You Can Learn How To Play The Blues
by Ed Haas
The blues has influenced almost every genre of music. All the great guitar players of our time have been influenced to some degree by the blues. The music theory involved in playing the blues is rather simple, but the feeling that can be applied to playing the blues is what makes it so popular.
The 12 bar blues progression:
If you want to learn how to play blues, you need to know the 12 bar blues progression. Just as its’ name implies, it is made up of 12 bars (measures) of music. the 12 bars just keep repeating. The most common chord progression would be the I, IV, and V chords of the key that you want to play in.
The progression looks like this:
I / I / I / I / IV / IV / I / I / V / IV / I / I
So if you wanted to play in the key of E, the progression would be:
E / E / E / E / A / A / E / E / B7 / A / E / E
This is the basic 12 bar blues progression, but there are variations that can be used. One common variation would be to substitute the last chord with the V chord. So in the example above the last E chord would be replaced with a B7.
This is what the progression would look like in the keys of A and D:
Key of A: A / A / A / A / D / D / A / A / E / D / A / A
Key of D: D / D / D / D / G / G / D / D / A / G / D / D
The simplicity of this progression and the fact that it just keeps repeating itself is what makes the blues popular with musicians. As long as everyone is in the same key, you are able to jam together without actually knowing a specific song.
What really makes the blues though is the feeling that is put into the playing. This is another reason the blues are so enjoyable to play. You can really put your soul into it. Practice the 12 bar progression in different keys and using different rhythms.
Just use your own feeling and you will be surprised with what you come up with.
The Blues Scale:
Knowing the blues scale is the other half to playing the blues.
The blues scale is really the pentatonic scale with the flatted 3rd note added.
The first diagram shows one of the patterns for the pentatonic guitar scale. The second diagram shows the flatted 3rd added, indicated by the O’s. These added notes are also sometimes referred to as the blue notes.
Practice this scale forward and backward. Try using some bends and slides. Remember, the key to playing the blues is the feeling you put into it.