The Practical Guide to Playing a 12-Bar Blues

What is a 12-bar blues?

It’s a basic and simple chord progression. As its name says it’s twelve bars long. It’s the most common blues music progression.

It’s so popular: Thousands and thousands of songs are made from it!

If you ever want to learn to play the blues on any instrument, you have to know these chord changes. It’s important whether you play the rhythm or lead.

In fact, you may already know them or at least be familiar with how a typical blues song unfolds.

A basic twelve bar blues is made of 3 chords. The 1st(root), the 4th, and the 5th chords of the major scale. Chords are usually identified in roman numerals I-IV-V.

In the key of E it would be E(root), A(the 4th) and B (the 5th).

12 Bar-Blues Chords in All Natural Keys

12 bar lues chords in all natural keys chart

How to Play a Twelve-bar Blues?

The Basic Structure

There are many ways to play the chord changes, but the most basic one goes like this.

The basic variation tha basic variation in E

Example of a basic 12 bar in E

The Quick Change

Another popular variation is going to the 4(th) on the second bar. It gives more movement to the basic structure.

The Quick Change The Quick Change in E

Ending on the V

This variation is also very common. It adds a lot of movement to the last 4 bars.


Adding Dominant 7th Chords

As in the example above, you can play major chords but the use of seventh chords is most commonly heard. In this case, you could simply add the minor 7th on all the chords to create dominant seventh sound.

Dominant 7th 12 bar blues.Dominant 7th 12 bar blues in E

Using 7th to Accentuate Chord Changes

In the previous example, we used dominant 7th chords on all the chords but they can also be added anywhere. Here is an example using the dominant 7th chords to accentuate a coming chord change.

7th on chord changes 7th on chord changes in E

Minor 7th

A twelve-bar blues using seventh minor chords is also very popular. I think it has a more “funky” feel.

No Rules

The progressions shown above are just examples of the most common 12 bar blues chord progressions. They serve as a starting point and can be changed and enriched. Jazz music often mixes both major and minor ideas. Feel free to experiment and move things around.

What about you?

If you enjoyed this post, I want you to do one thing:

Leave me a comment to let me know how you practice and approach a 12 bar-blues.



Blues, Chord progressions, learn

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  1. Wow!! It’s really a cool stuff..I’m enjoying doing it but how can I be able to form 7th chords? I’m doing okay with major and minor..the problem is only with 7th chords..please help me

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like this lesson. I just created chord diagrams of the most common shapes to help you. Here it is:
      7th Chords

      I will be putting up chord lessons soon.



    1. Hey Jerry,

      Thanks for pointing it out. A lot of work and details go into making a post like this. I appreciate you reaching out. I just made the changes.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I tried to keep this post quick and simple. I'll experiment with this and might add it in the future.

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