If you listen carefully to Stevie Ray Vaughan's version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" (from his early album "Texas Flood") you might notice something odd once the vocals come in (at 0:49): the form still sounds like the Blues, alright, but it seems shorter than usual. It turns out Stevie Ray is skipping the first 4 measures of the conventional 12-bar blues (purposely!) effectively making the song an 8-measure blues...
The form is:
| IV7 | % | I7 | % |
| V7 | IV7 | I7 | % ||
The song is originally in E, but Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar is tuned down a 1/2 step, so the resulting sound is Eb.
For the sake of simplicity, here are those changes in the key of C:
As you can see, those are the basic 3-chord Blues changes, but with the first 4 bars missing.
The same exact 8-bar blues changes are used by Keith Jarrett during an encore at the end of one of his solo concerts (Paris, 1992). The piece was fully improvised, and is listed as "C the Blues" in a promotional limited edition CD.
I find that simple 8-bar form to be very easy to improvise over. The truncated form emphasises the perpetual motion of the Blues, and interestingly, makes it sound like it never exactly resolves to the tonic...
Here's another interesting way to create an 8-bar blues: instead of skipping the first 4 measures of the conventional 12-bar blues, let's now skip the middle 4 measures:
The form is:
| I7 | IV7 | I7 | % |
| V7 | IV7 | I7 | (V7) ||
here are those changes in the key of C:
Finally, here is one more interesting variation for an 8-bar Blues: "All American Alien Boy" by Ian Hunter, featuring Jaco Pastorius on bass:
The form is:
| I7 | % | IV7 | % |
| V7 | % | I7 | % ||
The song is originally in Db, but for the sake of comparison with the previous examples, here are those same changes in the key of C:
I will finish with one last example. Below are the changes to one of my compositions, "At Luciano's" which is an 8-bar Blues in the key of F. There, I used the skip-the-first-4-bars approach, and squeezed in a few extra passing chords:
As you can see, there are quite a few possible variations for the 8-bar blues. Feel free to experiment, but the 2 main approaches presented above (skipping either the first 4 or the middle 4 measures of a conventional 12-bar blues) are a great way to start.
As for improvising over the form, I simply never get tired of it! I never get tired of playing over the 12-bar blues either, mind you, but there is something very refreshing about the 8-bar blues, particularly when it starts right off with that IV chord!
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