Intro to Blues Guitar: The 12-Bar Blues Progression

The Chords The blues can be tricky when it comes to keys and chords. Tonally, it exists somewhere between major and minor—it’s like a unique world with its own unique sound. Because of this, you’ll never see blues music written out with a key signature; what’s important is Farr Guitar the key. In this lesson, we’ll be using the key of E blues. The standard 12-bar blues progression involved three chords. These are the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord; in the key of E blues, these 3 chords will be an E, an A, and a B. To make things easier for this lesson, you should play these as power chords until you get the basics down more.

The Rhythm

Once you know the chords, it’s time to get the rhythm down. Most blues songs have 4 beats per measure or bar, and the progression we’re going over has 12 of these bars each with 4 beats. That being said, most blues has a shuffle or swing feel to it, which means that beats aren’t divided into eighth notes, but triplets. The middle triplet in each beat is removed, leaving each beat divided into a long note and a short note. This is what creates the swing feel, which is very important to the rhythm of the blues.

The Progression

Now that you understand the basic feel of blues rhythm, it’s time to set up the 12-bar progression. This consists of four bars of the I chord (E in our case), two measures of the IV chord (A), and two more measures of the I chord. This is followed by one bar of the V chord which is B in our key, and lastly one bar each of the IV, I, then V chords. Memorizing this is very important, as this is a progression you need to know thoroughly. Of course, it helps to memorize it if you try it out on your guitar to get a feel for the way it sounds. Since it’s best to start off easy with power chords, begin the progression with four measures of the E power chord. This is an easy chord because the root is the open low E string on top of which you add a perfect fifth. As you change to the A power chord, all you need to do is move the E power chord shape up one string so that the open A string is the root. Moving from here to the B power chord, just move the shape up 1 fret. The chord changes may be easy, but putting all of this together while keeping the right time and counting the measures right can be difficult. Just keep practicing with the end goal being to memorize this progression until it becomes intuitive.


Once you master it, you’ll find that this is a simple yet very versatile chord progression that can be used as the starting point for all kinds of blues songs and jam sessions. This is the most important of the fundamentals of this genre, and once you learn them you’ll be able to start expressing yourself pretty quickly. But while internet tutorials can be useful, sometimes nothing can beat face-to-face instruction from a good teacher. If you’re in the Austin, TX area and looking for a good guitar teacher, Farr Guitar studio is a very good choice. No matter what, though, the important thing is to never stop practicing. ]]>