Blues – the basics

Guitar is the archetypical instrument for playing blues and it has been a part of the genre since the beginning. There are two fundamental  areas to study first if you want to learn the blues: rhythm and chords.


One ingredient for creating bluesy sound on your guitar is adept to a certain rhythm. This is by no means based on strict rules that will dictate exactly how you should play, basically it’s about accentuate the first and third beat on every four beats. This is part of the special shuffle feel that is central in the blues.

An underestimated way to grasp this is to listen to the music. It’s kind of obvious: listen to blues and you will get the rhythm. Here are some of the most famous among blues guitarists:

  • Muddy Waters
  • John Lee Hooker
  • T-Bone Walker
  • Elmore James
  • BB King
  • Albert King
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan

A few tips on albums can also be given: Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) with Albert King, T-Bone Blues (1959) by T-Bone Walker, The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 (1994) compilation with John Lee Hooker, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966) by John Mayall and At Fillmore East (1971) live with The Allman Brothers Band.

Major or minor?

Blues can be played in both major and minor. For example, fast blues are generally played in major and blues in minor tends to be slower.


The typical blues chords are the so-called dominant, written with a seven (7) after the tone as in the chord name C7. Compare a regular C major chord with a C7 and decide for yourself which sound most bluesy.

There is a dedicated lesson on chord progressions in blues, but a sample of some very common chords in this genre are E7, A7 and B7.


  • E7 chord diagram


  • A7 chord diagram


  • B7 chord diagram

The structure – 12 Bar Blues

12 Bar is the name on the most common structure in blues. You have just learned that E7, A7 and B7 are good chords to know, here is a basic structure that instruct you how to use them together:

E7 E7 E7 E7
A7 A7 E7 E7
B7 A7 E7 E7

Every bar cointans four beats. As we go on with this coarse we will see more complex progressions including turnarounds, and also other structures.

Tips for more in-depth readings:
book  book  book

Go to next article in the course: Blues chord progressions.
Go back to the main section of Blues guitar.

In compressed form

Here are the basic chords and progressions in the two most used keys for blues guitar:
collection of blues chords diagram and progressions