Instructor: Dwight H.
From big bands to rock ensembles, and even R&B groups, Dwight has played with them all. He's been teaching guitar for over 10 years. When teaching, he draws from his experience on stage, injecting the knowledge of what it takes to be a gigging musician into every lesson.

The 10 Best Blues Guitar Chords (Chord Progressions, 12 Bar Blues...)


12 Bar Blues Blues Guitar Chords Popular Chords

Few things scream "guitar" as loud as playing the blues. The genre is deeply tied to the instrument, and nearly every guitarist worth their salt has at least fantasized about jamming out à la B.B. King or Buddy Guy.

With that in mind, we're going to dive into the world of blues chords and the basic 12-bar blues. By lesson's end, you should be ready to lay down some soulful blues rhythms and start creating your own blues style in earnest.

The 12-Bar Blues Chords

The standard 12-bar blues is a I-IV-V chord progression most typically divided into three four-bar segments. Blues progressions are almost exclusively played in 4/4 time and dominated by the root (I Chord), with the IV and V chords providing that extra bit of flavor to keep things interesting.

Here's an example of how a common blues progression goes:

12 Bar Blues

  1. Measure 1: I Chord
  2. Measure 2: IV Chord
  3. Measure 3: I Chord
  4. Measure 4: I Chord
  5. Measure 5: IV Chord
  6. Measure 6: IV Chord
  7. Measure 7: I Chord
  8. Measure 8: I Chord
  9. Measure 9: V Chord
  10. Measure 10: IV Chord
  11. Measure 11: I Chord
  12. Measure 12: V Chord

At this point the 12-bar pattern would repeat, continuing the song. The above isn't the only way the 12-bar blues can work, but it is fairly representative of what you can expect from a blues progression and a good way to get started.

Getting That "Bluesy" Sound

You can play the blues with major and minor chords, but one thing that helps add the distinctive sound associated with the genre is making liberal use of seventh chords in your playing. You can create such chords by adding the lowered seventh scale tone to the chord you're playing (hence the name), and the result is a unique sound that your standard chords alone can't quite achieve.

Blues Guitar Chords

There are numerous permutations of the seventh chord you can apply to your blues playing. For today, though, we'll focus on how you'd create your chords (and blues progression) in the key of C Major.

Recall that you would play your open C Major chord (the I Chord, in this case) like so:

Open C Major Chord (I Chord)

C Major Blues Chord (I Chord)

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Play string 3 open
  • Mute string 6

Let's Blues It Up!

Now, if you wanted to "blues it up," you'd instead start our blues progression with a C7 Chord, like this:

C7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/3rd fret
  • Mute strings 2 and 6

Hear the difference between those two chords? That subtle change (adding a Bb to your C chord) makes the difference between a standard major-sounding chord and a bluesier alternative.

Let's take a look at the other chords in the C Major blues progression (and their seventh chord alternatives) so you can start playing the whole thing. Here's your IV Chord, a standard F Major bar chord:

F Major (IV Chord)

F Major Blues Chord (IV Chord)

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 4th string/3rd fret

F7 Bar Chord

Now, try your F7 bar chord and note the difference:

F7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret

Just one note makes quite the difference, no? Let's move on to the V Chord in this progression, the open G Major chord:

Open G Major Chord (V Chord)

G Major Blues Chord (V Chord)

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 6th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret
  • Play strings 1, 3, and 4 open

G7 Chord

Now, for comparison, try a G7 chord instead:

G7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 1st string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 6th string/3rd fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret
  • Play strings 3 and 4 open

12 Bar Blues

And with that, you've learned the chords for a 12-bar blues in the key of C Major! Try these out with the sample progression we provided above, and listen to the differences in using the regular major chords and the seventh chords.

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel. -- Jimi Hendrix

3 Popular Blues Guitar Chords

Once you've practiced 12-bar blues progression and feel comfortable playing those seventh chords, you can get to work deepening your blues abilities by trying out different ways to play your chords.

Though you might have employed a simple quarter note strumming pattern in learning the above blues progression, that's not the only way to go about it. You can try out straight 8ths, shuffles, and even 16th note patterns to vary your rhythms and make your blues progression sound more interesting.

Study the blues greats for inspiration and guidance, then work at mixing up your own playing so that it doesn't sound stale. You'll also want to prepare yourself for playing the blues in other keys by expanding your arsenal of seventh chords.

Let's go over 3 of the most popular chords:

D7 Chord

D7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 1st string/2nd fret
  • Play the 4th string open
  • Mute strings 5 and 6

A7 Chord

A7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th string/4th fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 6th string/5th fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/5th fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/5th fret
  • Mute strings 1 and 3

E7 Chord

E7 Blues Guitar Chord

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd string/4th fret
  • Place your 4th finger on the 1st string/4th fret
  • Play strings 4 and 6 open

Blues Chords in Major Keys

Blues Guitar Chords in Major Keys

Blues Guitar Scales

Blues Guitar Scales

Now Play the Blues

Continue learning chord shapes and working on strumming patterns to build your ability to play blues rhythms. Keep looking for inspiration wherever you may find it, and remember, happy practicing!

Next Lesson:

Electric Guitar Chords

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