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12 bar blues

Blues is considered as the backbone of modern western contemporary music. Understanding blues requires understanding several aspects but the best place to start is to start with the 12 bar blues. As the name suggests, this is a structure comprising of 12 bars.

We will be using the blues progression here which is the I-IV-V-I of any key.  A good key to learn the 12 bar blues for a guitar player is the key of E as this in standard tuning is reasonably easy to play and therefore easy to jam with other guitar players.

The structure of 12 bar blues goes as following (this example is in the key of E)

I        I        I          I       IV       IV       I       I       V      VI       I         I

E       E       E        E        A        A       E       E      B      A        E        E

There are lots of variations of the 12 bar blues but the one that we will be using is the one where the last section of the blues is used as a ‘turnaround’ where the last bar contains the dominant V instead of I chord. It goes like this.

I        I        I          I       IV       IV       I       I       (V      VI       I         V) Turnaround

E       E       E        E        A        A       E       E      (B      A        E        B) Turnaround

Now to add the blues tension to the sound of this progression, we need to play all the 7th chords instead of just the regular major chords. Lastly in the rhythm, we will have to add a swing or shuffle to give this a proper blues sound.

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