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12 Bar Blues – The Foundation of the Blues

When you get into jamming with blues backing tracks you’ll most often be dealing with the 12 bar form of them blues.

Now, the blues means a lot of things to different people. There are fingerstyle blues,  Delta blues, Chicago blues and on and on.  One thing they all have in common is a basic structure.  Most blues are based on a 12 bar structure, hence the term 12 bar blues.  There are other blues forms like the 8 bar blues, 16 bar blues, etc., but they’re not as common as the 12 bar blues. There are also major and minor blues.

Typically a 12 bar blues consists of three chords referred to as the 1, 4 and 5 chords of a particular key.  That’s getting into a bit of music theory and not really something I want to get into deeply at the moment. It is however, something that you might hear when listening to a discussion about the blues.

Once you learn the basic form of the 12 bar blues and know the 1, 4 and 5 chords in different keys, it becomes very easy to play the blues in all the different keys.  That’s why the blues is a staple at jam sessions (and why blues jam backing tracks are so much fun). The blues is also the basis for thousands of rock songs. It’s a must learn for anyone that’s even halfway serious about learning the guitar.

Soloing On The Blues

The blues is a great place to start with playing solos on the guitar.  The reason for this can be found in the analysis of the relationship betwen the chords found in the blues and the scale of choice, the blues scales. Let’s use the blues in A as an example. The chords in an A blues are A7, D7 and E7.  The notes found in each chord are as follows:

A7 –   A     C#     E      G

D7 –   D     F#     A      C

E7 –   E     G#     B       D

The notes of the A blues scale are:

A      C      D     D#     E     G

Blues guitar fret example(See the fret diagram on the right. This is the most commonly used fingering for the blues scale.  Learn it well. You’ll find many uses for it in your guitar playing journey.)

As you can see the scale shares three notes with the first chord  A,  C  and  G, three notes with the second chord  D,  A  and C, and two notes with the last chord  E and D.

It’s these shared notes that make it hard to play wrong notes but you still have to use your ear to determine if what you’re playing sounds right or wrong.

For instance, stopping on the note D against an A7 chord doesn’t sound quite right. Again, most of this falls under the music theory umbrella. If you’re confused by this it’s okay. You can learn it later by checking out some of the resources that come along with 50 blues backing tracks package I’ve linked to below.

Here’s a video of some soloing to a blues backing track:

A Few Important Points

Notice that this diagram of the blues scale has no open strings. This means you can play it anywhere on the guitar. The fret does not matter. Just make sure you keep the spacing between your fingers the same as you move the scale around the neck.

When you move to a different fret, you’re changing the key. Don’t worry if you don’t know what this means, you’ll discover more about this later.

When reading this diagram of the blues scale, start on the left hand side of the diagram.

This is the low E string (6th string). Play all of the notes on this string from top to bottom before moving on to the next string. In this example you would play 2 notes on the 6th string. The 1st finger followed by the 4th finger.

On the 5th string you would play 1st finger followed by the 2nd finger and then the third finger. The 4th string would be 1st finger and 3rd finger again. Continue in this manner until you play the entire blues scale.

When you arrive at the end of the scale, turn around and go back down the scale. In reverse, you would start on the 1st string and play 4th finger followed by the 1st finger.

The 2nd string would also be 4th finger, 1st finger. The 3rd string would be 4th finger, 3rd finger, 1st finger. Continue on until you complete the entire pentatonic scale.

Hear that? That’s the blues baby! :)

Here’s a great example of the blues in E using open chord positions. This video features the legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Here another great example of some serious slow blues by Larry Carlton and the Sapphire Blues Band. Imagine having these guys playing your backing tracks! Yousa!

And here’s one of the best all around blues backing tracks packages I’ve found. They’re professional and most of all, FUN! They also come with a pile of instructional information on playing blues guitar and easy music theory.  Check it out!

Over 50 rock / jazz / classic / funk blues styles jam tracks. It works great for guitar, harmonica or any blues instrument for that matter.  It’s great for electric or acoustic blues guitar. These are professional jamming tracks recorded “LIVE” with real studio musicians and real instruments recorded in such a way to give you the impression that you’re surrounded by the band.

This one of the best resources I’ve ever laid my hands on
for all around blues guitar jamming.

Click here to visit the official 50 Blues Backing Tracks site
and listen to some demos

50 Blues Backing Tracks Package

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