In this third unit we take a break from the lead guitar work, and pull our attention to the 12 bar blues, Clapton style. The beauty of a lot of the Cream tracks are that they are standard 12 bar blues tracks, with a twist. This twist often came from the combination of three incredible musicians who would bring in more advanced ideas, a lot of improvisation and were almost battling each other for space in these tracks. Check out the first video to get started and click here to check out the Materials Section below to access backing tracks and interactive tab!
In the first lesson of this unit we will talk about the 12 bar blues, and how Cream tended to approach it with this more rock style. The first thing to cover is the main chord progression, which goes like this:
| A7 | A7 | A7 | A7 |
| D7 | D7 | A7 | A7 |
| E7 | D7 | A7 | A7 |
So on face value, it’s a pretty standard 12 bar format! The I chord for 4 bars, then the IV chord for 2 bars, then the I chord for another 2 bars, then the V chord for a bar, then the IV chord for a bar, then the I chord again. They key things to note here are the first 4 chords are all the same, and the turnaround is extremely simple!
Good question! It really comes down to the speed at which these tracks are normally played through and the rock blues style itself! At a fast blues rock pace, you don’t want intricate (potentially cheesy) sounding turnarounds (think Sweet Home Chicago for example), plus the first 4 bars really set the solid, driving foundation for the track. So, our first task is simply to play through the progression in powerchords!
Let’s now tackle the riff section of the track. This is used anytime we play over the A7 (I chord) in the track, and uses the minor pentatonic very heavily. We start with a cool little back and fourth on the A7 chord, using the minor and major 3rd crossover (We will establish this more in coming units), followed by a cool riff using the A minor pentatonic.
“Clapton loves to use the minor pentatonic over Dominant 7 chords, especially in Cream!”
So, your first task is to master and loop this riff. The rhythm of it is absolutely crucial, so get it on loop with a drum beat and have some fun!
For our 4 chord in the track, we are using a Dominant 9th chord, which are built as follows:
root 3rd 5th b7th 9th
This is therefore a simple extension of the basic dominant 7th chord (root 3rd 5th b7th) which adds a bit of extra colour and fun to the chord! The chord shape we are using is as follows. We also arpeggiate the chord to add a bit of extra melodic value to it, filling out the bar! This is a great shape to learn, and as you can see in this track we change between using that chord arpeggiated as well as the classic shuffle groove on the E and the D.
Finally, let’s look over the turnaround... Which in fact, is absolutely nothing! Once again, because of the speed at which we are playing, there is no real room for an epic turnaround and it actually sounds better without straying away too much from the root chord. What you will here is either Clapton or Jack Bruce referencing the 5 chord at some point, usually by simply ending a lick on the E note in this instance. So, with that all said, let’s put the whole thing together and get it on!
At this point it is very much worth looking at all the things you can do with these progressions, and simply learning how to mix and match. We wil therefore take these three elements that we have:
What We Have...
So now, as we have all of these elements, we can get a drum loop on and have some fun! Enjoy this wonderful process, and all the benefits it will bring to your playing.