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How to Play the Twelve Bar Blues Structure Guitar Lesson

Mar 8, 2008
The 12-bar blues progression is the oldest and most en-grained musical structure for the blues out there. It started as a I-IV-V or the 1st - 4th - 5th notes or chords of the particular scale you are playing in.
In order to start playing blues you will want to know what a 12-bar blues progression is. The simplist questions posed regarding the 12-bar blues are, what chords or notes do I play? and What order or progression do I play them in?

The basic concept of the 12-bar blues is the I-IV-V progression, where I, IV and V represent the chords or notes that you will be using. What is I, IV, V exactly.
To be exact, for the key of A, we will be using A-D-E as our I-IV-V progression. Likewise if you count out starting with E, you will find that for the key of E we will use E-A-B as our I-IV-V progression.

Just about all of the old finger-pickers and the guitarists at Guitar Players Center made good use of this musical structure. It has a cool beat and is still used a lot. Once you get familiar with it, you will start to recognize it more and more.
The most basic form of the 12 bar blues progression / structure is to play 12 bars as follows:
Standard Twelve Bar shuffle or Progression is I I I I IV IV I I V IV I V Play it over + over, or see chart below if that makes more sense to you.

KEY OF A Notes For Progression A D E Play over+over
KEY OF B Notes for Progression B E F Play over+over
KEY OF C Notes for Progression C F G Play over+over
KEY OF D Notes for Progression D G A Play over+over
KEY OF E Notes for Progression E A B Play over+over
KEY OF F Notes for Progression F B C Play over+over
KEY OF G Notes for Progression G C D Play over+over

In the Key of A: Play AAAA - DD - AA - E - D - A - E then go back to AAAA-DD-AA-E-D-A-E , again using a metronome to get your timing down. This metronome has an accent on the first beat. It's never to soon to start learning to play to a metronome. Believe me, timing is just as important as any other facet of playing the guitar. Seriously.

Try using this video as a general guideline to playing the 12 bar blues shuffle. I have used it ad-nauseam, meaning I have worn this video out playing it so much as a source to learn to play the twelve bar blues and learn the timing. It's Free!
Listen to SRV play "Pride and Joy". Stevie Ray used the twelve bar blues structure as a foundation for many of his own creations.

Briefly, not to complicate the matter, but, realistically speaking the twelve bar blues can be played using chords as well, or using a combination of notes and chords. The main thing is to use the proper notes or chords for the key you are using.
Twelve bar blues books are available at Amazon in abundance. Browse through the books available and pick one you understand. We all learn differently, so I always recommend finding instructional materials you can relate to and understand.

Tutorials are available at many of the places recommended in my online guitar lessons articles. The preferred guitar and musical education sites are top notch and on the level. I have used them and can personally endorse them.

This is a chart of chords you can play to the 12 bar blues shuffle. It's a bit more advanced than notes only. Making this optional or the next step in playing the twelve bar blues.
Use the Chord Chart in this article on Seventh (7th) chords.
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