Learning how to play the blues on guitar is not that hard. This article will lead you through
its fundamentals with an introduction to the ever popular twelve-bar blues in G. Let's start with a
look at the standard twelve-bar blues, its chords, and the G blues pentatonic scale to get you
The following basic blues chord progression uses roman numerals to represent the chords of any
I7 | IV7 |
I7 | I7
IV7 | IV7 | I7
| I7 |
V7 | IV7 | I7 |
The roman numerals refer to the relationship of different dominant seventh chords in a
particular key center starting with I as that center. Notice that all chords are all dominant
sevenths, an essential part of the blues sound and key factor in learning how to play the blues on
Now, let's translate the roman numerals to chords in the key of G. I7 corresponds to G7. To
determine IV7, count up four steps from G: G-A-B-C one-two-three-four. IV7 is C7. Similarly V7 is
D7 G-A-B-C-D one two three four five.
The following chart lists the chords for common guitar keys:
Key I7 IV7 V7
G G7 C7 D7
C C7 F7 G7
A A7 D7 E7
E E7 A7 B7
You simply substitute the chords for a particular key into the twelve-bar progression with roman
numerals. To get you going, let's learn how to play the blues on guitar by substituting in the
chords for a G blues.
G7 | C7 | G7 | G7
| C7 | G7 | G7 |
| C7 | G7 | G7 ||
The blues is usually played in four-four time, in other words, each measure in our above chord
progression receives four counts of equal duration. You may also notice that the twelve bars of the
progression are organized into three phases of four measures each.
The simplest strumming pattern you can use for how to play the blues on guitar is to strum down
once four each count. You may also wish to choke the chord on beats two and four creating an almost
percussive effect with the muted strings using the inside part of the strumming hand's palm.
A big part of how to play the blues on guitar is the use of a particular scale for melodic lines
and solos, namely, the blues scale. The theory behind this scale and the sound it creates against
the dominant seventh chords is something you may want to consider later. In the meantime, learn the
quality of the sound, simply by playing.
The following pattern demonstrates a G blues scale. Although you can use the blues scales that
correspond to each of the form's three different chords, using the G chord's scale will sound good
against the complete progression:
To start to understand how to play the blues on guitar, build easy two and three note licks
using simple rhythms out of this scale. I usually ask beginner students to play on the first and
second string only using rhythms that fall on the beat. Here is an example of a melody you can use
for the opening four bars of the blues progression.
You could even repeat this melody three times to cover one full chorus of the blues. Play
several choruses varying it slightly for each one. You could also try changing the rhythms or the
order of the notes.
Playing both solo lines with this scale, and the blues chord progression above should provide
you with a good starting place with learning how to play the blues on guitar. The blues is a
fascinating form that has its own collection of sub-genres and variations that can provide both the
guitar player and listener alike with a lifetime of enjoyment and learning.