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Guitar tab lesson - playing blues

Updated on March 26, 2013

Blues guitar basics

One of the best ways to get into guitar playing is by playing blues guitar, which is an essential background for all contemporary music in rock, blues, funk and jazz styles. The guitar tab shown here is a common and easy 12-Bar blues.

Guitar tab is explained in my other hubs, but it gives each string on guitar its own line, with the thickest and lowest sounding string as the bottom line. Then the numbers tell you which fret to play, or 0 for an open string. When notes are stacked like this, you play two notes together.

  • Instead of the single notes you could play each one twice, leading to a shuffle rhythm, which goes - humpty-dumpty, humpty-dumpty. The chords in the last few bars should be played four times each. If you find the single-note run in bar 12 too difficult, leave it out for now and play B7 four times.
  • A 12-Bar blues in the most basic form only uses three chords - the I, IV and V chords in the key. As we are playing in the key of E, these chords would be E7, A7 and B7. You could play these chords with the riffs shown in the guitar tab, or instead of them.
  • Once you have the basics down, you can add any number of guitar blues riffs to the sequence. try my new hub Guitar chords and blues riffs.

12 bar Blues in Guitar tab

Improvising Blues

You could use the E blues scale to improvise over these chords. String 1 is the thinnest string.

String 1 : 3rd fret, open string

String 2: 3rd fret, open string

String 3 : 3, 2, 0

String 4: 2, 0

String 5: 2, 1, 0

String 6: 3, 0

If this scale is too tricky, Em pentatonic might be a little easier:

3,0 (string 1)





3,0 (String 6)

What is the difference between these two scales? Actually, there is only one added note in the blues scale, the Bb of flat five note, also commonly known as the blue note. It appears twice as the scale covers two octaves.

Once you can play blues guitar in this key, try transferring the same ideas to other keys - A is the most useful, so now the three chords would be A7, D7 and E7.


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    • profile image

      Jace 2 years ago

      Heck yeah baey-be keep them coming!

    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 5 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks Michael. It's a quick way to sound decent on guitar.

    • Michael J Rapp profile image

      Michael J Rapp 5 years ago from United States

      Great lesson for a gutiarist just starting out!