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Blues Guitar - The 12 bar blues in E
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This is the first in a series of lessons on playing blues guitar. For a more on the 12 bar blues progression in general, go to my BASIC BLUES and Basic 12-bar blues lessons. (The lessons might be overlapping).

We start with the blues progression I have labeled Blues progression 1, in the key of E. E is a popular key for blues guitar, but it is not the easiest key to play if you are a beginner on the guitar. To play the blues in it's simplest form, you need to know four chords:

E E7 A7 B7

How to finger the chords

If you are not used to play these chord, the change to and from B7 in particular might be a bit difficult. Be careful with how you finger these changes. When fingering chords, you should try to make as little finger movement as possible. It takes time to shift fingers, and the less you do it, the more fluent will the changes be. A typical beginner error is to lift all the fingers off the fingerboard and relocate each finger. If you can keep a finger where it is, do it. Look at the fingering indicated in the chord diagrams. The fingering of the E-chord is in my view the only sensible way to finger this chord. There is also only one way to finger this voicing of the B7 chord. Notice that your 2nd finger is in the same position in both chords. Don't lift the finger off the string just to place it where is was - keep it on the 2nd fret of the 5th string through the change. This will reduce the finger movement, and the finger will be a guide for the rest of your fingers. The first finger is on 1st fret in both chords. But in the E chord it holds the first fret on the 3rd string, and in B7 it holds it on the 4th string. Just move the finger across, lifting it as little as possible. Your 3rd finger crosses in the opposite direction, from 4th string 2nd fret to 3rd string 2nd fret. If you find the change difficult, practise just this movement without caring about your 4th finger until it is fluent. Then you just add your 4th finger on 2nd fret 1st string for the B7.

There is no clear "right" or "wrong" when it comes to fingering of the A and A7 chord. It depends on where you are coming from and where will go next. When looked at in isolation, the easiest way to finger the simple A7 chord is with 1st finger on 2nd fret, 4th string, and 2nd finger on 2nd fret, 2nd string. But it is the least flexible fingering. You use two fingers, while the other two are placed in a useless position. So I will not recommend this fingering. Usually I will recommend that you use 1st finger on 4th string, 2nd finger on 3rd string and 3rd finger on 4th string. This will give you an A chord. Lift off the 2nd finger, and you get A7. It might be an alternative to finger the A7 with 2nd finger on 4th string and 3rd finger on the 2nd string. With this fingering it might be easier to change to and from both E and B7, but you do not have the A chord under your fingers. On the other hand, you get the Amaj7 by placing your 1st finger on 3rd string, 1st fret.

The blues progression in E can be played as follows:



MIDI file - 12 bar blues in E



We often use roman numbers to indicate chords relative to the root chord. The root chord will then be I. The chord a fourth above is labeled IV, and the chord a fifth above is labeled V. The advantage of using such notation, is that we can notate a chord structure that can be applied to any key. I the key of E the numbers will be: I=E, IV=A and V=B. The 12 bar blues will then be:

Listen carefully to the change from E to E7. It is almost as the harmony starts preparing for a jump to A. And this is in fact just what it does. The E7-A change could be seen as a V-I resolution in the key of A, and it really illustrates the double identity of the I-IV change.

Play the blues slow with a steady rhythm with four beats in each bar. You must play the 12-bar blues progression until it becomes second nature to you, and you can play it on "auto-pilot". Count the rhythm as you play. You should know both in which bar you are, and which note in the bar you are playing. The way to count is 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 2 - 2 - 3 - 4, 3 - 2 - 4, etc, until you get to 12 - 2 - 3 - 4, when it is time to start over from 1 again.

The "Hoochie Coochie Lick"

I will give you one rather simple, but effective and very useful lick. By the name I have assigned to it, you will probably understand that it is inspired by Muddy Waters and the playing in his son The Hoochie Coochie Man. But I am not saying that this is exactly how Muddy Waters played the song. It is a simple lick played on the two bottom strings (or on the 6th string only, if you prefer that).


Alternate fingering - the entire lick on one string


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.


= UP

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.
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