Skip to main content

Guitar Chords for Jazz Blues

I find music theory interesting up to a point, and taught it in college for many years. It's usually overcomplicated!

General advice

I think in terms of two kinds of music theory -

(1) theory for nice melodic and diatonic songs (classical, folk, ballads) and

(2) theory for blues, funk and rock

I find it really helps to keep these two boxes separate.

While there is some overlap, having a different approach for diatonic (1) and 7th (2) based harmony can keep things simple.

12-Bar advanced Blues

First, check out my other hub entitled Easy Blues, because it's essential to understand the basic 12-bar blues progression. Bars are denoted like this: / /

This is building on the foundations of the basic sequence: which is

E7 / E7 / E7 / E7 / A7 / A7 / E7 / E7 / B7 / A7 / E7 / B7. (Four beats for each bar)

On the diagram the numbers under each chord picture give you the number ofbeats on each chord. The chords are not named as I feel this is a distraction.

Simplified, the chords would be

E7 / A13 / E7 / E7 / A13 / Bb dim / (one bar each)

E7, F♯m7 / G ♯m7, C♯7 ♯ 9 / F♯m7 / B7 / E7 A7 / E7, B7♯ 9 /

This is something like Stormy Monday Blues by T Bone Walker.

In Blues playing you can substitute any 7th chord for a 9th chord or 13th chord, as they all contain the flat 7 interval characteristic of the blues. So if you find the 13th too tricky, just play the relevant 7th chord. I'm giving you a lot of information here, you don't need to use it all.

Chord pictures - 12-Bar Blues



The first 4 chords connect the E7 to A7 or A13 - a jazz and swing type progression. One chord on each of the four beats, where you would normally just play E7.This kind of sound is used widely in jazz standards, and could be applied in many different songs.

The next two chords are A13 and A9 - remember, you can use these interchangeably. When you hit the next E7, it's a good place to play some "smokin" blues riffs using the scale shown below.

Stylistically this is a more jazz version of the blues - works best at a fairly slow tempo.

More complex chords like these will often work better with a fingerpicked right hand - thumb on the bass note, play the other strings with your fingers. I find that jamming them together and pulling up as one unit helps.

Scroll to Continue

More Blues

This sequence is just an example - feel free to lift parts of it, or simplify parts of it. Also, at any point you could put in some lead playing, as long as you stick to the time and bar sequence.

Highly recommended App is iRealb, which has hundreds of standards with backing tracks and chord charts. You can also change key and tempo, and this is a great tool for practice as you can basically have a lot of fun playing. Mostly I learnt blues guitar from playing along to records, and this is a similar thing.

Guitars for Blues

Some guitars are better than others for playing authentic blues styles. Guitars that work very well would include:

Fender Stratocaster and especially, Telecaster

Gibson 335, 345, 355, 339

Some amp distortion and a tube amp sound to give some extra sustain are helpful too. Good idea to try light string gauges, for instance 009 at the top, so you can practice string bending and vibrato.

Recommended listening:

Robben Ford

BB King

Tim Lerch

Eric Clapton


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 09, 2013:

Hi Johan - the blues scale is only a starting point, and will work over E7, E9, E13. When the chords change the scale needs to change with them - try using notes from the chords rather than a scale.

Johan Paxom on February 08, 2013:

I cant see how to or play the bluesscale in E and make it sound good.

But if you change the Bbdim chord to a B7 the progression is a perfect blues for to play the Bebop minor scale. Looks like a jazz Bebop blues to me..The chords that is in the reharmonization are ditonic to just the Bebop minor scale.....I must have missed something, can someone explain to me ????

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on April 08, 2012:

Yes - having an idea of the historical context is really good. EC for instance, knows the history of the blues.

blues lessons on February 04, 2011:

Blues guitar has many many different styles. Blues guitar has so many different sounds. There's a great variety of ways to play the blues. Even though my preference is for the classic acoustic blues men, some of the more modern 'legends', like Stevie Ray Vaughan just blow me away. Genius is genius, no matter when the music was made. For me, it's obvious that the best music of today came from the roots, that's why I keep keep going back to that music. You can still hear the riffs of Johnson and other legends in all present day rock. Additionally, Piedmont guitar is evident in jazz classics. Any one learning blues guitar would be advised to start from the beginning and make their way forward until they find their way.

Related Articles