How to Play the 12 Bar Blues on a Guitar

The most popular form of blues is undoubtedly the 12 bar blues. 12 bars are used in the chord progression, with each bar or measure being four beats long. The 12 bar blues are said to have originated in African music but have become very much a part of Western music.

Learning The Formula

Most commonly a progression of 1st, 4th and 5th chords is used in the 12 bar blues. Let us say that you are using the key C.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 = C the tonic chord
4 = F the subdominant chord
5 = G the dominant chord

These three chords can be major, minor or seventh chords depending upon the music you have selected.

For a blues in C, the chords C, F and G are played.

Let us consider 12 bar blues in C

The first four bars section comprises of four 1st chords


The / represents the beat indicating that each chord is played once for every beat.

The second four bar section comprises of two 4th chords of followed by two 1st chords.


The third four bar section comprises of one bar of the 5th chord, one bar of the 4th chord, one bar of the 1st chord and one bar of the 5th chord.


When played in full the 12 bar blues in C is as follows


You will be playing four bars of the 1st chord, followed by two bars of the 4th chord, then another two bars of the 1st chord, one 5th chord, one 4th chord, one 1st chord and one 5th chord.

The dominant seventh chord can be used instead for all the chords.


At first you should play the 12 bar blues slowly, until you can play it without confusion. Each bar has to have four beats and must have a steady rhythm. The 12 bar blues are used in jazz, country and rock music, so if you have any ambition to play well, learning the 12 bar blues is a must. If you learn the progression you will be able to play it rather easily as it involves only three chords. Once you have perfected the 12 bar blues you can play with other musicians without much difficulty.

You can try out variations such as placing emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beat of each bar giving your music a rock twist. These are a few tips to help you understand the basics of the 12 bar blues. If you are still in doubt you can consult a qualified professional to give you lessons and help you out. There are many websites that provide useful information lending a hand to novices who need help.

Once you have understood the basics you can try out various combinations and have a great time experimenting with your guitar. Learning can be fun and enjoyable once you understand the lessons. Be diligent, practice hard and persevere, and soon you will be playing the 12 bar blues without any uncertainty or doubt.

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