Do You Know the 12 Bar Blues

Dear Students,
I hope you’re enjoying Blues for the Curious Guitarist and learning lots of good ideas for playing blues guitar. I want to ask you a simple question that may seem so obvious that you may have overlooked it: Can you write down the 12-bar blues chords in any key without looking at your cheat sheet? This is so important and I’ve noticed that so many of my blues students can’t do this, even after I beg them to memorize it, and even after they’ve played it a thousand times.

In reality, all of the chord extensions, rhythm stuff, and soloing is ornamental – it’s the icing on the cake. The chord changes are the cake itself. You must know them and be able to write them down. A lot of blues playing is anticipating the upcoming change.

What I really want of you is to be able to say and write down the 12-bar blues chords in any key that I ask you to. If you know it in one or two keys, transposing to any other key is simple – you’ll get the hang of it. Let’s look at it:

E7 – A7 – E7 – E7
A7 – A7 – E7 – E7
B7 – A7 – E7 – B7

Sometimes the first line will hold the same chord (E7 – E7 – E7 – E7), but I prefer the quick change. Sometimes the last line will hold the V chord (B7 – B7 – E7 – E7.) There are many possible variations, but you need to know the basic form – have it memorized. Get a few of the common keys (E, A, G, C, D) comfortable so you can easily jump to different songs without feeling uneasy.

G7 – C7 – G7 – G7
C7 – C7 – G7 – G7
D7- C7 – G7 – D7

With the chords memorized, I can relax and focus on my rhythms and soloing. I can anticipate the chord change in the solo using a slide or bend, or walkup or down. I am more free to experiment and take risks with my solo because I’m not chasing the chords – I’m leading them.

You’re doing great and you’re already ahead of most blues guitarists (because you’re learning the proper classic blues method.) Grab a piece of paper and jot down the 12-bar blues in any key – then check to see if you got it right!

By the way, thank you for your reviews and support – it means a lot to me! Keep playing – you’re on your way.

Talk with you more later,

-Dan (your guitar teacher)