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Learn How To Play The Blues

Updated on July 15, 2011

Why Learn How To Play The Blues?

The blues is probably the most influencial genre of music. It has found its' way into every other style of music and has influenced every great guitar player of our time. Playing the blues is very popular with guitar players because the simplicity of the song structure makes it very easy for guitarists to jam with each other without knowing a specific song. The other thing that makes the blues so enjoyable to play is the feeling that you can put into your playing. In order to get started on playing the blues, you need to learn the basic chord structure, which is the 12 bar blues progression, and the blues scale. So let's start with the 12 bar blues progression and start learning how to play the blues.

The "12 Bar Blues Progression"

The 12 bar blues progression is what makes up the basic structure of a blues song. It is a chord progression that is twelve bars, or measures, of music in duration. The chords that are used are the I, IV, andV chord of the key that you are playing in. It would look like this:

/ I / I / I / I / IV / IV / I / I / V / IV / I / I /

What this is saying is that the one chord would be played for 4 measures, then the IV chord would be played for two measures, then the I chord for two more measures, then the V chord for 1 measure, then the IV chord for 1 measure, then the I chord for two more measures.

So how do you apply this:
In order to use this you need to know what the I, IV, and V chords are for any given key of music. For example, if you wanted to play the blues in the key of E, the progression would look like this:

/ E / E / E / E / A / A / E / E / B7 / A / E / E /

This 12 bar progression now just keeps repeating itself. There are variations to this progression that can be used, but this is the most commonly used and will get you started on strumming some blues. So now let's see what the progression would look like in every key.

The 12 Bar Blues In Any Key

How to play the blues in any key!

Here are the I, IV, and V chords in every key:

Key of A: A, D, E
Key of B flat (A sharp): B flat (A sharp), E flat (D sharp), F
Key of B: B, E, F sharp (G flat)
Key of C: C, F, G
Key of D flat (C sharp): D flat (C sharp), G flat (F sharp), A flat (G sharp)
Key of D: D, G, A
Key of E flat (D sharp): E flat (D sharp), A flat (G sharp), B flat (A sharp)
Key of E: E, A, B
Key of F: F, B flat (A sharp), C
Key of F sharp (G flat): F sharp (G flat), B, C sharp (D flat)
Key of G: G, C, D
Key of A flat (G sharp): A flat (G sharp), D flat (C sharp), E flat (D sharp)

With this chart you can now play a 12 bar blues progression in any key. Just plug in the I, IV, and V chords for whatever key you would like to play in. Now we'll move on to learning the blues scale which will enable you to improvise some lead guitar to any blues song.

Learning The Blues Scale

The easiest scale to get started on playing the blues is the first pattern of the minor pentatonic scale with the flatted fifth added. I know this might sound confusing, but it is pretty simple to learn. This diagram shows pattern one of the pentatonic scale with the flatted fifth notes added. The flatted fifth, also know as the blue notes, are indicated by the hollow circles. If you are not familiar with the pentatonic guitar scale, you can check out my hub page on The minor pentatonic guitar scale. The important thing to remember when improvising to the blues is to put a lot of feeling into it. You do not need to be able to fly all over the guitar neck at lightning speed. Some of the greatest blues solos consist of only four or five different notes. When practicing using the blues scale try using just three and four note patterns. Use bends and slides to put a lot of feeling into it. Use this scale to play along with some blues songs and do some experimenting.

Please let me know what you think

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    • DominicKondos profile image

      Dominic Kondos 7 years ago from Gauteng, South Africa

      Very informative and useful. I've been playing guitar for 3 years, still have tons to learn.