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Blues Guitar Chords

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12-Bar Blues

The 12-Bar Blues, also called the Blues Change, is one of the most popular chord progressions in modern music and features prominently in most forms of  Blues music.  Whenever it's played, it's also instantly recognized as the classic Blues signature sound due to its mellow and melodic feeling. This is the stuff Rock & Roll was born from.  Let's teach you how to play it...

12-Bar Blues Rhythm

Like its name implies, this progression is played over 12 measures or 48 beats (12 x 4 beats per measure). 

For a listen at the 12-Bar Rhythm watch the following. On this video I'm playing a basic 12-Bar Blues progression and counting the bars as I play. This should give you a good idea of the beat we're going for.

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This free guitar lesson will teach you how to play the 12 -Bar Blues with three easy chords.  This forms the foundation for any form of Blues music.
A note on counting:  When counting bars, most people do it like this: 

1, 2, 3, 4,   1, 2, 3, 4,   1, 2, etc.  But by using this method, there's no way to keep track of what bar you're at. 

Instead count like this:  1, 2, 3, 4,   2, 2, 3, 4   3, 2, 3, 4,    4, 2, 3, 4,    5, 2, 3, 4 etc.

This way you're counting the measures and keeping the beat, while at the same time counting the bars.

12-Bar Blues Guitar Chords

Here's the basic theory behind the blues guitar chords used in the 12-Bar structure:  The normal 12-bar-Blues usually consists of 3 chords. These are technically named as the

I-IV-V"-chords, or alternatively as

Tonic - Subdominant -Dominant.

The I-Chord (Tonic) is the basic keynote of the song. In this section we'll be playing most of our Blues in the key of E, so these are the three chords we'll be using.

I (Tonic) = E Chord
IV (Subdominant) = A Chord
V (Dominant) = D Chord

An easy way to know which chords make up the I-IV-V in a 12 Bar Blues, is by using this Chord Wheel illustrated on the right.  You can right click + "Save image" to download and print a copy so you can keep it handy as reference.

Blues Chord Wheel
Let's play some 12-Bar Blues

Using the E-A-D Blues Guitar chords, we're now going to play a 12-Bar Blues structure following this pattern:

E (4 bars), A (2 bars), E (2 bars), B7 (2 bars), A (2 Bars), E (2 bars)

's our progression in graphic form:
12 Bar Blues Structure
For a listen at this progression watch the video below. On this video I'm playing the basic 12-Bar Blues progression using the chord pattern illustrated above.
Tip:  Use the chord wheel to try and play the 12-Bar Blues with other chords like C, F, G or D, G, A.  Make sure you  change the chords at the right times and understand the tempo.

If you're able to play this progression without effort, you've got the basic structure of the 12-Bar Blues mastered.  Continue to the next lesson where we'll some a couple of different chords and play a 12-Bar variation.

Proceed to the next lesson - 12 Bar Variations
Note:  On this video I'm playing the B power chord, instead of the standard B7.  You can use both, I just like to sound of the power chord better.
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