The Blues

Blues in an extremely important style of music because it has influenced nearly all music since its beginning, circa 1890 A.D. Certainly this rich heritage deserves much study.

This article is by no means meant to cover even a fraction of the blues. The purpose here is simple. Define a few key elements of the blues that every 21st century musician should know.  This will get you started.

The Blues Chord Progression

The most basic version of Blues has a very simple chord progression that consists of only three chords: the I, IV and V chords of whatever key the song is in. These chords follow a specific sequence over 12 bars.

I  IV  I  I

IV  IV  I  I

V  IV  I  I  (or V when repeating)

Since countless songs have been written to this chord progression it is something that really should be memorized.

Additionally, most musicians know this progression and you probably wouldn’t be taken seriously if you don’t know it.


Although the blues is rather simple compared to many styles that followed it, playing blues is no easy task for a beginner. Even someone well-trained in Classical music might find playing the blues quite challenging.

The reason for this is that blues music has lots of improvisation. If that is new to you, now is the time to practice and get it down.

There are 3 Blues Scales.  They are:

Major Blues Scale 1 2 –3 3 5 6 8

example:  C  D  E flat  E  G  A  C

Minor Blues Scale 1–3 4 +4 (–5 )5 –7 8

example:  C  E flat  F  G flat G  B flat  C

Jazz Blues Scale    1 2 –3 3 4 +4 (–5) 5 6 –7 8

example:  C D E flat E F G flat G A B flat C

If you haven’t already done this, practice improvising in 4/4 with triplet feel up to at least 80 BPM in a few different keys.

Pick a key and then practice the 12 bar blues progression with a metronome until you can easily play it several times without losing the beat.

Then, begin to practice improvising over the blues progression using the data below.

Practice #1 until you’ve got it, then go on to #2, etc.

  1. Major Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  2. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in minor blues)
  3. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  4. Blues scale of the chord you are on
  5. Jazz Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)


Have fun and do lots of improvisation and soon you’ll find you are well on you way to playing the blues.


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