Blues Lesson 1

Using Chords and the 12-Bar Blues Form 
 Written by Scott Cleland : tonart@clever.net

(Under Construction)


Chord Degrees: In the beginning, we shall be concentrating on the basic I-IV-V blues progressions. What do I, IV and V stand for? These roman numerals refer to chords built on the degrees of a major scale. Taking C Major as an example, the 7 notes of the key of C Major are : c d e f g a b. The I chord is a chord built from the first note in the scale, or c. The IV chord is built from f and the V chord is built from g. I obtained these by simply counting up the major scale, with c being counted as 1.


Exercise: Name the I, IV and V degrees for the following scales

A Major : I = _____ , IV = _____ , V = _____        E Major : I = _____ , IV = _____ , V = _____  
(with these scales, all you have to do is count the letter names. Don't worry about sharps and flats for now.)


Chord Types: We shall begin by using the most common type of chord used in blues, the dominant seventh. The structure of a dominant seventh is not important for this lesson, so I will leave that topic alone for now. Blues is somewhat unique in that it will use dominant sevenths for all three of the above chord degrees. So, we shall be using C7, F7 and G7 (when in the key of C.) In A, the chords are A7, D7 and E7. In E they are E7, A7 and B7.

12-Bar Blues is the most common form of the blues and what most blues jams are based on. We shall first look at a very simple version of the 12-Bar Blues Form:

The roman numerals refer to the chords while the arabic numerals refer to bar numbers. Naturally, the 12-bar blues is twelve bars long. The 12-bar blues form is comprised of three phrases. A phrase in music language is similar to a sentence in spoken languages. The first two phrases normally have a similar character. Thee third phrase is typically an "answer" two the first two phrases. We can look at a typical set of blues lyrics to point this out:

Notice how the first two phrases are identical and the third is a response to the first two. This is called call and respnse. We can think of it as carrying on a "musical" conversation.


Exercise : Fill in the following bars with the correct chord for the given key.

"A" Blues


"C" Blues


"E" Blues

Now, practice playing through these progressions. If you are and inexperienced player, a good way to start is by playing the chords once each beat. Therefore, you will strum the chord 4 times per bar (assuming we are in 4/4 time). Here is an example to be used in In-Depth Guitar "A" Blues example . Try the same exercise in the other keys. (See below for the chords.)


Dominant 7th Fingerings Here are some of the basic Dom7 fingerings for the chords in the above examples. Notice that the shapes are exactly the same for each set except they are located in different places on the neck. If you don't know, see if you can figure out the logic for why the chords are played where they are. (If you need it, here is a map of all the notes on the fretboard. If you do need this map, I would recommend getting to work on the Fretboard Module in In-Depth Guitar.)

Dominant 7th Chords in A

Dominant 7th Chords in C

Dominanant 7th Chords in E


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