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Guitar Lesson, Playing Blues in C

Updated on January 9, 2022
Jon Green profile image

I've taught guitar for years, and always recommend learning blues chords and sequences.

Guitar chords and Blues Guitar

  • The simplest blues tunes use only 3 chords, the 1,4 and 5 chords in the key you are playing in - in the key of E these would be E7 A7 and B7.
  • Same chords in A would be A7, D7 and E7
  • Same chords in C would be C7, F7, G7.
  • The intervals between the chords remain the same for every key.

This article is going to show some more interesting harmony, a jazz influenced way of playing a 12- Bar Blues. You can add chord extensions to some of these chords, and also use C7, C9 and C13 and mix them up any way you want.

There are two examples, one of a major 12 - Bar and one of a minor 12 - Bar.

Chords and scales for C Blues, Cm Blues

Reading Chord Grids

The 6 vertical lines are the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets. The headstock is above the diagram.

Playing tips

The loop symbol shows a barre type chord - here your third finger covers the top strings in a barre shape. Think of a B7 chord shape - the root note is on string 5. You can play all 9th chords with this shape, just moving it up and down the neck.

The descending chords are shown as three - note chords for ease of playing, but also for improved sound. From the C7 chord shown, just move down one fret at a time to A7.

You could also use the standard barre shape chords - barre in fret 8, with an E7 shape. The main disadvantage is that they are more difficult to slide around - this becomes a problem at faster tempos.

Every bar has 4 beats. (1,2,3,4, etc)

The scale notes shown can be used for playing riffs and improvising over the chords. Note that there are alternatives - the standard blues scale is shown, but you can also use the notes in the other two diagrams. try starting on string 3 for the first scale, string 1 for the second scale, and play the notes in ascending or descending order at first.

C minor blues

The second chord chart shows a C minor Blues. Again, it's a 12- Bar Blues, but the minor chords give it a great moody quality, fairly close to The Thrill Is Gone.

  • The Ab maj7 chord is played with the thumb over the neck, which also mutes the 5th string.
  • The Blues scale shown in the third box diagram will work with these chords, but the first two will not, as they contain the major third, which clashes with the Cm7 chord. If you are not used to improvising, you will probably find that the minor Blues is easier to play over.

Blues guitar players

Most guitar players play this kind of blues, and the following players are worth checking out:

  • BB King
  • Eric Clapton
  • Robben Ford
  • Larry Carlton (see my other blues guitar hub)

Eric Johnson - a bit good!

I went to a Eric Johnson gig last summer - though I had some reservations about the material it's easy to appreciate his huge talent as a guitarist - and his acoustic set playing April Come She Will by Simon and Garfunkel was an unexpected highlight.

Here he completely nails one of the best Dylan songs, in an exact replica of the Hendrix version.

His slightly obsessive nature (hearing the difference between different batteries in his effects pedals!) is on display here, as he plays a lap steel solo! Great technical ability and great feel here.

Also, the guitar tone is fantastic. After faithfully copying the Hendrix solos, the final solo is Eric's own style, which is possibly even better!

Blues music theory

I find it very useful to split music theory into two distinct areas:

  • Standard theory - pop, folk, classical, reggae, and diatonic music.
  • Blues theory - Blues, Jazz, Soul, Rock.

The reason for this is that I will classify music as mainly diatonic (major scale based) or 7th based, as in the blues, and the whole African - American music tradition. For Blues and 7th based music pentatonic scales work better, although adding the flat 5 note is an option.

Most Blues songs use 7th, 9th or 13th chords (Major key) or m7 and m9 chords (Minor key) and these can be used in any combination. For instance, if a chord chart has C7 chords, you can use C9 instead - essentially the same chord, with one extra note added to it.


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