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The 12 Bar Blues - Guitar Lesson 3

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate


12 Bar Blues Lesson 3 explained.

Here is the third lesson in the 12 Bar Blues Lesson series.

The 12 Bar Blues Lesson 1 is here
The 12 Bar Blues Lesson 2 is here

First off, apologies for the audio in the video. I spent an hour trying to track down the phantom reverb with no luck. A week later I noticed I was going through the other of my two little mixers -- the Alesis with built in reverb -- not the Behringer that I always go through. I was beginning to think I'd lost my mind.

In this one I do a one-bar count-in then I play a one bar intro, so in fact the 12 bars start on the beat after the pickup. Check the tab to see what I mean.

That bass line is still thumping away in this lesson just as in the other two lessons so it should be getting easier and easier to get these down. Just get that bass line practiced up again, a nice steady, deliberate, positive bottom end and then start working on the top lines.

This one is a bit easier than Lesson 2 as there are no bends to contend with, there's just a little hammer-on. You may have noticed by now that those hammer-ons or bends are almost always between the flat 3 and the 3 of the chord. It's the 3 of any chord that determines its major/minor quality of course, and one of things that makes the blues the Blues is that duality of the 3 ... it's (sort of) minor and major at the same time. Our ears have become accustomed to the dissonance and we label the sound 'blues'.

From the top:

As I already mentioned, those first four beats are really an intro to the 12 bars, so the actual 12 bar progression starts on the fifth bass note and that phrase leading into that beat is a little pick-up into the pattern. It's a fairly simple little phrase, easier to understand and play if you think of it as a E chord with a quick move to an A chord. You should be able to see that I hold an E shape down and then lift off to hold a mini-barre down as if I'm playing an A chord. The hammer-ons are on the E shape and it's the index finger that's letting the open G string ring for a nanosecond before hammering on the G# note to turn what begins as a Em into E major. This is a very standard move that works so well with E shapes, so learn it well ... you'll be using it for the rest of your playing life.

You'll hear that I resolve the phrase differently every second time; the first is on a root, the second is on the major third, and I let those resolve notes ring on.

I then move up in bar 4, playing an ascending line up to the A chord. The harmony is played in 10ths, which is the same as thirds but with an octave sandwiched between ... thirds are 3, octaves are 7; 3+7=10. Music is all logic, all boils down to numbers.

When I get to the A chord in bar 5 I change the feel and start a very recognizable blues riff which is a movement from the 5 to the 6 to the flat 7 and back down again, all the while playing two roots. One root is the open A string which I'm thumping with my thumb, the other is the A note an octave above which is under my index in the barre A shape. There's a bit of stretch involved to reach that flat 7 with the pinkie that may need some time to work out.

Then back to the E chord at bar 7 and the same pattern as before except for the end where I play a line up ...

... to the V chord, the B7 at bar 9, and here I've just held it down and I'm playing the eighth notes with my three fingers locked together. Remember that we're in 12/8 time, so there are 4 sets of three in each bar. The thumb is still thumping out the bass line so there's a thumb+three fingers grab on the first beat of those triplets. This is usually the kind of thing you hear coming from a piano but we're doing it on guitar here.

The A that follows in bar 10 uses the same feel exactly and you'll notice that I've not gone down to the A note for the bass line but up to the C#, which is the 3 of A, a chord tone, and it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the vibe.

The turn-around is a pretty standard sounding one, easier to play than it sounds. I left the chord as E in the tab/movie, but in fact it's a series of chords -- E, E/G#, A, Bbdim, E -- arpeggiated to give that neat effect. The whole thing ends on a strummed B7 chord as usual.

And there it is, a new way of getting through 12 bars in E that you can add to your bag of tricks. Of course you can take any section of this and insert it in the appropriate place in Lesson 1 or 2, mix and match any old way you please.

Have fun!


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange