Blues guitar lesson - The 12 bar blues

A basic blues is 12 bars long and it is commonly played in the key of A. Most blues songs consist of only three chords. Let's start out playing a simple blues in A, using the chords A (I), D (IV) and E (V). For now we will just play the triad chords. Keep the strumming simple and just play downstrokes on every beat:

Blues In A

As you can see on this image, you can also play 7th chords, in this case A7, D7 and E7. This is more common and sounds a bit more bluesy. Now try playing this blues progression using 7th chords and listen to the difference.

The famous blues riff

If you've listened to a blues band, you have surely noticed that a lot of songs are based on a certain riff. The riff below is one of the first riffs any blues guitarist learn. It can be played both straight and in shuffle. It is based on the same progression as above, though instead of playing the whole chords you play it like this:

Guitar Blues In A

As you can see the riff starts with an open position power chord. Use your 1st and 3rd fingers to switch between the two notes. It's the same shape through the whole song, you just have to move it between A, D and E. You should use downstrokes through the entire song, to get the heavy blues sound. It's also very common to mute the strings a little bit with your right hand, to get a shorter heavier blues sound, but don't mind that in this first lesson, if you aren't used to muting the strings.

Some famous blues songs

After learning this riff it is time to play some famous blues songs. You should really try to sing a couple of blues songs as well, to really get in to the blues feeling. After all, the blues was originally sung with no instruments at all. Here are some great songs for you to try, both instrumental and with song:

  • Dragging my tail - Eric Clapton (instrumental)
  • Red house - Jimi Hendrix
  • Dust my broom - Elmore James

Blues riff variations

Finally, here are some variations to the riff you've just learned. When you've really got the first riff, you can try to mix these riffs in there every once in a while, to get an even better blues flow. But keep in mind, simple is often good and there are lots of songs based almost entirely on the first riff you learned. The variations below can be used on all three chords, A, D and E, just switch strings, up one string for D and down one string for E. Here are the variations:

Blues Riff 1 Blues Riff 2 Blues Riff 3

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