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How to play the 12 bar blues chord progression

Cameron, in Music lessons
May 31, 2021 | 2 min read

Although blues music relies heavily on improvisation, it nevertheless follows some basic structure. This allows for musicians to explore their creativity while still being able to play together in a cohesive and controlled manner. Today we will look at 12-bar blues form and how you can use it.

12-bar blues is the most common blues form, and can be heard on countless legendary blues tracks. (Check out our playlist below!) When looking at 12-bar blues, we can divide it into 3 groups of 4 bars (hence the name). 

Most 12 bar blues is played in 4/4 time. 

Let’s break down what each of these 3 sections consists of:

Section 1

4 bars of the I chord

Total: 4 bars

Section 2

2 bars of the IV chord

2 bars of the I chord

Total: 4 bars

Section 3

1 bar of the V chord

1 bar of the IV chord

1 bar of the I chord

1 bar of the V chord

Total: 4 bars

Source: happybluesman.com

As a general rule, the third and final section of the 12 bar blues is generally used to resolve the first two sections.

Let’s look at an example in the key of A, a common key for blues guitar:

Section 1

4 bars of A

Section 2

2 bars of D

2 bars of A

Section 3

1 bar of E

1 bar of D

1 bar of A

1 bar of E

From section 3, you would go right back into section 1. This pattern repeats on and on for the entirety of the song.

Using this common structure, you can play a wide variety of popular blues songs, and even improvise over these chords using the pentatonic scale. Try it out today!

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