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Been Had Blues - A 12 Bar Blues slide guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

Here's a pretty standard sounding 12 bar blues progression in Dropped D. It's in the key of D and it's a perfect one to add some slide to. I've kept it nice and simple (for slide! Nothing is really all that simple once you slip that slide over your pinkie).The progression is as straight forward as they come for the 12 bar blues format:

| I - - - | I - - - | I - - - | IV - - - | IV - - - |
| I - - - | I - - - | V - - - | IV - - - | I - - - | V - - - | ... which means, in the key of D:

| D - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | G - - - | - - - - |
| D - - - | - - - - | A - - - | G - - - | D - - - | A - - - | ... can't get much more standard than that!

Remember that we've dropped the thick E string down to D, which means that we have a sort of mini open tuning on those three bass strings. They now consist of two roots (the 6th and 4th strings) and a 5th (the fifth string). So when you play all three strings at the same time, you wind up with a power chord. If you're not sure what that means, click here. This comes in very handing when playing slide because you can lay the brass across those three thick strings anywhere on the neck and you'll be playing a power chord, since the relationship between the three strings remains constant: two roots and fifth. Remember that it's the third of a chord that determines its major/minor quality. Power chords have no third, so they apply to both major and minor chords. You'll see how handy this is in this lesson.

From the top

Intro: I play a little intro for this piece, which is the turnaround I use at the end of the 12 bars, namely bars 14 and 15 in the tab. You'll recognize the sound of it immediately, but maybe not the way I play it. Fleshed out, it becomes five chords, one per beat, and they are D, D7, G, Bb7 and A . There's an interesting combination of a descending bass line and ascending top line towards the end of it that's quite ear-catching.
The A chord (bar 3) is first played with the fingers in normal fashion, then the slide takes over. You'll see that I slide a note on the 4th string up to the 7th fret. Where that slide begins is not critical. I seem to start it somewhere between the fourth and fifth frets, which means that the note is somewhere between F# and G. When I reach the 7th fret, and I do mean fret ... that piece of wire embedded in the fretboard ... I stop sliding. That note is A. I then, with my right hand, make sure that the three thin strings are muted out. If they weren't you hear all kinds of other notes ringing out under the slide, notes that have nothing to do with A. I mute with my finger tips. You can clearly see in the movie how they come down onto those three treble strings and kill any vibration. The three bass strings are now able to ring out as an A power chord under the shimmering action of the slide. This action is similar to a violin bow ... you can actually generate notes/chords under the slide just by shimmering it over the strings. It's a quick side-to-side movement, with the slide in light contact with the strings.

The actual beginning of the 12 bars is measure 4 in the tab/notation. This is where the repeating riff starts. The 'riff' is what happens over the I chord (the D chord) each time it comes into play. It consists of a line played with the slide followed by a simple chordal strum. The first I chord section starts at bar 4 and goes to the end of bar 7, but the first slide riff occurs at the end of bar 3. Remember that the measures are number both in the tab/notation and in the movie.

The slide line: You'll hear that I change the line just about every time I play it. Sometimes I move up to the 3rd fret, which is the flat 3 of D; sometimes it goes up to the fifth fret, which is the 4 of D; most of the time I move up to somewhere between the 3rd and 4th frets which is that blue note ... not quite a major third, but not quite as flat as a flat 3. It's that ambiguous 3rd that makes the blues The Blues ... neither major nor minor. You can only get that note by bending if you play normal guitar, bending the b3 up but not quite up to the pitch of the major 3.

The chordal bit: I'm playing the three bass strings for the rhythm part of the riff, which is a D power chord. You can see and hear that I don't treat each strum in the same way. To keep it all interesting to the ear, I use the fleshy side of my thumb for some, the back of my finger nails for others, toward the end I use a compact harmonics double stop. Alternating between these different ways of hitting the strings creates a nice texture of sounds. You don't have to do this, of course, it's all a matter of taste, but between the alternate riff lines and the alternate strums, what could otherwise start sounding pretty boring stays fresh and new ... the listener is not quite sure what's coming next.

The IV chord: OK, so four measures of 'the riff' brings us to the IV chord, the G section which starts at measure 8 and goes to end of bar 9. Here I also play a slide line similar to the riff at the end of bar 7, but instead of thumping out the D power chord after the line, I shimmer the slide over the bass strings at the fifth fret. So now I'm playing a G power chord and I'm shimmering the slide to generate a continuous sound. But, notice that I'm keeping the rhythm going by hitting that bass string with my thumb on each beat.

Lot's to think about!

Back to the I chord riff: The slide line at the end of bar 9 leads us back to the I chord riff for two measures (10 and 11). I notice that here I introduce a new way of playing the riff, playing a B note without using the slide in bar 10. B is the 6 of D, so now we have b3, 3, 4 and 6 as notes in the riff ... once again, keeps it interesting in a very subtle way. At the end of bar 11, slide riff again but a new one which leads up to the A chord. Refer to the tab to see how it's played. You'll see how I play the same note three times, but once on the open string, the other times as a slide notes.

The V chord: at bar 12 I do the same to the V chord, which is a shimmered power chord at the 7th fret, as I do to the IV chord, but now I keep the rhythm going with a triplet feel on the bass string. Yet again, keep it interesting, chop and change ... but never lose the groove. There's a little pluck of the third string under the slide toward the end. I hit a D note, which brings us back to ...

The IV chord: at bar 13, we're back to G, the IV chord, and I go back to the exact thing I played for the IV chord before: shimmer at the 5th fret, keep the rhythm going with the thumb on the bass string on the beat ... no triplet feel this time.

The Turnaround: A 'turnaround, when talking about the blues or jazz, is the part of the progression where it all comes to a head, where it resolves and gets ready to start the progression over again. This is a pretty standard turnaround ... it's basically a I (bar 14) chord followed by a V chord (bar 15). In this case, the I chord is actually a series of other chords (as described for the intro) but they're just detail, decoration. I could just have played the I chord throughout and all would be fine. That A chord at bar 15 is saying "let's do the whole thing again" and so we do, we start the 12 bar progression over again.

The fade out: is just the beginning of a new 12 bars. You'll see/hear in bar 17 that yet another different note appears in the riff, this time a C, which is the b7 of D. So now we have five different notes occupying the same spot in the riff: b3, 3, 4, 6 and b7 ... and they all work. There's no one way to play anything, is the lesson here, I guess. Experiment, explore, switch and change things around ... this is permissible in all genres, but especially in the blues. You can hear the harmonics I use in this fadeout instead of the low power chord.

So there you have it, a 12 bar blues that uses all kinds of techniques: normal finger style, slide, thumb strums, back-of-the-nail strums, shimmers, on the beat bass lines, triplet feel bass lines ... but, as I said before, the most important thing of all is to keep that groove going. The groove, of course, is that relentless pulse that glues it all together. The groove is the bit that convinces the listener that you know what you're doing. The groove is the music.

If you want to learn more about playing slide in Dropped D or Standard Tunings, you're in luck! A while back I put together a DVD in which I reveal everything I know about the art. Click here for more info.


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