29 April 2009

Blues Chord Progressions, An Introduction

The 12 bar blues chord progression is the foundation of blues rhythm guitar. This progression is used in countless blues songs so if you want to play blues guitar you'd better learn it. This lesson shows you the basic 12 bar blues progression and three common variations you can play in any key.

Blues Chords

Blues chord progressions most often use dominant chords which are a standard major chord with an added flatted 7th note, this note is found two frets below the chord's root. Twelve bar blues chord progressions use three dominant chords, these are the I, IV and V chords of the song's key. Here are some examples.

In the key of E the I, IV, V chords are E, A, B.
In the key of A the I, IV, V chords are A, D, E.
In the key of G the I, IV, V chords are G, C, D.

Dominant chords can often be played on the guitar by removing one finger that plays the root note of the chord to play the dominant 7th note two frets below it. You can see this in the E7 and A7 chord shapes below.

Blues Chords Key of E Major

Get the idea? Good, now let's take a look at the 12 bar blues progression using those chords.

12 Bar Blues

Below is the chord grid for the standard twelve bar blues.

12 Bar Blues

You can see that the progression starts with four bars of the I chord, in this example E7. This is followed by two bars of the IV chord, A7, then another two bars on the I, E7. The last four bars are referred to as the turnaround and use one bar on the V chord, one bar on the IV and finally two bars on the I chord.

The progression then starts back at the I chord in the first of the twelve bars again. It's easy to see where the progression gets its name, it has 12 bars which are repeated for the length of a song.

The 12 bar blues progression is the foundation of countless blues songs. You will easily learn to recognize it if you listen to plenty of blues songs and pay attention to the sound of the chords as they go by.

12 Bar Blues Variations

There are two very common variations to the basic 12 bar form that we're going to take a short look at here. You should learn these two variations to play more popular blues songs or if you want to participate in blues jams with other musicians.

The first variation involves a change in bar two of the 12 bar blues, you play the IV chord in place of the I chord to give the progression shown below.

12 Bar Blues

The second variation replaces the I chord in the twelfth bar with a V chord. Play this variation and I'm sure you'll instantly recognize it. It is a characteristic blues sound you have heard in countless blues performances, it relaunches the song into the next round of 12 bars.

12 Bar Blues

Now you've learned the two variations separately, you should also practice playing the 12 bar blues progression with both variations: play the IV chord in bar two and the five chord in bar twelve. That gives you four 12 bar blues chord progressions to practice, let's recap them here:

1. The basic 12 bar blues progression
2. IV chord in bar 2 variation
3. V chord in bar 12 variation
4. IV and V chord variation

Learn and memorize these four 12 bar blues progressions on your guitar and you will be well on your way to playing blues rhythm guitar. Learn and practice the progressions in as many keys as you can and you'll be amazed how many blues songs you can play. Time to pick up your guitar and start practicing...

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Sarge said...

Nice beginner lesson, well done!

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Curt, Thanks for the encouragement.

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