The term 12 Bar Blues simply refers to the standard blues progression you’ve probably heard countless times before in tunes like SRV’s Pride and Joy, Crossroads and Strange Brew by Cream, Johnny B. Goode, most of BB King’s stuff, and tons of others, only now you know what it’s called. In its simplest form it uses three chords, which can be major, dominant 7, or even minor chords.
In this guide we’ll look at major and dominant 7 chords, and a blues in the key of E. If you play the lowest string on your guitar, the open E, then the next string, the open A, followed by the B which you’ll find at the second fret on the A string, you have the basic idea—play the E again and notice how the B resolves nicely back to the E—this is the essence of blues: tension and release!
This is what a basic 12 Bar Blues chart looks like:
1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4
5-2-3-4, 6-2-3-4, 7-2-3-4, 8-2-3-4
9-2-3-4, 10-2-3-4, 11-2-3-4, 12-2-3-4
Next we’ll need a few options for chord shapes to use. Check out the following shapes, the numbers below the boxes tell you where to put your fingers.
Once you’ve mastered the basic chord progression for a 12 bar blues, you’ll probably want to start improvising, or throwing in a lick here and there. Your go-to scale shape will be E Minor Pentatonic in the open position. It’s a nice pattern as you can use all the open strings.
Check out the following diagram which shows the root notes (E) in red and the other scale notes in black.