Understanding the 12 Bar Blues on Guitar

February 26th, 2010

The 12 bar blues in the most basic form aren’t difficult. Sure some of the great blues guitar players use a lot of technique, but in the basic form any beginner can understand the theory behind it. In this beginner lesson I’m going to show you how to find the chords that go into making up a 12 bar blues progression, the pattern and way to play those chords and also a couple of tips on where to find the chords on the neck.

So before you can start playing anything you need to know what chords you’re going to be putting together. Since the 12 bar blues is a simple pattern you can learn it’s easy for you to determine what chords you must play in a given key.

You need to find the first, fourth and fifth notes that are in the scale for the given key you want to play in. If you know your scales well then this won’t be a problem, if you’re a little rusty on this no problem the net has all the resources you need. The first note is just that the first note in the scale and so on each note counts up one as you go down the line.

Once you’ve figured out which notes are what number and you’ve chosen the first, fourth and fifth notes we can plug those in as chords in the following 12 bar blues pattern:

1 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 4 – 4 – 1 – 1 – 5 – 4 – 1 – 5

The 12 bar blues always follows this same pattern above. The numbers of course correspond to chords that we find in the first part of the article. Each number stands for one measure, and there are 12 in all making it the 12 bar blues. The length of a measure could vary, if we assume we’re playing 4 beats per measure then we’d give each chord 4 beats for each bar.

Let’s look at a short example of how to piece together a 12 bar blues progression in the key of A.

We need to first start with the A major scale. The scale looks like this:

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A

Picking out the first, fourth and fifth notes gives us A, D and E respectively. Next we add those to the 12 bar blues pattern we learned above, and it provides us with a progression that looks like this:

A – A – A – A – D – D – A – A – E – D – A – E

Finally take a few minutes to watch the lesson video below. I walk you through the 12 bar blues in the Key of A and show you where on the neck to play these chords and what feel you should give your playing. Once you’ve finished that I urge you to go grab your own guitar and give it a try.

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