In this lesson, we’re going to learn a simple 12-bar blues based on the theme song of Peter Gunn, a hit detective show from the 1950s. The original “Peter Gunn Theme,” composed by Henry Mancini, won an Emmy Award and two Grammys and has been covered by a number of jazz, blues, and rock musicians over the years.
If you’re a white belt level student and you’re unfamiliar with the 12-bar blues form, then this lesson is for you!
So what is the blues anyway?
The 12-bar blues was born in the Mississippi Delta and made famous by legendary players such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. It’s noted for it’s emotive vocals, personal lyrics, and searing guitar leads. It’s hard to overestimate the influence that the blues has played in the history of popular music, but the blues form can be found in rock, jazz, r&b, bluegrass, and country music. In fact, nearly every rock guitar god–including Eric Clapton, Angus Young, and John Mayer–has spent a significant amount of time honing his or her blues chops.
Ex.1 is a 12-bar blues in the key of A.
The form is based on the I, IV, and V chords in the key of A. If this is confusing, don’t sweat it! I’m going to do a series of posts on chord progressions in the future. For now, simply memorize the form to this particular tune. Notice how it stays on the A7 chord for four measures (or 16 beats). Next, it moves to the D7 chord for two measure (or 8 beats). From there, it moves to the E7 chord for one measure (or 4 beats) followed by the D7 chord for one measure (or 4 beats) before returning home to the A7 chord for two measures (or 8 beats). Sounds complicated, but it’s actually incredibly simple. And here at The Dojo, simplicity rules!
Now, onto the “Peter Gunn Blues.” It’s played on all open strings. The A7 chord is now the 5th string, the D7 chord is the 4th string, and the E7 chord is the 6th string.
Ex. 2 illustrates the open string roots.
Ex. 3 illustrates the main riff of the tune. Play it on the open A string.
Got it under your fingers yet? Excellent! Now, simply transpose this riffs to the D and E string and you’re finished.
Click on the link below to see the entire tune in both standard notation and guitar tab.
And finally, jam along with the song by clicking on the link below.