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Guitar Lesson: Chords and Blues

Updated on February 6, 2022
Jon Green profile image

For many years I taught guitar in college, also have been playing gigs for 40 years.

Blues Chords

In the main chord chart, each column gives some alternatives for the three important chords used in blues, jazz/blues, funk styles.

A typical 12-Bar Blues is shown in the table below.

Play each chord shown 4 times, which is one bar in length. There is nothing wrong in counting as you go - 1,2,3,4

- as it will really help you stay in the right place in the sequence.

You can use any of the chord shapes in column 1 for E7 - and E9 works very well too.

You can use any of the chords in Column 2 for A7, any chords in Column 3 for B7.

Chord substitution: this is an important concept. Basically, any 7th chord like E7, A7, B7 can be changed to a 9th chord or a 13th chord - these are all chords from the dominant 7th family.

12 Bar Blues (Count 4 beats each bar)



Try both scale patterns with these chords. Scale form 2 is the best choice in some ways, as it contains a major 3rd, which fits with the E7 chord. Scale form 1 works well with the A7 chord.

The chord grids show 6 vertica lines for the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets.

0 = Open string, x = Don't play this string.

Chord types

Other applications

It's good to develop a wide vocabulary of chords. If you learn not just the basic E7 shape, but another 3 or 4 versions, it should dramatically improve your playing. It will make it much more interesting if you change the chord voicings around.

These chord forms can be used in any other style too. A typical chord progression is E E7 A, where the E7 chord creates a tension that is resolved by the A chord. It's almost a signpost telling you where the harmony is going to go next.

In rock songs the progression E7, G, A is common (Purple Haze by Hendrix, All I wanna Do by Sheryl Crow, After Midnight by EC and J.J. Cale) and this is another scenario where the E7 type chords all work well together.

Chord -Melody Playing

In the jazz style known as chord-melody it's essential to know a lot of chord shapes for the same chord. As the ear determines the top note of each chord as the melody note you can interpret a tune just by playing the right chord voicings, where the top note is the melody, or part of it. It's one of the hardest things to do on guitar, but very rewarding. Listen to Joe Pass, Martin Taylor, Ted Greene, Lenny Breau - all masters of this approach.

Rock N'Roll

Most Rock n' Roll and Rockabilly tunes can be played with the 12-Bar Blues chords. Probably 90% of songs by Chuck Berry, early Elvis, Eddie Cochrane and many early Beatles tunes use them.

My hub Guitar lesson - rock n' roll has guitar tab that illustrates this - three chords, a bass part and scales.

Guitar choices

Blues is definitely associated with certain types of guitar, and valve amps. Gibson 335 style guitars work very well, also Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. Light gauge strings (09-46) will also help, as the bending of notes is such an important part of blues playing. When the tone is right, it makes it all much easier to play authentic blues.

I would recommend listening to Robben Ford for blues chord mastery, his lesson material on Youtube and in books is very useful for expanding your chord vocabulary.


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