So quite a few of you have wanted to know about Blues Guitar, so I have sought out to give you a basic start to Blues Guitar and give you some easy exercises to take up.
Blues originated in the African-American communities of the US in the early to mid 20th century and used simple chord progession patterns as a basis for songwriters to express their (usually sad) emotions. Though the origin of the name is a little disputed, it is through that the “Blues” is meant to refer to melancholy music (blue and sad).
Anyone, enough context out the way, let’s talk about the 12 Bar Blues.
12 BAR BLUES
Chances are that you’ve heard of the 12 Bar Blues, especially if you play Guitar. It asserted itself as a Staple Style of Chord Progression in Western popular music. It is slightly odd in the sense that most Popular Song genres have their Bars divisible by 8- so a verse of Chorus section is more likely to be 4, 8 or 16 bars long rather than 12, which can sound like it “ends too quickly” in other genres.
The 12 Bar Blues Chords are based on the 1st, 4th and 5th Chords of a key. People like to be all fancy and refer to these chords in Roman Numerals, so they are often seen as chords: I, IV, and V of a key. These chords give the blues it’s signature sound and cadences. These chords are somewhat related to the structures of Jazz Guitar-playing too.
12 BAR BLUES EXERCISE
I’m going to give you a simple 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression Exercise to try. We’re going to be playing in the key of E Major, as it is the easiest to play this chord progression in on Guitar.
So, if we’re in the key of E Major then our 3 chords are E (I), A (IV) and B (V). So E, A and B will be our chords. For the sake of this Exercise we’re going to play them as Fifth Chords (aka Powerchords).
Now at first you’re going to try this by just strumming the chords normally. So for Bars 1-4 play an E5, 5-6 play an A5, 6-8 play an E5, Bar 9 play a B5, Bar 10 play an A5 and Bars 11-12 play an E5 again.
Simple enough right? Playing this a few times through should give you an idea of this simple 1,4,5 chord progression that is used extensively in Blues. Now it’s time to build on it.
12 BAR BLUES SHUFFLE
Now we’re going to learn a basic guitar shuffle. This is the kind-of “walking” guitar sound that you hear in a lot of blues and rockabilly styles of guitar. We’re gonna use the exact same Chord progression as you just used before.
So for the E5 chord, play just the first 2 strings instead of all 3 (so just the E and A-string) and then you’re gonna change the note that you’re fretting on the A string to produce the: “walking sound”. So whilst strumming your open E-string, fret the 2nd fret of the A string first, then move up to the 4th fret, then 5th fret, back to the 4th fret and then back to the 2nd fret. You continually play an E whilst using your other finger to “walk” up and down frets 2, 4 and 5 of the fretboard.
The advantage to this Key is that when you do this with the A5 chord you will be doing literally the exact same thing but just one string up! This is due to the (convenient) musical intervals between the Guitar’s lower strings.
Then there’s the B5 chord, this one is tricky because you won’t be able to walk very easily because your fingers have to fret (there are no open strings being played) but what you can do is stretch! The best thing you can try to do is use your little finger to stretch to the 6th fret on the D -string. So you’d play the 2nd fret of the A-string with the 4th fret of the D-string and then walk up and down to the 6th string and back to 4th again. This V chord tends to sound better without too much “walking” with it anyway, which is hard to explain but you’ll see what I mean if you try it.
It is also advisable to throw some palm muting in with this “Blues Walk” to create a unique and jumpy feel to the guitar. Try palm muting the off beat notes (esepcially open strings) for a classic jumpy sound.
“Turnarounds” are basically a section (usually a bar or 2) of music that is used to lead one section of a song into a different section. It is used to literally “turn the song around” and give it a new direction. They very often use notes that are not in Key to make the music sound like it is “falling” or “flattening” itself. They usually take the form of little licks of note scales and I am going to teach you a very easy one that can work with the aforementioned chord progressions.
So take the D Major Chord shape and place your fingers where they should be for it. Now slide them up 2 frets so that they are on the 4th and 5th frets instead of 2nd and 3rd frets. The chord you now have is an (unusual) E chord. Whether you want to continue playing the open D-string or not is up to you, it can sometimes sound a little dissonant.
Now I want you to play this chord a few times, and then slide all your fingers down a fret (3rd and 4th frets) play that a couple of times and then down once again to a normal D Major chord shape (2nd and 3rd frets). This is an example of a “flattening” or “falling” chord that is common in turnarounds. From here strum a normal E Major Chord, and then play 0,1,2 on the A-string. It’s a simple little turnaround that is commonly used in Blues playing, and it’s a good example of how these Turnarounds use out-of-key notes to their advantage.
So there we have it! A very basic Blues Tutorial! Hope you enjoy singing about your problems whilst twanging your Guitar like SRV. Enjoy!