It’s indisputable – the blues is one of the most awesome genres of guitar. And for good reason – the blues is powerful, soul-wrenching, and uplifting all at the same time.
While blues music often has some crazy instrumentals and sounds extremely impressive, it’s actually less complex than you might think.
There are a few key steps in the process to learning blues:
- Learning how to play blues chords
- Mastering chord transitions
- Dabbling in blues riffs
- Learning the basic blues shuffle
In this guide, we’ll get to know the different variations of blues chords and some easy types of blues chords for beginners.
Open Position Blues Chords
To start, let’s take a look at the open position blues chords.
An open chord, or open position chord, includes one or more strings that are not fingered.
Many of the core guitar chords that you’ve already learned, like the E chord or D chord, have open position chords.
They are marked on a chord diagram with a circle on top of the string, instead of an X.
Movable Blues Chords
Movable chords are another key element to mastering blues chords and also a very useful element in your broader guitar learning journey.
A movable chord is essentially a chord that can be played anywhere along the fretboard using the same fingering or shape.
These differ to the open chords above as open chords can only be played in that one specific position.
The only thing that changes in a movable chord as you move along the fretboard is the root of the chord.
The root note determines the key of a chord.
A popular type of movable chord is a barre chord, which you probably have already come across in a couple of my chord guides.
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The 12 Bar Blues Progression
The 12 bar blues progression is a staple when it comes to learning the blues.
It’s one of the most common blues chord progressions that can be found in countless songs such as “Delirious” by Prince and “Me And The Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson.
This formula for music is most common in blues, but also popular in rock, jazz and other genres
Now let’s break it down.
The 12 bar blues progression is a set progression of chords throughout 12 measures of music. It’s usually in 4/4 time.
It often centers around the I, IV and V chords of a particular key. This will make more sense once we go through some of the blues guitar chords below, so bear with me!
The root note of a scale is always I, or note 1. It’s also known as the tonic, which you might hear a lot in blues.
Note: If these Roman numerals of the Nashville Number System aren’t too familiar to you, then I’d suggest a quick refresher with my chord progressions guide.
Nashville Number System Chart
Easy Blues Guitar Chords
There are multiple variations of the 12 bar blues progression and they range in complexity.
We’ll start with the easiest variation.
Following the 12 bar pattern in the table below, we’ll work through three popular blues chords so you can see it in action.
Remember – in this pattern, there are 4 beats per bar.
The final few bars at the end of this progression are called the turnaround. This is typically the last 2-4 bars.
A turnaround is essentially the part of the pattern that creates tension and resolution before bleeding back to the beginning and starting again.
Once you see this in the three scenarios below, you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
E Blues Chords
Let’s look at the blues chord progression in the key of E first.
The E major scale consists of the notes:
- E – I
- F# – II
- G# – III
- A – IV
- B – V
- C# -VI
- D# -VII
So for the blues progression in the key of E, we’ll be playing the following notes:
- E – I
- A – IV
- B – V
According to our easy 12 bar blues progression, we’ll be playing the Key of E in this order:
A Blues Chords
Next up, let’s look at the blues chord progression in the key of A.
The A major scale consists of the notes:
- A – I
- B – II
- C# – III
- D – IV
- E – V
- F# – VI
- G# – VII
So for the blues progression in the key of A, we’ll be playing the following notes:
- A – I
- D – IV
- E – V
And according to our easy 12 bar blues progression, we’ll be playing the Key of A in this order:
B Blues Chords
And finally, the blues chord progression in the key of B.
The B major scale consists of the notes:
- B – I
- C# – II
- D# – III
- E – IV
- F# – V
- G# – VI
- A# – VII
So for the blues progression in the key of B, we’ll be playing the following notes:
- B – I
- E – IV
- F# – V
And according to our easy 12 bar blues progression, we’ll be playing the Key of B in this order:
And there you have it! You now know three blues chords!
Advancing Your Blues Chords
In case you’re eager to take things up a notch, I’ve included two extra elements to incorporate into your practice – both of which will go a long way in your blues journey.
12 Bar Blues Progression – Second Variation
Another 12 bar blues progression that you can apply to different keys in a similar way.
It starts to shake things up in the final four bars.
Dominant 7th Chords
As you start to experiment with more blues chords, you’ll be incorporating lots of movable and open position chords into your blues playing.
One chord variation you’ll come across a lot is the dominant 7th chord.
Dominant 7th chords are similar to the major chords but include a lowered 7th chord from the scale.
Have a look at the D7 chord or the B7 chord as examples.
As you progress, you can try out playing the blues chords included above using the dominant 7th.
After a couple of rounds, you’ll quickly notice the richness of the dominant 7th chords in blues music.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s take a look at some FAQs surrounding the blues.
What Are the 3 Chords Used in the Blues?
The three most common chords used in the blues are the I, IV and V of the key you’re in. We use the Roman numerals of the Nashville Number System to donate the blues chords.
For example: in the key of E, the three common chords are I – E, IV – A, and V – B.
What Are the Basic Chords for Blues?
The 12 bar blues uses the same basic pattern of I, IV, and V chords, which can be used in any key.
A basic 12 bar chord progression uses the following chords: I, I, I, I, IV, IV, I, I, V, V, I, I.
What Are the Best Blues Chords?
You can play the blues in any key, but the key of A and E sound have a very distinctive blues sound.
Additionally, as you advance with playing the blues, you can experiment with playing dominant 7th chords, which are also particularly bluesy.
What’s Next Beyond the Blues?
Now that you’ve taken your first steps to becoming a true bluesman, you might be wondering where you can go from here.
If you want to move beyond the blues then check out my guitar workshop – Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. It’s a fun way to take your guitar playing to the next level with consistent, engaging exercises and easy-to-follow daily video lessons.
Get started with this FREE guitar class, where I show you the three secrets to accelerate your guitar learning in just 10 minutes a day.