Toggle Menu

Bluellaby - A Standard 12 Bar Blues that you'll be able to use for years to come.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate-Advanced

Brass guitar slides
For this lesson, I will now be charging a small fee of US $2.95 for the Printable PDF of the TAB/Notation. Click here to order it.

Here's something you'll be able to use for years to come if you're into the Blues. It's a set of sort of 'standard' chord moves that I'm sure you'll recognize the moment you hear it. In this particular version, I've incorporated a little bassline riff too.

I played this on my Strat (which I love!) but you can play this on any old guitar, acoustic, electric ... it doesn't matter.

It's a standard 12 bar (count 'em) blues progression, which means that it uses the I-IV-V chords, and I've done it in A. A is a great key for 12 bars since the three chords (A-D-E) have roots on open strings. It makes it nice and clear to see what's going on and you can twang those open stings to keep the root ringing underneath it all.

Let's first remind ourselves of what 'standard 12 bar blues' actually means. Well, it means that the progression lasts 12 bars (count' em) and that only the I-IV-V chords are used, and that the exact progression is this:

| I - - - | I - - - | I - - - | I - - - | IV - - - | IV - - - |
| I - - - | I - - - | V - - - | IV - - - | I - - - | V - - - |

which in the key of A means:

| A - - - | A - - - |A - - - | A - - - | D - - - | D - - - |
| A - - - | A - - - | E - - - | D - - - | A - - - | E - - - |

That sequence of chords is the bottom-line, standard, heard-it-a-million-times blues progression. Why is it so popular? Because it works so well. There are many variations on this, but this is the one that underlies them all.

I've only indicated "A,D and E" for the chords but there is in fact more to them. Rather than clutter the tab up with fancy chord names I thought I'd just explain here in the commentary. This piece is interesting because there is one pattern of musical events that apply to each of the I, IV and V chords. The pattern is identical over each, musically that is. It doesn't look identical on the fretboard though, and that's because of what I call 'the kink in the tuning'. If guitars were tuned uniformly to the fifth fret of adjacent strings, it would all look identical, but they're not. That little deviation at the B string throws the symmetry out and complicates things visually, but it's important to understand that it's the very same thing happening in each measure, namely:

1) A couple of bass notes to start with
2) A couple of chordlets (my term, meaning small chords)
3) A little bassline riff.

These three elements keep following each other in that order and shifting up or down when the chord changes.

The two intro bass notes are roots of each chord, so when it's the A chord, the two notes are A.

The chordlets come in pairs, the first being flavors "6th", the second flavored "9th". So when it's the A measure, those chords are A6th and A9th. Notice that the two chord shapes are the same, that the whole shape simply moves down two frets each time. You might think that the flavors would be the same, but in fact it's that root ringing underneath that gives these chordlets an identity.

For those who are interested: the first chordlet, from bass to treble is root-third-sixth (1-3-6), the second is flat seventh-ninth-fifth (b7-9-5). Ringing under each of them is a root (1). That chord formula applies to them all. Neither are full, proper chords though, there are some notes missing in each to qualify for that.

There's one stand-alone chord and it's the E7#9 at the end of the sequence, the 'turnaround'. It's a E7#9 (or E9+ as GuitarPro calls it) which in English is 'E seventh sharp nine' or 'E seventh augmented ninth', also known as the 'Hendrix Chord' because Jimi used it a lot. It has that great slightly discordant sound to it that works so well at heralding the start of a new pass through the 12 bars.

The little bassline riff: you'll notice that every second one is a little shorter. I changed them just to keep the ear interested. We humans love looking for and remembering patterns ... why make it easy? That gets boring too quickly. You will also notice that because the riff doesn't need to cross the kink in the tuning, it's identical for each chord, you just need to shift the whole thing up or down a string.

But, all this theory stuff is not necessary to know ... you can just play it and enjoy the feel and sound of it without caring what it is. I personally always like to know exactly what's going on.

As always, it's the flow that you should concentrate on. Music isn't really the notes or how you pluck them, it's how they all flow together. Take away the flow and you take away the music, so make sure all the elements are moving nicely from one to the other. How do you do that? By thinking well ahead. Let your fingers deal with 'right now' while your brain looks ahead to the next couple of elements coming up and plans for them. By the time you're playing them, you're already looking ahead to the next.

You can see something that I do to help keep the flow going in this movie: watch my pinkie on my right hand; it keeps tapping out the third beat of each bar. When I noticed this while filming, I tried to stop myself from doing it but failed miserably. I was tampering with 'the flow'.

Enjoy piecing this together, once to break it down mentally it's pretty straight forward. Take it nice and slowly, this kind of thing can be played -- r e a l l y - s l o w l y -- and still sound great.

For this lesson, I will now be charging a small fee of US $2.95 for the Printable PDF of the TAB/Notation. Click here to order it.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these free guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.