Learn Blues Guitar
If you are interested in modern Rock guitar, it is a good idea to learn Blues Guitar. Much
of Rock guitar is rooted in the Blues. As Jack White - best known for his work with the White Stripes - put it
in the guitar documentary "It Might Get Loud," "If you dig deep enough into rock ‘n roll, you’re on a freight
train headed straight for the Blues."
When it comes to playing Blues guitar, there are three essential elements: Blues chord
progressions, the Blues scale, and Blues clichés. In this article, I'll focus on Blues chord progressions.
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Blues chord progressions usually involve a sequence of chords that repeats for the duration of
the given song. There are numerous versions, however, one in particular is the most popular and known by nearly all
guitarists who are the least bit familiar with the Blues. That chord progression is the 12-bar Blues.
As the name implies, the 12-bar Blues repeats every 12 bars. For the purposes of organization,
the 12 bars are often thought of as 3 groups of 4 bars. The basic structure of the chord progression is:
Here standard Roman-numeral notation is used to represent the chords of the progression. The
numbers correspond to the degree of major scale.
As is evident from the figure, a single chord is used for each bar of the 12-bar Blues. Bars two
and 12 have a choice in terms of which chord to use, I or IV for bar 2 and I or V for bar 12. If we translate the
above to the Key of E Major, we end up with the following progression:
Often the time signature for Blues music is 4/4 - i.e. 4 beats per bar (or measure) where a
quarter note gets one beat. Sometimes the timing has a shuffle feel, but for the moment I will stick with straight
Representing the above chord progression using strum notation in 4/4 time, we have:
| E / / / | E / / / | E / / / | E / / / |
| A / / / | A / / / | E / / / | E / / / |
| B / / / | A / / / | E / / / | B / / / |
Because the 12-bar Blues progression consists entirely of the I, IV and V chords, there is a
tremendous amount of flexibility available in playing the progression. We can play it using major chords, as shown
above. We can also translate it to a minor key and play it using minor chords - the corresponding chords in a minor
key are represented as: i, iv, and v and they are all minor. Of course, we could take more of a Rock approach and
play the progression using power-chords (i.e. just the root and the fifth of the chord).
A common practice used by Blues players is to use seventh chords. You can make all of the
chords seventh chords or a subset. The V chord is an especially popular choice.
I hope you have found this review of the 12-bar Blues useful. If you want to learn more about
the Blues, I encourage you to check out Steve Krenz’s spotlight course on the Blues. It’s a highly focused course
that teaches the Blues.
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