The Basic 12-Bar Blues Riff

Welcome to the fourth lesson of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. Throughout this series, we’ve solely focused on learning the standard 12-bar blues progression and using power chords and dominant seventh chords to play through that progression. A great way to make your rhythm guitar playing sound more interesting is to add riffs. In this lesson, we’ll be learning the basic blues riff.

The riff we’ll be learning in this video requires a fair bit of dexterity. You may not be able to get the hang of it right away, and that’s perfectly okay. Just work on it a bit every time you sit down to practice and you’ll develop the flexibility required in not time!

What we’ll be doing to play this riff is outlining the chords throughout the 12-bar blues progression. We’ll also be adding a shuffle rhythm to it to give it some more life. To make it sound more bluesy, we’ll be using a simple muting technique as well.

We’ll be learning this riff for each chord that’s played in the 12-bar blues progression. Watch the video to get the feel for how to play the riff with each chord. You’ll notice that the 1 chord and 4 chord riffs are pretty easy. But the 5 chord riff is much more challenging. That part will require you to have some flexibility.

You can play this new riff throughout the entire 12-bar blues progression and you’ll find it makes your rhythm guitar sound a lot more interesting. To add even more style to this riff, we can use muting. Muting is simply deadening the sustain of the strings to create a more percussive sound. This will add some more dynamics to your playing.

You’ll probably need to practice muting on its own for a while before adding it to this new riff you’ve learned. Once you feel like you’ve got the feel for it you can add it to the 12-bar blues riff. Try playing it along to the jam track and see how it sounds. It may take some time to get used to playing it along to music, so take it slow and add it to your daily practice time.

In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at an intermediate version of the 12-bar blues riff. We’re going to dress up the basic blues riff even more to make it more interesting to play.