s dive into the world of the 8 bar blues:

"Worried Life Blues" chords

Let’s start here this is a 8 bar blues from the 1920’s

I I IV IV
I V I IV I V

This superb version by Big Maceo is in C:

C C F F
C G C F C G

"Just your fool" chords

Another noteable song using this chord sequence is "Just your fool" by Little Walter.

I I IV IV
I V I IV I V

Watch out as some songs like this one are have instrumental breaks which are standard 12 bars.

Some 8 bar blues have a bridge or a middle 8. Just your fool has the following bridge:

IV I IV I
IV I V V

Here it is, in the key of A, remember the into and solos are 12 bar blues:

Verse:

A A D D
A E A D A E

Bridge:

D A D A
D A E E

"It Hurts Me Too" chords

This is the same structure as Worried Life Blues, except bar 6 has the V chord followed by the IV chord:
I I IV IV
I V IV I IV I V

Here is the Elmore james version in D:

D D G G
D A G D G D A

"Key to the Highway" chords

Key to the highway is popular in blues jams. The song has a rich history.

I V IV IV
I V I IV I V

This recording is probably the most well know, featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. The song fades in because the producer Tom Dowd missed the start of the song as he went to the bathroom!

A E D D
A E A D A E

"Trouble in Mind" chords

There are quite a few jazzy versions of this song. These are the chords for the blues version:

I V I IV
I VIm IIm V I IV I V

A very young Janis Joplin recorded this in D, complete with a typewriter in the background...

D A D G
D Bm Em A D G D A

"Need Your Love So Bad" chords

Out of all the 8 bar blues we have looked at, this one is the most complex, harmonically speaking. Look out for bar 4, its the VI chord with the root moved up a half step.

I I IV #IVdim7
I VIm IIm V I IV I V

And it also has a bridge, with a couple of new chords that we haven't seen so far...

IV IV I V I
II II V bVI V

Again, many people covered this song, including B.B.King, but here is an early version of Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green on guitar:

A A D D#dim7
A F#m Bm E A D A E
D D A E A
B B E F E

Conclusion

The 8 bar blues is great to play and it can make a good refreshing change when inserted between a set of 12 bar blues. blues.

We have taken a look at a few well known 8 bar blues, if you study these then you should be ready at any blues jam, when an 8 bar is called.