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Guitar Chords - Jazz and Blues

Updated on August 7, 2012

12 Bar Blues in A

I'm writing this from aboard an Italian cruise ship - only kidding!

  • This is a guitar lesson about playing a more advanced and jazz influenced 12 - Bar blues. You could easily transfer this material to piano or keyboard too.
  • First, some riffs that work well over a 12-Bar Blues. You can play these in any rhythm you want, but they work best as a repeated pattern.
  • Next, the A7 blues scale. It's an Am pentatonic scale with an added note,which is the flat 5 in this key. The 5th would be E (starting from A) so the flat 5 or blues note is an Eb.
  • When playing blues, 7th and 9th, even 13th chords are interchangeable. Experiment with different voicings, as these are deliberately kept as simple as possible.
  • For instance, you could replace the chords in Bar 7 with 9th chords. A9 would have a root note on fret 12, string 5 - using the D9 shape moved up the fingerboard. This will give you a significant improvement in sound, but it's harder on acoustic guitar, and would work best on an electric.

12 Bar Blues in A, with riffs and scale

Blues in A

A simple 12-Bar will just use A7, D7, and E7. The descending chords from bar 7 onwards are a more jazz - orientated chord progression. The changing harmony makes it more interesting to listen to, and more of a challenge to improvise over.

  • Some tips on Improvising -
  • When the chords start changing quickly, it's often a good idea to play less notes, and maybe play chord tones from the chords as they change. That way, you are reinforcing the harmony, and importantly, it sounds like you know what you're doing!
  • You can use a number of different approaches to playing lead, which might include -
  • Chord tones (playing notes from the chord shapes)
  • Octaves - doubling notes
  • Harmony lines, in 3rds or 6ths
  • Scales
  • Arpeggios
  • Chord melody - where the highest note in the chord sounds like the melody
  • Chromatic lines - joining notes of the scale with all the intervening notes, one fret at a time.

Great blues guitar

Try listening to some of the following blues guitar greats:

  • BB King
  • SRV
  • Robben Ford
  • Gary Moore

Which guitar?

Ideally these chords would be played on a Gibson 335 or equivalent, a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster would also be good choices. All of these guitars have necks which are fairly easy to play, and when used with a decent valve amp they will sound stylistically correct.


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    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 5 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks lucy. All the best with your playing.

    • lucybell21 profile image

      Bonny OBrien 5 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

      Very nice hub, and so detailed and very well written. Voted up!