41 Free Resources for Teaching the 12 Bar Blues

41 Free Resources for Teaching the 12 Bar Blues

41 Free Resources for Teaching the 12 bar blues Pinterest

The 12 bar blues has long been a favourite amongst music educators for teaching form, triads, the blues scale, cyclical chord progressions and music history. Here are some of my favourite online music resources:

Background information

1. Carnegie Hall history of African American Music. Includes an interactive timeline with historical information and listening examples.

2. Wikipedia Blues history article.

3. The Gullah Net website includes information about the evolution of blues music and how it influenced other styles. Head to Gullah Music and then visit the Journey section for an interactive map.

4. List of blues genres on Wikipedia (there are many!)

5. The Blues music history timeline.


Blues Musicians

6. 30 key blues musicians in pictures

7. Best blues artists of all time – a ranked list

Blues Songs Lists and Listening Examples

8. Visit your favourite music streaming service (I use Spotify) and search for blues playlists that have been curated by others

9. The Wikipedia list of blues standards

10. Visit the iTunes store and search “blues” to find hundreds of blues examples. You can play 90 seconds of each track before purchasing it.

11. Clips from the 7-part PBS series The Blues.

Blues Instruments

12. A list of instruments commonly played by blues musicians

Memorable performances

Well this section could have been VERY long so I’ve chosen just a handful of songs. Most of the songs listed are in the 12 bar blues format.

13. WC Handy (known as the “father of the blues”) – Memphis Blues and St Louis Blues.

14. Mamie Smith singing the Harlem Blues

15. Glenn Miller and his band playing In The Mood

16. B.B. King The Thrill Is Gone

17. Rock Me Baby featuring BB King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Jim Vaughan.

18. James Brown singing I Feel Good

19. Herbie Hancock performing Watermelon Man on Soul Train



Music theory

20. The Wikipedia article on how the 12 bar blues is constructed

21. Wikipedia article about the blues scale.

How-To-Play Resources

22. Lessons (mostly for guitarists) on Youtube.

23. One good example of a blues guitar lesson (by Next Level Guitar)

24. A downloadable collection of blues licks for keyboard players.  You can download a MuseScore score, a PDF or MusicXML file (which is compatible with any notation software)

Blues Dictionary

25. Having trouble working out the meaning of those blues lyrics? This blues glossary might help.  Includes the meaning of some slang terms and describes locations named in songs.

Blues Games

26. Play a little Desktop blues. Click on the Click Here button to start and then make sure to turn on the radio by clicking the appropriate button so that the backing track plays. You can then click on the coloured squares to “improvise” guitar licks and vocals. The vocals seem to work best: it’s difficult to get the guitar parts in time with the backing, but the vocals sound OK if the timing is “free”.

27. Ever wondered what your blues name is? Use this blues name generator to find out

[in case you’re wondering, mine is Curly Bad Boy Bailey].

Lesson plans and ideas

28. Discover a range of lesson plans to accompany the PBS series The Blues.

29. Soundtree lesson plan for singing the blues with GarageBand (written in 2004 so will need some adaptation)

30.Smartboard interactive whiteboard Notebook file The Blues by Mrs Alison Friedman. Visit this page , scroll down the the 4th grade section and download The Blues file from the end of the list. If you don’t have Notebook software, you can open the file using SMART Notebook Express.

31. Discover the secret code hidden in many blues songs on the Gullah Music website.

32. Learn about rhythms and percussion instruments used in blues music and then create your own “remix”.

33. If you have iPads, I’ve created a lesson called Transforming the 12 Bar Blues which you can download here

Creative Activities

34. Using a software program like GarageBand, Acid Music Studio, Mixcraft, Sonar Home Studio or the GarageBand app on the iPad, have students create their own 12 bar blues backing. They can then play or sing a melody based on the blues scale over the top.

35. Write your own blues lyrics on the Gullah Music website

36. Visit the Quaver Music website and use the QStrum tool to create a 12 bar blues backing using chords and preset rhythmic patterns. Students will need to sign up with an email address in order to use the resource, but it’s well worth it (there are many excellent music tools available in addition to QStrum). Click on Kids Enter Here and sign up (or log in) to get started. Next, enter the Studio and choose QStrum (hover your mouse over the screen until you find it!). Using the QStrum tool, students can easily build their 12 bar blues backing using rhythmic patterns and chords and you can play it back using the controls at the top of the screen (extension activity: create a bass part and write some lyrics).

Useful Images

Add some visual interest to your own prepared materials by using these images in your Powerpoint or Keynote files and worksheets.

I’ve been a fan of Philip Martin for quite some time now. He is an artist who creates beautiful clipart for teachers and he has a number of images that would be useful for a unit of work on the blues, including these ones:

37. Drummer

38. Guitarist

39. Guitar

40. Jazz

41. Fats Domino

42. You can also find a range of Creative Commons licensed blues music images on Flickr (see below) by using the search tool Compfight (ignore the few in the top section – paid advert)


Any others?

Well, I hope you find this collection useful! Any that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.


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About the Author:

I love to simplify technology for music teachers. I help teachers from all around the world through the Midnight Music Community - an online professional development community where teachers can take online courses, ask questions and receive personalised help for the music tech goals.


  1. Jenny Batten October 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you Katie! A Fabulous resource! I am doing a unit “From the Blues to Rock’ with the Grade 3/4 students – I will be able to use these wonderful ideas and add to my unit!

  2. Pru October 17, 2012 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    Katie, you are TRULY amazing. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Robyn January 19, 2013 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks for all those great links. I use 12 Bar Blues to begin my lessons on chord progressions and as part of Music History lessons so these links are going to enhance my classes heeps. Thanks for sharing

  4. […] 41 free resources for teaching the 12 bar blues – “The 12 bar blues has long been a favourite amongst music educators for teaching form, triads, the blues scale, cyclical chord progressions and music history..” […]

  5. Priscilla November 12, 2015 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    For teaching high schoolers to play 12 Bar Blues I’ve found 2 things very helpful: The scene from Back to the Future in which Michael J Fox plays Johnny B Goode, and George Ezra’s song Budapest which is an extended 12 Bar Blues form. Both are great options for prac when played in a suitable key for beginners. Thanks Katie for all these resources.

    • Katie December 1, 2015 at 7:29 am - Reply

      Thanks Priscilla. I had forgotten all about that scene in Back To The Future!

  6. Stephanie Jones February 10, 2016 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting this great resource Katie! I have also used Brainpop. It’s a classroom subscription, that has many different videos – not all music. They have a great one on the 12-bar-blues.

    Another thing I’ve done is to have kids sing the Groundhog song to “Hound Dog”. The original is Big Mama Thornton & then of course there is Elvis, but somewhere online I found these lyrics which go really well to a Karaoke version of Hound Dog or students can create their own backgrounds.
    “You ain’t nothin’ but a Groundhog – sleepin’ all the time.”
    “You ain’t nothin’ but a Groundhog – sleepin’ all the time.
    “You ain’t never chucked wood and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
    I have a non-interactive SMARTBoard file of the rest of the words for anyone who wants them!

  7. Debra Frost September 1, 2016 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Wonderful! I’m teaching 12 bar blues this week and my kids are loving my new lap-steel guitar which allows any age to play the main chords!

    • Katie September 5, 2016 at 10:35 am - Reply

      Wow – that would be great to see 🙂

  8. Jim wallace January 18, 2018 at 5:46 am - Reply

    Thank you Katie I have taught the 12 bar blues as the central part of my year 10 course now for many years and this gives me the revamp and update that my resources needed. We always watch the movie “Crossroads” – about the young guitarist travelling down to Mississippi with the old blues harp player, it has so much that the kids can learn from and they all love it. Well done Katie this is fantastic!

    • Katie January 19, 2018 at 10:05 am - Reply

      Teaching the blues is a great unit for kids I think. So many things you can include! I’m happy this has helped. Thanks for letting me know about the Crossroads movie – great idea 🙂

  9. José Dário Leandro August 21, 2018 at 1:00 am - Reply

    There’s another great one course about Blues in Coursera. It’s totally free for those who don’t aiming for certification. “The Blues: understanding and performing an American artThe link is: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-blues

    • Katie August 30, 2018 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jose! (I also corrected “Coursera” in your comment)

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