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How to Start Playing Blues Guitar

Today we're going to get started with Blues guitar. This is something I always teach my students. Why? Well, Blues music has made a significant impact on many styles of music for about a century. It's also just a really cool style of music!

What makes Blues music...Bluesy? It's several elements combined together. You have your chords, a rhythm called a shuffle rhythm, some Blues notes, and of course some awesome riffs. But the underlying foundation of Blues is called the 12 Bar Blues pattern. Not every Blues song uses this, but most are a variation of it. 

The 12 Bar Blues

We're going to do the 12 Bar Blues in the key of E since that's a very common key for Blues guitar. This same structure can be used in any key though. We'll only need 3 chords; in the key of E that's E-A-B. As a matter of fact, let's add a little Blues spice right away and change those to 7th chords. So E7-A7-B7.

The 12 Bar Blues gets its name from the pattern being 12 bars (or measures) long. It's easiest to think about it as being 3 sections, so I'll break it down that way. Here's the structure:

Section 1

E7 for 1 bar

A7 for 1 bar

E7 for 2 bars

Section 2

A7 for 2 bars

E7 for 2 bars

Section 3

B7 for 1 bar

A7 for 1 bar

E7 for 1 bar

B7 for 1 bar

To start, strum each chord 4 times per measure (once per beat). Don't worry about adding the shuffle feel yet. The bigger takeaway is becoming familiar with the pattern. Learn this section by section, then combine them into the full 12 bars. You'll eventually be able to feel the chord changes as you memorize the pattern.

Adding A Shuffle Feel

(Skip to 11:32 in the video to hear this feel)

The shuffle feel is an important strumming pattern. Not just for the Blues either. You'll find this feel in all kinds of music. But when combined with the 12 Bar Blues pattern it adds a lot of flair to what you're playing.

When you were strumming straight quarter notes (one strum per beat), it's called playing it straight. That means just quarter notes and sometimes just eighth notes. But when you change that you're adding syncopation. The shuffle strumming pattern is a syncopated rhythm. 

So check out the strumming pattern in the video and play along. If it's easier, you can learn the 12 Bar Blues and the shuffle pattern separately. Then when you have them both down you can combine them. 


Even if you don't listen to Blues music and aren't interested in playing it, there's a lot to learn from it. In fact, the more styles of music you learn to play, the better your guitar playing will be.

If you enjoyed this lesson and want to see more like this, you should check out my Real Guitar Success program. It's filled with lessons like this where you learn a new style, new techniques, and a lot of songs.

>> Check Out Day #28 : Bass Note Walks Between Open Chords

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