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The 12 Bar Blues Progression
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Ah, the most basic of all progressions. The rock to which (almost) all blues songs are anchored. The 12 Bar Blues Progression.

It’s a simple three chord progression that spans 12 bars in the blues. Once those 12 bars are finished, you simply repeat the 12 bars again and again. Lyrics come and go, solos come and go, but the 12 bar blues progression doesn’t. I’ve heard bluesman play on the same 12 bar blues progression for an entire show. For 2 hours. The same thing. Over and over. And it never got old. Why is that?

Well, the twelve bar blues progression is the basis for all blues songs. It contains the root, the fourth and the fifth of a key. That’s it. For example, in G, that would mean the only chords you would need is G, C and D. It resolves so nicely and so expectantly that it never get tiresome. In fact, if you were to try a different chord in a 12 bar blues progression, you would be struck with how out of place it sounds.

Let’s look at a real life example. Let’s say we want to play in the key of A. The key of A is very popular key for guitarists. You’ll need three chords: A, D, and E.

Let’s put them together.

As you’ll notice, the blues progression only has three chords and they move in a predictable way. Let’s look at a blues progression in E, also a popular key for guitarists. You’ll need the three chords E, A, and B.

Again, the movement is highly predictable, the three chords move in the exact same pattern no matter what key you are in.

Another thing to consider is that there are variations on the theme, the below example illistrates a common variation on a twelve bar blues progression in A. Note that the chords used are still the same, they are just in a few new places.

I hope this little article helps understand the most basic and fundamental chord progression of all: the twelve bar blues!



The 12-Bar Blues is a format that many popular artists have used to write hit songs- Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, to name a few. It's important to learn this structure if you have any desire at all to play rock n' roll, or lead guitar.

A 12-bar Blues chord progression is comprised of 12 measures. The cool thing is that the chord sequence is virtually always the same, with only a few minor variations occasionally. This makes it fairly easy to learn for most people. The simple structure also provides a great format for learning and practicing chords, licks, and riffs in various keys.

The term "12-Bar" refers to the number of measures in a particular song or chord sequence. In music, a measure (or bar) is the space between two vertical (bar) lines on a staff. Note values (beats) are measured to create a specific rhythm which is then indicated by a Time Signature such as 4/4 or 3/4, etc.


In the example above, notice that you strum E for the first four measures, then A for two measures and then back to E for two measures. Next you play one measure each of B7, A, E and B7. The total chord sequence adds up to 12 bars, or measures.

Return to the beginning to play the chord progression again. When you are ready to stop, just strum E after the 12th measure and count to four. Remember that the arrows indicating the strum pattern are pointing in the direction of the strings. In other words, an up arrow means you are actually strumming down toward the first string.


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Lesson Objective:

To become familiar with playing an Easy 12-Bar Blues chord progression.


1. Play through the example given above in the key of E until you can maintain a steady rhythm all the way through. Concentrate on chord transitions, trying not to miss a beat.

2. After you are comfortable with this chord progression, transpose it by using the I, IV, V chords in the key of A. Now practice it again. Continue this proceedure until you are able to play the blues progression in all of the 5 keys shown below:

E A B7
A D E7
D G A7
G C D7
C F G7

3. Use the Root of the chord (name of chord) as your bass note. For example, if the I chord is E you would play the open E string as your bass note before strumming the chord. When you move to the next chord, which is A you would play the open A string as your bass note. Do this with each chord in the progression.