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Guitar Lesson, Chords for Blues

Updated on January 4, 2022
Jon Green profile image

I taught guitar for many years, and always incorporate blues styles.

Guitar tab - basic blues pattern

Guitar Blues basics

In some earlier hubs we've looked at getting started playing blues and it's good to be familiar with this boogie pattern on the lower strings before embarking on this new material. The first pattern is repeated 4 times, making a four bar section in E7 - then the pattern moves up a string to A7 for 2 bars, before returning to 2 bars of E7. Last part of the chord progression is B7, A7, E7, B7 for one bar each (four strums on each chord.)

If you find the extra chords shown below too difficult, or you just need to give your hand a rest, go back to using this simple blues boogie pattern some of the time. it sounds good as a shuffle rhythm, which can be paraphrased as "humpty - dumpty, humpty - dumpty".

More harmony

Now we are going to build on the basic blues boogie pattern shown above. Start at a very slow tempo and play the first four chords, one for each beat of the bar, so four chords per bar. Notice how we are playing the same bass notes as before, but now there is more harmony and a fuller sound altogether.

  • Fingering tip: use fingers 1 and 2 for the E7 shape, but 1 and 3 for the wider spacing involved in the second chord
  • Open strings can be used, just experiment with what sounds best

Play the four chords 4 times through, four bars of E7 now reharmonised. Then use the chord shapes shown on line 2 of the diagram to play the same idea over A7

  • Twice through these chords, making a 2 - bar length

Then twice through the first E7 chords again, ending with B7, A7, E7, B7.

  • Over the final 2 bars you could play E7, one beat, and the descending turnaround pattern shown, picking string 3, string 1, string 2 in a triplet rhythm.

12 Bar Blues in E7, basic and more complex versions.

Blues scales

The basic blues scale shown can be used to play over these chords, or you could also mix in riffs using these notes, and intergrate them into the chord progression. Although this is quite difficult to do initially, it's a great way to improve your playing very quickly.

  • There are two scales shown -
  • The E blues scale
  • The E pattern shown with added sixth and maj 3rd, which works over just the E7 chord, but not with the A7 and B7 - use the basic blues scale for those chords.
  • Using this second scale pattern should really improve your blues playing, it's also a sound that is widely used in rockabilly and early rock n' roll styles.
  • Early rock and roll is really just blues, speeded up to a faster tempo.

More chords

Here are some chord ideas for the more complex blues sequence shown.

Blues with chromatic chords (moving by a semitone)

  • The loop symbol means barre, or part barre, where one finger covers several strings
  • Basic 7th chords can be played with the three-note form shown
  • You could also replace them with 9th chords, as shown
  • Most of the time, 7th, 9th and 13th chords are interchangeable.
  • If you use 9th and 13th chords, it will lend a more jazz sound to the chord progression.
  • When you are comfortable with the chord sequence, try adding some riffs and single note runs. It's often good to play a chord on beat 1 of the bar, and then have some riffs and improvised lines.

Guitar chords for more complex blues sequence.

Blues background

The last line shows some more early blues-related chords, the kind of sound associated with Delta Blues. You can use these as alternative chord shapes to add more variety. The sliding E7 shape on the top three strings is a hallmark sound of the Delta blues style, typified by Robert Johnson and a big influence on The Rolling Stones and many other bands.


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