This article shows beginner guitar players the 12 bar blues progression and how to play it with simple open position blues chords. Blues guitar is great fun to play. This article shows you the simple chords and basic blues song structure you can use to play many thousands of songs.
Learning to play the blues is not only great fun, it also gives you valuable skills you can use in other styles such as rock, soul, R&B, funk and jazz. Blues guitar uses distinctive sounding chords called dominant 7th chords. These are denoted by the number 7 following the chord name.
The dominant 7th chord is simply a normal major or minor chord with a 7th note two frets below the root note added. For example, you add a D note to an E major chord to form an E7, a G note to an A chord gives you A7, and so on.
You can add the 7th note to many chords by finding a root note and changing the fingering to play the note two frets below it. The chord diagrams below show you easy open blues chords in the key of A major.
E7 A7 D7 e 0|---|---| 0|---|---|---| |---|-3-| B 0|---|---| |---|-2-|---| |-1-|---| G |-1-|---| 0|---|---|---| |---|-2-| D 0|---|---| |---|-1-|---| 0|---|---| A |---|-2-| 0|---|---|---| x|---|---| E 0|---|---| x|---|---|---| x|---|---|
You can try to find the dominant 7th note for other open chords you know. Simply find a string where the root note occurs and change fingering to play the note two frets lower on that string. Alternatively, find a string where the 5th note of the chord occurs and play the note three frets up from it. Remember that these notes occur two or even three times in open chord forms.
Now you know how to play simple blues chords in open positions let's look at how they are used in songs.
Most blues songs use a 12 bar chord progression that is quite easy to learn. Once you master this progression you'll be able to play very many blues songs with it.
The blues progression uses chords based on the first, fourth and fifth scale degrees. These are commonly known as the I, IV and V chords. Here is the 12 bar blues progression in the key of A major, the I, IV, V chords are A7, D7 and E7 respectively.
| A7 | A7 | A7 | A7 | D7 | D7 | | A7 | A7 | E7 | D7 | A7 | E7 |
As you learn and memorize this progression you should aim to memorize the chord changes in terms of I, IV and V chords. If you do this then it will be easy to play the blues in a variety of keys.
You can play the blues in four popular keys – A, E, D and G - with only five chords. The table below shows the I, IV and V chords for these four major keys commonly played on the guitar.
Key of E: E7 (I), A7 (IV), B7 (V)
Key of A: A7 (I), D7 (IV), E7 (V)
Key of D: D7 (I), G7 (IV), A7 (V)
Key of G: G7 (I), C7 (IV), D7 (V)
Practice the chord forms one key at a time and memorize the 12 bar blues progression. With these two simple pieces of knowledge you can have fun playing along to many blues songs or join in at your local blues jam.
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