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12 Bar Blues Chords & Scales for Guitar

The 12 bar blues is a 12 bar long chord progression that solo blues musicians can easily improvise over the top of
because the chord progression is familiar to them. This chord progression is based around the most important chords
in a key I, IV & V (1, 4 & 5) and is repeated over and over for the duration of the piece. It is usually in 4/4 (4 crotchet
beats per bar) and uses 1 chord per bar with 12 bars in total - thus the 12 bar blues.
The 12 bar blues progression is as follows:
I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I V
It is very common in blues music to add 7ths to the major chords giving that classic blues sound. These are
constructed of a major triad (as in the table below) and then adding a minor 7th on the top (10 semitones above the
root forming dominant 7th chords). For example in C Major this would be:
Chord I
Chord IV
Chord V

C
F
G

E
A
B

G
C
D

Bb
Eb
F

4
&4 V V V V
&4 C
V (chord
V I) V V
4
&4 V V V V

V V V
V V
V V V

V V V V
V V
V V V V

C
V (chord
V I)

C
V (chord
V I)

Try playing the 12 bar blues progression in C with just the major triads:

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

& V
& V
& V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

&
&
&

F (chord IV)

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

F (chord IV)

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

C(chord I)

V V V
V
V V V

C
V (chord
V I)

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

C (chord I)

& V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V
& V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V
& V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V
Now 4
try playing it in the same key, but with the 7th chords so that you can hear the difference:
& 4 V7 V 7V V V 7 V 7V V V7 V 7V V V7 V 7V V
&4 C
V (chord
V I )V V C
V (chord
V I )V V C
V (chord
V I )V V C
V (chord
V I )V V
4
&4 V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V V
G (chord V)

F7 (chord IV7)

& V
& V
& V

V
V
V

V
V
V

G7(chord V7)

MUSIC

V
V
V

www.dsmusic.com

F (chord IV)

F7 (chord IV7)

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

F7 (chord IV7)

V
V
V

C (chord I)

C7 (chord I7)

C7 (chord I7)

V
V
V

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V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

G (chord V)

C7 (chord I7)

V
V
V

V
V
V

V
V
V

G7(chord V7)

V
V
V

Copyright 2014 DS Music

In blues music you will hear a lot of syncopation (off beat) and swing rhythms. With swing rhythms you will have even
note values (for example a group of quavers). You elongate the first note and then slightly accent the second (almost
like a dotted rhythm, but not quite as strict or straight). It is like you are playing triplets (squeezing 3 beats in to the
time of 2) i.e. qaa z=[qp ]e
You will see the marking for swing (sometimes along with the triplet equation), swing
8ths, or swung or similar instructions at the start of the piece to indicate this. A traditional way to accompany a 12
bar blues is to use these swing rhythms (in this case swing 8ths) with alternating intervals of 5ths to 6ths which is
called a shuffle.

&

Here is an example in C...why dont you have a go:

11

&

Swing qaa z=[qp ]e

(Repeat 12 bars as long as required)

4
& 4 &
C (chord I)

4
4

531 7
3 3

5
3

7
3

&

C (chord I)

C (chord I)

21

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

C (chord I)

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

41
&

&
5

F (chord IV)

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

C (chord I)

F (chord IV)

5
3

51

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

&

&

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

C (chord I)

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

& 61

G (chord V)

7
5

7
5

9
5

9
5

71

&

7
5

7
5

9
5

5
3

9
5

F (chord IV)

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

C (chord I)

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

G (chord V)

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

5
3

5
3

7
3

7
3

7
3

Now you have the basic 12 bar blues progression under your belt why dont you try having a go at improvising over
the top. For this you would use the blues scale. The blues scale is very similar to the minor pentatonic scale, but with
an additional lowered 5th note (lowered by half a step/semitone), or blues note. To see the blues chord progressions
with their relevant blues scales in every key please see the the chart on the next page.

MUSIC

www.dsmusic.com

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Copyright 2014 DS Music

###
&

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12 Bar Blues Chords & Scales


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