25th January 2021

How to Play in 12/8 Time

    12/8 is the staple rhythmic diet of slow blues...



A classic example of where 12/8 is used a lot is the slow Blues, which is almost always written in this time signature.

12/8 time gives the slow Blues it's quintessential shuffle feel.




The Brain On Music

Before I explain what 12/8 is, you need to know that there are two types of time signatures; simple and compound

Simple means the beat can be divided into 2 

Compound means the beat can be divided into 3. 

Below is a drum loop in 12/8.  Listen to how the beat is divided.  How do you find yourself tapping or counting to it?

12/8 is a compound time signature and if you listen to the beat above, or a slow Blues like ‘So Many Roads’ by Joe Bonamassa, you will find it easy to count a fairly fast 1 -2 -3, 1 -2 -3, 1 -2 -3, etc. throughout. 

Counting 1 -2, 1 -2, 1-2, etc. just does not work!

Listen to some of the video below and see if you can count the groups of three.

By the way this version is absolutely kickin’! 


The top number of a time signature always informs you of how many beats there are in each bar. 

The bottom number of a time signature always informs you of what length beats they are. 

12/8 has four groups of three 8th notes in each bar. 

So the way we count 12/8 is: 

1 - 2 - 3, 2 - 2 - 3, 3 -2 - 3, 4 - 2 - 3 


If we look at the first verse of the bass line from this live version of 'So Many Roads', we can see clearly that each bar is divided into four groups of three.  The stems make it clear where the four strong beats of each bar falls. 

Properly notated music will group the notes in the bar to match the time signature.


So Many Roads by Joe Bonamassa Bass Transcription

Click here to download this verse in pdf form 


You will find 12/8 in other styles of popular music but the slow 12/8 Blues is by far where 12/8 gets the most use.

So listen to as many slow Blues as you can and lock into what drums and bass are doing to create the iconic shuffle feel.


At present I am researching the Blues deeply and getting my Blues Course For Bass Players together.  I have always had an affinity for the Blues, especially the slow Blues because that is where you find the longest and best guitar solos! 

I have found some slow 12/8 gems which I will list below as these will all further your understanding of 12/8, and hopefully you will enjoy listening to them too:

Me My Guitar And The Blues by Walter Trout

All Out Of Tears by Walter Trout

I Wonder by Robert Cray

Life Is Hard by Johnny Winter

Days Like This by Danny Bryant's Redeyeband


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