12-Bar Blues Progression

Welcome to the second lesson of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’ll be going over one of the most important parts of playing blues on the guitar. The 12-bar blues progression is essentially the foundation for everything you’ll learn about in the style of the blues. The focus of this lesson will be to keep things simple and focus on just getting a feel for the chord progression. We’ll just be using power chords to start.

Understanding the 12-bar blues progression is great because it’s the perfect starting point when you want to jam with other musicians. It’s simple enough that everyone will be on the same page from the start, and then you can add stuff to it from there. It’s also an easy progression to get down if someone doesn’t already know it.

Blues is it’s own thing when it comes to keys. Blues is a hybrid of a major and minor key, which can be a bit confusing. Often times, you won’t see a key signature noted on the sheet music for a blues song because of this.

Keeping all that in mind, we’ll be in the key of E blues for the rest of this lesson series. The standard 12-bar blues progression contains three chords. These three chords are the 1 chord, the 4 chord, and the 5 chord. Since we’re in the key of E blues, the 1 chord is E, the 4 chord is A, and the 5 chord is a B.

Now let’s talk about blues rhythm. The jam tracks you’ll be playing along to in this series are in 4/4 time. This simply means that there are 4 beats per measure. These notes or beats are evenly distributed throughout the measure. For a shuffle feel, you’ll play a long note followed by a short note. The best way to understand this is to listen to the example in the video.

A 12-bar blues progression is a set chord progression that repeats every 12 bars of music. You’ll play the 1 chord for four measures, the 4 chord for two measures, the 1 chord for two measures, the 5 chord for one measure, the 4 chord for one measure, the 1 chord for one measure, then the 5 chord for the last measure. After that, you’ll go back to the beginning and start again. Once you get the feel for it, you’ll notice you’ve heard this chord progression in lots of different music.

Be sure to just use power chord shapes to start. You’ll use an E power chord rooted on the open E string, an A power chord rooted on the open A string, and a B power chord rooted on the 2nd fret of the A string. Work on getting the feel for the progression using these simple chords before trying to use more complicated chords or riffs.

In the next lesson, we’ll learn about dominant seventh chords. These chords are some of the most common chords used in blues music. We’ll learn how to add these new chord shapes to our 12-bar blues progression.