Blues is one of my favorite musical genres, in part, because it is very easy to teach to beginners. Even a guitar newbie can learn and play basic blues at an early stage.
You will need a lot of practice to play like BB King, but playing basic blues progressions are easy.
If you learn a few open position 7th chords, you can play the blues. The 12 bar blues to be more exact.
What is the 12 bar blues?
The 12 bar blues is the most basic blues chord progression.
As it’s name would suggest, it is made up of 12 bars (or measures), which are laid out in a very specific order:
The progression uses the I, IV and V chords of the major scale. This means that if you know the root note or chord, you can construct the rest of the 12 bar blues progression as well.
By the way, if you are interested in learning blues guitar, there are great online blues guitar lesson courses out there. These courses offer a structured approach to learning to play blues guitar, which is very important.
Quick change variation
The 2nd most famous blues chord progression is the quick change, also called quick-four.
It is very similar to the basic 12 bar blues, with the only difference being the “quick change” to the IV chord in the 2nd measure.
As you can see, all other parts of the progression are exactly the same as the basic 12 bar blues.
To make things more interesting, we will be learning our chord progression with the quick-change variation of the 12 bar blues.
You will need to learn 7th chords to be able to get that bluesy sound.
What are 7th chords? They are your basic major triad, with an added
minor seventh note.
So to form a 7th chord, you need to include the following notes in your chord:
Root + 3rd + 5th + Minor 7th
This lesson will teach how to play easy 12 bar blues progressions with open chords. No barre chords needed.
We’ll learn the 12 bar blues in several keys, and the chords you’ll need to learn are the following.
The B7 is the most difficult chord out of all of them, but it is actually pretty easy once you practice it for a while. The seemingly complicated chord shape is a rather natural way to hold your fingers.
12 bar blues in open A
The chords you will need to learn to play the 12 bar blues in the key of A are:
These are easy open chords, which you will be able to learn in no time at all using the videos above.
12 bar blues in open E
The chords you will need to play in the key of E are:
As I mentioned, the B7 will be the most difficult chord to master. Don’t worry if you can’t play it perfectly yet, it takes a while.
Keep on practicing it, make sure you hold each chord correctly, and you’ll get it soon.
12 bar blues in open D
The chord you will need to learn to play the 12 bar blues in the key of D are:
The G7 will seem like quite a sretch at first, but with enough practice, it will become 2nd nature.
This goes for all aspects of guitar. A technique that seems impossible today will get easier and easier with practice. With time (and practice), it will become second nature.
Beginners have a hard time believing this, but it’s true. Stick with it, and you shall be rewarded.
12 bar blues in open G
The 12 bar blues in the key of G will require that you learn the following 7th chords:
The C7 chord is a very versatile chord shape. It is a movable shape, just like a barre chord. If you learn the shape, you can move it all over the fretboard to attain 7th chords in all pitches.
The shuffle rhythm
The shuffle rhythm is one of the most popular ways to play the blues.
What is the shuffle rhythm? The opposite of straigth rhythm.
Eighth notes alternate a long note and a short note in the shuffle rhythm, as opposed to equal length notes in straight rhythm. The long note falls on the beat and the short one in-between on the upbeat.
It is easier to understand by hearing it:
And there you have it.
Learning to play the blues
The above paragraphs are meant to give you a blues guitar primer.
The backbone of the blues is the 12 bar blues, but of course, the blues is so much more than that.
If you are serious about learning to play blues guitar, here are some tips:
- Have a look at the courses I referred to at the beginning of the article
- Listen to a lot of blues music, both classic and contemporary
- Practice as much as you can
Learning to play the blues will not be an overnight thing, but it can be done. You need to be diligent and find the time to practice.
Keep in mind that the best blues guitarists were all beginners at first. Nobody was born with a guitar in their hands. They practiced a lot!
Now go grab your guitar, and start practicing.