Bing Hodneland logo

Bestsellers

Books

List Bestselling Books

DVDs

List Bestselling DVDs

Google

Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale
In Association with Amazon.co.uk

All the information on this site is free. But if it is of value to you, I appreciate a tip.


Previous page:

Chord Progressions - Basic 12-bar blues

Next page:
Previous page: Chord Progressions - Blues Progressions Next page: Chord Progressions - 8, 16 and 24 bar blues

Basic 12-bar blues

This lesson focus on the chord structure of the blues. If you want to learn more about playing the blues, go to my Blues Guitar Series, where you will also find more on the 12-bar blues progression.

You will find the 12-bar blues progression as basis for rock, jazz, folk and pop, and of course in blues. It is also a progression that is easy to identify, making it a good start. But already at the outset, you should know that not all blues songs follow a standard 12-bar progression, and that there are many variations within the 12-bar blues framework.

The 12-bar blues consists of three lines, each with four bars, making a total of 12. It has what is known as a AAB structure, meaning that the theme from the first line is repeated with some alterations in the second line, and then a concluding theme is introduced in the third line. Identifying the structure is a good start when you figure out the chords.

Blues progression 1

If you play a 12-bar blues in E, a popular blues-key on guitar, you might play ( A / means that the same chord is played on that beat):

E- / - / - / E - / - / - / E - / - / - / E7 - / - / - /
A7 - / - / - / A7- / - / - / E - / - / - / E - / - / - /
B7 - / - / - / A7 - / - / - / E - / - / - / E - / - / - /

If we give these chords generic musical identification, it will be spelled I, I7, IV, IV7 and V7. If you do not know this notation, go the the explanation of notation. A 12-bar blues in this form will be:

I - / - / - / I - / - / - / I - / - / - / I7 - / - / - /
IV7 - / - / - / IV7 - / - / - / I - / - / - / I - / - / - /
V7 - / - / - / IV7 - / - / - / I - / - / - / I - / - / - /

Just to have a name for labeling the progression, I call this Blues progression 1

12B1 12-bar Blues progression 1. For more information, go to 12-bar Blues progression 1. Download all files as a zip-file.
65 very slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
90 Slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
120 Medium C D Eb E F G A Bb

Click here for a list of songs with Blues progression 1.

If you have listened to or played 12-bar blues songs, you might have noticed that some might be played almost, but not exactly as it has been written here.

You will frequently hear that a verse ends on the V7 chord, which is B7 in the key of E. The last line will then be:

V7 - / - / - / IV7 - / - / - / I - / - / - / I - V7 - / - /

To indicate that the progression has a turnaround, I add a T to the label. The Blues Progression 1 with turnaround will then be Blues progression 1T

12B1T - 12-bar Blues progression 1 with Turnaround chord For more information to 12-bar Blues Type 1T. Download all files as a zip-file
65 very slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
90 Slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
120 Medium C D Eb E F G A Bb

Click here for a list of songs with a Blues progression 1T.

Note that you usually will play the V7 chord at the second beat in the last bar. This creates a turnaround. Listen to how the V7 chord function in that context: It creates some tension, giving the verse a restless end where you cannot stop. The tension is released when you are returning to the I chord, or the tonic chord as it also is called. We will look more at this V7-I relationship later. But be sure that you can identify the tension created by the 7th chord and how it is released by returning to the I chord. The music is coming home when it arrives at the I chord.

You will never end a blues song at the V7 chord. In the last verse, you have to stay at the I chord. You might also hear a I7 chord played at the end.

You should also pay careful attention to how the I7 chord function at the end of the first line (bar 4). When going from a straight major to a 7th, it creates tension. This tension will be released if you go to an A chord. And you will then have changed key to A-major. But since you will often go to a A7 chord, the tension is only partly released. But it might still be regarded as a change or modulation from E to A. If you are improvising over this chord change on a not to well adjusted auto-pilot, you can easily get lost. Without really noticing what you are doing, you might change from an E to an A scale as the basis for your playing. And this does not work very well when you are returning to E in bar 7. You have to know how to find your way back to your home-key. You may also notice that there is not the same kind of tension and release when you are going from A7 to E, in bar 6 and 7. If you should release the A7 tension, you should have ended on D. But then you would have changed key to D-major, and you would really have problem finding you way home.

Music will often modulate from one key to another, and with the new key you establish a «home away from home». You will usually have to come back to the home key. But sometimes you will move into a new home. One example is the inevitable modulation heard in country songs. I said that the change from E7 to A7 might be regarded as a modulation from E to A, I did not say that it is a modulation. What makes blues so fascinating and a good basis for improvising is that it does not have a very stable harmonic structure. The chord changes makes it easy to get in and out of keys and different scales, and thus opening up for unlimited variations.

Blues progression 2

A common variation is a change to the IV7 chord in the second bar, and then a change back to I in the third bar. The first line will then be:

I - / - / - / IV7 - / - / - / I - / - / - / I7 - / - / - /

I label progressions with a IV in bar 2 as Blues progression 2 and 2T if it has a turnaround

12B2 - 12-bar Blues progression 2 - No turnaround. For more information, go to 12-bar Blues progression Type 2. Download all files as a zip-file.
65 very slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
90 Slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
120 Medium C D Eb E F G A Bb

Click here for a list of songs with Blues progression 2.

12B2T - 12-bar Blues progression 2 with Turnaround chord For more information, go to 12-bar Blues Type 2T. Download all files as a zip-file
65 very slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
90 Slow C D Eb E F G A Bb
120 Medium C D Eb E F G A Bb

Click here for a list of songs with Blues progression 2T.

Other variations

You may also notice that some players hold the V7 chord for two bars in bar 9 and 10, and then go directly from V7 to I, without going via the IV chord. The last line will then be (without turnaround):

V7 - / - / - / V7 - / - / - / I - / - / - / I - / - / - /

Chuck Berry often uses this form. Listen to Chuck Berry's classic «Johnny B. Goode» for an example. Chuck Berry usually do not use a turnaround.

Click here for a list of songs with a 12 bar blues progression with a V-V-I-I ending.

We will leave the blues for a while. But we will return with some new variations after looking at some other chord structures.

Previous page: Previous page: Chord Progressions - Blues ProgressionsNext page: Chord Progressions - 8, 16 and 24 bar blues Next page:

Some Progressions Blues - books

Top Seller


More >>
12-Bar Blues
Book of the Month 2002-07
This book/CD pack is solely devoted to providing guitarists with all the technical tools necessary for playing 12-bar blues with authority.
RefNr: HL695187
Order From:
SheetmusicPlus
MusicRoom
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books


More >>
101 Essential Blues Progressions
This user-friendly book and CD shows how to transform standard three-chord blues changes into harmonically sophisticated jazz-blues progressions.
RefNr: MB98339BCD
Order From:
SheetmusicPlus
Amazon UK
Amazon US

More >>
12-Bar Blues
Book of the Month 2002-07
This book/CD pack is solely devoted to providing guitarists with all the technical tools necessary for playing 12-bar blues with authority.
RefNr: HL695187
Order From:
SheetmusicPlus
MusicRoom
Amazon UK
Amazon US

More >>
Art of the Shuffle
This method book explores shuffle, boogie and swing rhythms for guitar, and covers Delta, country, Chicago, Kansas City, Texas, New Orleans, West Coast, and bebop blues.
RefNr: HL695005
Order From:
SheetmusicPlus
MusicRoom
Amazon UK
Amazon US

More >>
Blues Chords
BluesChords is not just a dictionnary of chords. It is the utltimate guitar chord book that focuses on blues voicings and blues progressions.
RefNr: AP0372B
Order From:
MusicRoom

Go here for full list of Progressions Blues books

Progressions Blues - videos

Go here for full list of Progressions Blues videos

Previous page: Next page:
Previous page: Chord Progressions - Blues Progressions Next page: Chord Progressions - 8, 16 and 24 bar blues