Note: This 12 Bar Blues lesson for beginners is divided in two parts, this is Part 1.
Blues is not only an exciting, popular and guitar friendly style of music, but a very influential style as well. It’s influence pops up in all styles of contemporary rhythm guitar, both in terms of it’s chord and form structure and in terms of it’s voicing. Typically built on a 12 bar progression, a blues may be built on a single note riff or on a chord progression, or perhaps a combination of the two. In this lesson, we will focus on basic chording techniques for the beginning blues rhythm guitarist. You can also practice all your blues chords and progressions in the Uberchord app (click for free download) available for all iOS users. The app gives you instant feedback and even has a chord trainer.
In it’s most often imitated form, a blues chord progression can be built by using chords built on the 1st, 4th, and 5th degrees of any given major scale, producing a “12 bar blues” progression in that key. In example 1 below, a 12 bar blues progression is shown in the key of G, using open position dominant 7th chords, the type of chord typically associated with a bluesy sound. In the G major scale, the notes are: G (the 1, or root), A (the 2nd), B (the 3rd), C (the 4th), D (the 5th), E (the 6th), and F# (the 7th), and then you are back to G again. The chords in example 1 are built on the 1st, 4th, and 5th notes of the scale, G, C, and D respectively. The chords are identified as being built on the 1, 4, or 5 with roman numerals I7, IV7, and V7, which also indicates that they are dominant 7th chords.
Strum through the example using quarter notes as shown, or using 8th note rhythms. When strumming 8th note rhythms, try playing with both a straight 8th note feel and a swung 8th note, or shuffle feel. Check out the Part: 2 for an explanation of the shuffle feel. Here are all the chords used in this exercise:
Example 2 (a)
This example shows a typical I IV V blues progression in the key of E using open position dominant 7th chords. Again, try strumming through the chords with a variety of rhythms.
Example 2 (b)
Based on the same basic chord shapes as example 2a but with a doubled b7th degree on both 2 the E7 and A7 chord to bring out the dominant sound a little more, this example bounces between the bass note of the chord and strumming. Notice how the same rhythmic pattern is used throughout. Play this example with a straight 8th and a shuffle feel.
Example 3 (a)
A typical I IV V blues progression in the key of D using open position dominant 7th chords.
Example 3 (b)
This example is based on the same basic chord shapes as example 3a, but the chords are played with an arpeggiated pattern (an arpeggio occurs when you play a chord one note at a time). In the 4th and 8th measure, a single note riff is used to “break up” the pattern that dominates this example. In measure 12, a single A7 is hit, effectively “signaling” the return to the top of the form.