Skip to main content

Blues Guitar Chords

12-Bar Blues

Firstly - if this material looks way too hard, try my other hub on easy blues. If you're not familiar with the chords for a 12-bar blues, that would be a better place to start.

The simple blues chords are just 1, 4 and 5. In the key of D: D7, G7, A7

Chord grids read like this: the six vertical lines are the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets.

The first 12-bar example is in the key of D, and uses more advanced chord progressions than some blues - note the use of 9th and 13th chords, which replace ordinary 7th chords. This will lead to a more soul or jazz style. Play 4 beats for each bar, although with a band you could just "comp" and play each chord once. It's a *quick-change* blues, where bar 2 goes straight to the IV chord.

The second example is in the key of Dm, and will sound like The Thrill Has Gone, a classic BB King track. You can improvise over this sequence with Dm pentatonic.

On the chord pictures the loop symbol means a barre chord, and the 9th chord uses a partial barre over the top 3 strings.

If you find the 13th chords too difficult, just play a 7th chord, ideally a three-note 7th chord. Look at my other hub Guitar - advanced and jazz chords for further info.

When playing the blues you can use 7th, 9th and 13th chords in any combination you want - they will do the same job in harmonic terms and can be used in place of each other.

Try using just the bottom or lower three notes of the D9 and the G13 shapes, in many contexts these will sound fine, and it's much easier to slide into the shape, and to add vibrato.

Scroll to Continue

Chord chart - Major and minor Blues


Advice on guitar solos

Use both the major and minor pentatonic scales when you improvise over a blues sequence: for instance over D7 or D9 or D13 use the Dm pentatonic scale, but then drop the pattern down 3 frets and use the major pentatonic too. Switching between the two will sound more interesting.

Also - all the notes in those chords will fit as part of a lead line. Using these chord tones will reinforce the chord progression, and make it sound like you know what you're doing!

Next step could be learning other inversions and shapes for the chords, at least three or four forms for each type of chord.

Playing in other keys: the same pattern of chords can be used in many different keys. The most important keys are probably E, A and B flat (for jazz influenced blues) although this is debatable.

D to E is 2 frets, so to play all the chords in E, just move all chord shapes up 2 frets. Now you will have a low E string to fill out the bass which is a major asset.

Great Blues Guitarists

Here's a shortlist of some of the best and most influential blues players:

  • Robert Johnson
  • BB King
  • Robben Ford
  • Peter Green
  • Buddy Guy
  • Larry Carlton
  • Kirk Fletcher


blues lessons on February 04, 2011:

Blues guitar has so many different techniques. Blues guitar has many many different styles. There's a huge number of ways to play blues guitar. Even though my preference is for the old legends, many of the present day 'legends', such as Buddy Guy just blow me away. Genius is genius, no matter when the music was made. In my opinion, it almost goes without saying that the best music of today has it's roots in acoustic blues, that's why I keep keep going back to that music. You can still hear the riffs of Broonzy and other legends in all present day rock. Additionally, ragtime guitar is evident in some jazz. Any one starting to learn blues guitar would be advised to begin from the beginning and make their way forward until they find their way.

Related Articles