kept the same overall formula since its growth in popularity in the
early 20th century. This lesson will introduce you to the blues chord
define the genre, and some common variations.
There are three main forms in blues - 12 bar blues
(which is what most people are familiar with), 8 bar blues and 16 bar
There are also variations such as minor key blues and
the more elaborate jazz blues which we'll touch on later.
It's useful to know that blues is also the foundation of genres
such as rock and roll and even metal has its own bluesy subgenres.
Ultimately, it's up to you how you use the blues chord progressions
we're about to
Major and minor key blues chord progressions
Major key blues
Most blues you'll hear is in
a major key. That means the first chord in the progression is a major
chord. If that chord was E major, then E major would be the key of the
major would be what is known as the tonic
chord, often referred to using Roman numerals (so 1 would be I)
Another chord used in blues progressions is the 4
chord or subdominant
chord. In our key of E major, that would be A major.
The final chord in typical blues progressions is the 5 (V)
chord or dominant
chord. In E major,
that would be B major.
when you hear people refer to a 1 4 5 (I IV V)
progression, in the key
of E major that would be E, A, B.
1 4 5 is essentially the backbone of blues. Three
You should learn to visualise this 145
relationship wherever you are on the fretboard. The easiest way to do
this is to first identify the root/bass notes of each chord on the low
E and A strings...
on the low E string
on the A string
root note formation is movable depending on the key in which you're
playing. So if you wanted your progression to be in the key of A major,
simply position the 1 chord
root note on the note A
(e.g. E string, 5th fret) and position the 4
chords based on the formations above.
The below table shows you the chords in the most common keys. Use it to
test your knowledge of how the 4 and 5 chords relate to the tonic in
Typically, blues uses dominant 7th chords. For example, the 1 4 5
progression in E major would be E7, A7, B7.
Sometimes, the major 4 chord (IV) is substituted with a minor 4 chord
(iv). A typical progression in the key of E major would be E, A, Am, E,
B7, E. You could see this is mixing major and minor key blues.
Experiment with using this variation in the different forms later in
Many guitarists just use open
chords or barre
chords in their blues progressions. Remember also, for heavier blues
chords are often used in place of full blown 7th chords.
So as you can see, the variations are quite subtle, but there are
consistencies such as the 1 chord on the 1st, 3rd and 4th bars, and the
4 chord on the 5th and 6th bars. The 5 chord only really comes in
during the last 4 bars.
The last 2 bars typically contain what is often referred to as the
"turnaround". This is the climax of the 12 bar blues sequence that
prepares the listener for the return to the tonic and a new 12 bars.
There are a number of embellishments you can apply during these last 2
bars to enhance the turnaround function, but we'll cover those in a
separate lesson on blues technique. If you listen to blues, you'll
already be familiar with some turnaround variations.
about mastering blues guitar?
Guitar Tricks have developed the most comprehensive multimedia blues
guitar course available, taking you from beginner right through to
advanced playing. Take
a look here
8 bar blues chord progressions
Less common than 12 bar blues, the 8 bar blues form condenses the 1 4 5
sequence into... 8 bars!
Here are some common variations. Note that, in this blues form, chord
changes can occur within the same bar, as indicated in the some of the
variations below. When this is the case, the chord change will occur on
the 3rd count, in the middle of the 4 count bar. Listen to the examples
to get your bearings...
Jazz often uses the staple blues chord progressions from above as the
and embellishes them by adding other chords from the diatonic scale,
as the 2 (ii/II) and 6 (vi/VI) chords. Plus, it often adds diminished
chords, for example a half step up from the 4 chord position (e.g. Eb7
You can learn all about these other chord degrees back in the main
Some typical jazz variations on the 12 bar blues, in the common key of
(B flat) would be...
Note that BbM7 with a capital M is an abbreviation for "Bbmaj7" or "B
I'll cover jazz variation more in its own section, but the above
examples should give you a solid grounding in jazz blues which you can
build on in your own way. Try transposing these progressions to