Blues Guitar Chord Progressions

Blues Guitar Chord Progressions

It’s likely that the very first blues chords were not even in basic tuning, offered the very first tentative efforts to make music were probably tried out house made instruments with less than 6 strings. Obviously, the common blues chord progression would still follow the standard guidelines, however the shapes and method of playing would have been a bit different.

National Steel Guitar Blues Chords ProgressionFor this post I’m going to be discussing blues progression chords that are quite basic fare for a 6 string guitar in ‘normal’ tuning, that is E, A, D, G, B & E. Early stringed instruments were most likely really poor quality to begin with.

It’s likely that the very first roots music came out of the Mississippi Delta, so the hot and damp weather would have made it really challenging to keep any sort of instrument in tune.

This is why the very first noises were bottleneck or slide in open G, or open D. Open tunings were more user-friendly and the slide strategy of playing, where the bottleneck ‘slides’ as much as the note, indicated that the guitar didn’t need to be really accurately tuned.


Obviously, you can play the blues in any key (if you truly wished to!) and the intricacy would depend upon your style, however I’m going to concentrate on the secrets of E and A for the many part. Although not couched in technical terms (due to the fact that I do not truly understand any) the exact same chord groups work for the 8/ 12 bar blues progression, although in a little various setup. Undoubtedly, I’ll draw greatly on the work of the timeless acoustic blues guys such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson.


First off, let’s have a look at the standard chords and after that analyze the blues guitar chord progressions for ‘Woman Called Mary’ by Lightnin’ Hopkins, and ‘Key To The Highway’ Big Bill Broonzy style. These early pre-war blues tunes usually started with an introduction that was an embellished type of the verse, to create interest and set the phase, so to speak, for the lyrics, or story, to follow.

Numerous tunes likewise included a couple of musical breaks throughout which the standard chords may be transformed to chord inversions greater up the fret board to supplied variation. Frequently, half chords were utilized, so that standard chords, complete inversions and single string runs adjusted from both were integrated for that additional interesting appeal. Remember that these people were fingerpicking in some cases complicated patterns which had the tendency to be ‘dumbed down’ while they sang. Nevertheless, throughout the musical breaks, they might actually go to town with their strategies without fretting about singing.

The noise can sound rather complex, however the very same fundamental chord progressions lag everything, even if the fingerstyle patterns and the rhythm modifications. In the video listed below, I begin with an E chord and jam along attempting methods form popular blues guys, as well as unexpected myself with totally brand-new noises! The basic chord progression is E, E7, A, A7 and B7.

The Basic E Chord Shape.

blues guitar chord progression - e majorStarting with the standard chords shapes, we obviously have E significant, which is the root and we return to it once again and once again. Just like all chords, there is more than one method to play it, and we’ll take a look at that later on, however for now let’s adhere to the essentials.

The very first thing you’ll see is that it’s not an intricate chord shape – simply cluster of 3 strings throughout 2 stresses held down by the forefinger, 2nd and ring fingers. The chord can either be strummed or fingerpicked, when using advanced left hand strategies like managing and hammering on, the impact ends up being extremely’ bluesy’.

Similar to any chord, you can either let the strings ring, or damp them off with either hand. A typical blues picking pattern in lots of States was to strike the open bass E string with the thumb and after that silence it or choke off the note with the palm of the picking hand. This is called the ‘monotonic bass’ thumb style.

A ‘hammer-on’ is when you strike an open string, such as the G string when it comes to the standard E chord shape, and after that drop the forefinger back on to the very first fret to form the E chord. A ‘pull-off’ is the opposite to this, where your hit the string fretted and after that take off the finger. Both methods can be maded with any of the fretted strings, and others, to make the noise more diverse and fascinating. All blues males utilized these methods thoroughly, together with string flexes, which we’ll cover later on.

Turning The E into E7.

blues progression - E to E7It’s rather uncommon to discover a blues tune with an E that does not ultimately end up being and E7, primarily at the end of the 2nd line of verse, or as a lead into the A chord. The fundamental type is to keep the E chord then fret the B string with your pinkie on the 3rd fret, and this actually is the noise of roots blues. That 7th makes all the distinction and speaks straight to the soul.

In lots of tunes the pinkie moves down one fret to turn the chord into E6, typically siding back up to produce a type of a ‘swing’ result, or utilized as part of a brief single string run including the B and the high E string. The technique with the blues in E, just like any chord progression guitar based, is to do you finest to differ the methods and chord extensions so that the listener takes pleasure in the experience.


The Standard A Chord Shape

blues progression chords basic-aAnother simple shape, in truth among the very first ones that the majority of us learn. It can either be had fun with 3 finger, which can be a bit restricting, or with a bar utilizing the forefinger simply laid throughout the 2nd. Needless to state, you would not pick the high E string fretted on the 2nd fret utilizing the bar – that would sound rather unusual and is a various chord completely.

Although this fundamental A chord shape has it’s usages, it’s not that typical in the traditional type acoustic blues, however primarily booked for folk style picking, and really easy country music type ballads. No, the A chord truly enters it’s own when playing the blues when we fret the high E string high up on the fret board with the pinkie and utilizing a bar for the other strings.

easy blues chord progression - a majorThe image left wing reveals the exact same A shape however with the addition of that high E fretted up on the 5th fret. This brings numerous benefits. To start with, while it’s still the very same chord, it’s got a discreetly various taste. I often likewise fret the next string (B) with my pinkie also, which sounds fantastic – if your finger is strong enough! It’s a little bit of a stretch, however the result deserves it IMO.

Another benefit is that you can utilize that pinkie to play scales up and down while keeping the bar and simply launching it when the progression of notes needs it. It’s the example you may do throughout a musical break and assists to include variation to your noise. Pay attention to the popular turn-around in Robert Johnson’s ‘Me and The Devil’ to hear this method utilized to terrific benefit – I’m talking practically the A chord diminish here – the real tune remains in A and not E.

The truly big pro for utilizing this long A, as I call it, is that easily develops into A7, simply by releasing the pinkie and fretting the high E on the 3rd fret.

B7 Completes The Famous Blues in E Progression

blues progression in eStrangely enough, for factors we will not enter into here, the chord that finishes the trio isn’t really a significant chord that becomes a 7th variation, however is currently in reality a 7th chord. The type revealed on the right has the A string fretted on the 2nd fret, so it’s this string we have to utilize in a monotonic bass pattern, for instance, as the bass E string isn’t really fretted and will sound discordant.

Extremely frequently, this shape is utilized however with the bass E held down on the 2nd fret rather of the A string. As long as we do not pluck the A string by style or error, it sounds respectable. The high E is held down with the pinkie and can be utilized to fret the B string if we want. A ‘hammer-on’ can be utilized to excellent result on the D string, which is fretted by the forefinger – alternate managing and hammering on makes a terrific Delta blues noise.

Generally, that’s it! A really persuading blues can be produced with the chords of E, E7, A, A7 and B7. It’s our task to make it more intriguing by presenting additional notes in between chord changeovers, and by including more elaborate musical variations as musical breaks in between the verses.


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Well, exactly what about the chord inversions that I discussed earlier? Here are some simple ones that I utilize myself:

Blues Chord Progressions Guitar – Inversions for the Key Of E.

Half-chords are typically utilized, which makes it possible for the guitar player to obtain imaginative and play lead-type runs high up the fret board. Beginning with the E chord, its primarily utilized in it’s standard shape, due to the fact that it is so effective, however in some cases in the verse as well as the breaks, we wish to break away from the chord to make a little enjoyment. Constantly keep in mind, the primary sin of blues guitar is to bore the audience! This is quickly done if strumming the standard chord structure in a 12 bar blues progression, for instance.

e7 inversion - chords for blues in e.The chord shape in the left remains in the shape of D7, and we form it the exact same method. Notification that the B string is fretted on the 3rd fret, precisely where the 7th note stands for the E chord. This shape is an excellent method to play E7.

You can either strike that bass E string with a monotonic bass, or utilize the thumb to pick among the trebles, utilizing 2 fingers to include triplets on the last 2 strings, if your strategy is advance enough. Or simply strum throughout the strings upwards with your forefinger – all of it noises fantastic!

An excellent way to utilize this development is to run it down to the 2nd and 1st fret prior to returning to the E significant, which then ends up being E7, or remains as it is depending upon where you remain in the tune – you’ll quickly master it! Attempt and strike the strikes 4 beats to the bar, running the chord down every bar, and your music will begin to swing. Another thing we can do for the E chord is to move right up the fret board and play simply strings from an inversion on the 7th fret.

chord e inversion for blues chord progressions guitarPlace the forefinger on the high E string on the 7th fret as displayed in the diagram on the right. Now the 2nd finger goes on the next string on the 8th fret, and either strum upwards with the forefinger or pinch the 2 strings together. Yes, it makes a great train whistle Mississippi Blues noise, however wait – it improves!

Now, strike the B string pressing over then let it relapse. It actually does produce an unsurpassable Delta Blues music noise. It’s complainant and speaks straight to the feelings of the listener. Lightnin’ Hopkins utilized this strategy (in addition to numerous others!) to engage the sensations of his audience. In the video listed below, I play ‘Woman Called Mary’ proving how Hopkins utilized this train whistle strategy in a blues in E It likewise consists of all the methods talked about on this page, consisting of the chord inversions and crucial breaks.

Tips for playing a Blues In E From Lightnin’ Hopkins.


Other methods to play the B7 Chord.

blues chord progressions in typical use.Another variation utilized in typical blues chord progressions is the A7 shape on the 4th fret. It provides itself effectively to a swinging style blues such as Key To The Highway by Big Bill Broonzy, or Living With The Blues by Brownie McGhee.

Here once again, you can likewise extend that pinkie as much as 7th fret to turn it into a significant, in simply the exact same method similar to A and A7. The only thing to be cautious of is which bass string your thumb strikes. Usually, it has to be the open A string, however in reality, striking either or both the bass strings then silencing difficult with the palm of your picking hand will work.

In truth, some blues guys, like Mance Lipscombe, extremely seldom fretted any bass notes – he simply choked off the notes so that the resulting sound was more like a ‘thud’, and like a drum beat for pace.


Blues Chords For A Progression in the Key of A

As you may think, we begin with A major, and we currently talked about the standard chord and the variations. The total progressions is comprised of the chords A (that can change into A7 anytime you require it to), D7 and E7. We took a look at the E7 chord, however we do not utilize it in rather the exact same – we do not utilize inversions, as like the B7 when playing the 12 bar blues in E, it simply isn’t really utilized quite at all.

the d7 guitar chord bluesSo the only chord we have not taken a look at for the guitar progression in A is D7, revealed to the right. The fingering is relatively user-friendly and the thumb is utilized to fret the bass E string on the 2nd fret. You may discover this a bit hard, however depends upon the size of your hands and naturally the width of you guitar neck. A classical guitar neck, for instance, is simply too broad to do this easily. On the hand, a Martin 000X1 or Vintage V300 Parlor is perfect.

If you didn’t wish to trouble fretting the bass E string, either damp it greatly with the picking hand palm when you play it, or basic usage the A string rather. Nevertheless, some tunes in the style of Robert Johnson, for instance, truly gain from having that bass E fretted as displayed in the diagram.


d7 chord progression key of aActually, it’s rather uncommon that the blues males played a complete chord for the majority of the time, and in the tune above, the D7 chord is never ever completely played. The high E string is exposed, as it isn’t really played. This is a type of custom – if you do not play a string, why trouble to fret it? The only exception being if the string in concern rings in compassion with others and makes a dreadful noise.

The B string fretted on the 1st fret is frequently managed, and the hammered on, numerous times in one bar and the bass E ends up being extremely beneficial in including variations to the bass pattern. I frequently play it open and add from the 1st to the 2nd fret to finish the chord once again.



Chord Inversions For The Blues Progression in A.

There are lots of chord inversions for A major, however there are not that typically utilized for a fundamental acoustic blues guitar tune. It’s most likely best if you explore them yourself and explore the noise to see if it harmonizes exactly what you’re aiming to do. The entire concept of checking out the old style acoustic blues is to learn exactly what the old men did and aim to incorporate the strategies into your very own guitar music, continuously attempting to keep that old taste that makes the blues exactly what it is.

acoustic blues progression - d7-chordThe very same opts for E and E7 chords, which are mainly utilized ‘as is’ in their fundamental type. When playing D7, nevertheless, I utilize one specific inversion rather a lot, in some cases in a verse, however more frequently as part of an important break.

Slide as much as the chord from the 3rd fret to the 5th with the forefinger on the high E string and the 2nd on the B string, which ends up on the 7th fret. It’s appealing to utilize the pinkie for the B string, however if you utilize the 2nd finger, the pinkie is complimentary to play the 7th, 8th and 9th stresses to produce variations.

The contrast of the high notes of this variation compared with the fundamental D7 chord produces an interesting noise and becomes part of that mystical concept of syncopation, where and unanticipated modification in pace or sound happily surprises the listener. Presenting variations without exaggerating it (it can rapidly end up being a cliché) is an excellent method to make an easy blues tune more fascinating and interesting. An audience wishes to be amazed, however likewise have to feel safe and secure in the right musical structure.

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Here’s an article I wrote for Guitar Coach Mag a while ago:

Create a Powerful Old-School Sound with 3-Chord Acoustic Blues

Almost by definition, an acoustic blues in E is the original blues. Done right, it can send a shiver up your spine. If it’s below par, it can be incredibly boring to listen to.

Boring an audience is the cardinal sin of any performing art and playing acoustic blues guitar is no different. That said, the blues in E gives guitarists a bit of a problem, particularly an acoustic guitarist playing alone.

‘My first experience of acoustic blues was … basically a shuffle with … no redeeming features.’

Jim Bruce Teaching Acoustic BluesThere are only three basic chords, namely, E, A(7) and B7. Of course, there are inversions and hybrid variations, but if you stick to the basic chords (and many classic blues men did), then it’s sometimes tough to make it interesting.

My first experience of acoustic blues was in a UK folk club in the ’60s. It was basically a shuffle with no embellishments and no redeeming features.

After spending many years playing ragtime blues and Scott Joplin pieces I re-discovered the blues in E and A played by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscombe, Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson. The skill with which they created freshness out of basic chords fascinated me and I changed course into the ‘real’ blues.

‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscombe … they created freshness out of basic chords’.

Playing the ‘Real’ Blues with 3 Basic Chords

For this guitar lesson I’m going to take the basic chords and create a blues piece, showing how to add those subtle links between the chords that make all the difference to the listener. Once we build up a repertoire of these chord-linking fills, we can change the pattern every verse of a song and it suddenly comes alive. The structure is always the same so the listener is comfortable, but each time around there’s a new variation waiting, which means people are wondering what’s coming next as well – a perfect combination for maintaining interest.

‘Each time around there’s a new variation waiting, which means people are wondering what’s coming next’.

Above all, whatever you play, maintain that old blues feeling, possibly the hardest thing to learn in the first place!

In the video below I’ll play the tune and explain how the rest of the lesson will unfold:

Editor’s Note: Sadly, our site doesn’t support the click-and-play function for images intended by the author. Clicking on an image will show the full image file to make the tab easier to read. Click the play button on the audio file below each tab to hear it played out loud.

The Blues in E – Section 1

Tabs revised for accuracy on 5/27/2016.

Use the ‘heartbeat’ monotonic thumb strike – starting with the E chord.

Blues Lick in E

Section 2

A simple pattern to balance the bass work of the previous section.

Simple Blues Pattern

Section 3

Back to E – almost the same as section 1.

Acoustic Blues in E

Section 4

On to the A7 chord.

A7 Chord Blues Lick


 Section 5

Back to the E chord.

Blues in E


Section 6

Run up the basses to the B7 chord.

B7 Chord Blues Lick

Section 7

Spend a little time on A, using a bar.


Section 8

Finish off with a good old blues end tag and turn around ready for the next verse.

Acoustic Blues End Tag in E


Writing/Improvising Acoustic Blues

The trick is to explore and find other patterns you can use to replace the ones I’ve shown. For example, you could move right up the fretboard to a chord inversion of one of the basic chords, or double up on the timing when playing the treble strings. The structure is full of possibilities, and when you find your own variations, then your music will be truly authentic and unique to you.

Use Your Imagination

Finally, a word about a powerful tool for learning guitar, or anything at all for that matter, is the application of your imagination and visualization.

For 10 minutes before you drift off to sleep at night, really see and feel yourself playing fantastic guitar. Go over the things you practiced that day. See your fingers moving effortlessly over the strings in vivid colour and close up. Hear the music loud and vibrant in exactly the way you want to perform it.

When playing the old blues, imagine yourself in an old juke-joint. What does it feel like to be one of the original classic blues men? Imagine their trials and tribulations and how it was expressed in their music – BE one of those blues men.

‘When playing the old blues, imagine yourself in an old juke-joint. What does it feel like to be one of the original classic blues men?’

Of course practice and repetition is essential for those muscle memories, but the power of visualization is often overlooked and will work wonders for you if you apply it regularly and with focus.

Author: Jim Bruce

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