The 12 Bar Blues Progression

Ah, the most basic of all progressions. The rock to which (almost) all blues songs are anchored. The 12 Bar Blues Progression.

It’s a simple three chord progression that spans 12 bars in the blues. Once those 12 bars are finished, you simply repeat the 12 bars again and again. Lyrics come and go, solos come and go, but the 12 bar blues progression doesn’t. I’ve heard bluesman play on the same 12 bar blues progression for an entire show. For 2 hours. The same thing. Over and over. And it never got old. Why is that?

Well, the twelve bar blues progression is the basis for all blues songs. It contains the root, the fourth and the fifth of a key. That’s it. For example, in G, that would mean the only chords you would need is G, C and D. It resolves so nicely and so expectantly that it never get tiresome. In fact, if you were to try a different chord in a 12 bar blues progression, you would be struck with how out of place it sounds.

Let’s look at a real life example. Let’s say we want to play in the key of A. The key of A is very popular key for guitarists. You’ll need three chords: A, D, and E.

Let’s put them together.

As you’ll notice, the blues progression only has three chords and they move in a predictable way. Let’s look at a blues progression in E, also a popular key for guitarists. You’ll need the three chords E, A, and B.

Again, the movement is highly predictable, the three chords move in the exact same pattern no matter what key you are in.

Another thing to consider is that there are variations on the theme, the below example illistrates a common variation on a twelve bar blues progression in A. Note that the chords used are still the same, they are just in a few new places.

I hope this little article helps understand the most basic and fundamental chord progression of all: the twelve bar blues!

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