Blues Guitar Lessons For Beginners – 4 Ways To Sound Awesome Quickly

Looking for blues guitar lessons? You’re in the right place! Let’s dive straight in and look at 4 techniques that will make your guitar playing sound drenched in blues.

blues guitar lessons

In this article you will learn:

(We’ll start with easy stuff and progress to intermediate-level topics.)

  • 3 chord voicings which will make you sound like a blues pro. (Beginner-level.)
  • The 12 bar blues progression. (Beginner-level.)
  • The blues scales and blues tri-tone. (Beginner-Intermediate.)
  • An awesome blues note to target: The minor 3rd. (Intermediate-level.)
  • Adding spice to your riffs and solos with the major 3rd. (Intermediate-level.)
  • 4 Blues riffs and backing tracks. (All levels.)
  • 5 classic licks from some of the blues greats. (Intermediate level.)

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Blues guitar lessons are probably my favourite lessons to teach. This stuff sound awesome, is fun to play and if you learn blues guitar you can use lots of the same techniques for rock guitar too.

Basically, blues guitar sounds great and it’s very versatile. We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this lesson so you may want to bookmark this page to refer back to in the future.

Let’s jump into the first lesson!

Blues Guitar Lessons #1  Learning The Blues Progression

One of the best starting points for all blues guitar lessons is the blues progression, also known as 12 bar blues.

This is a chord pattern that is heard in thousands of songs by artists like B.B King, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles….

Basically every popular blues and rock artist or band has used this progression at some point!

blues guitar lessons

Why is it called 12 bar blues?

A ‘bar’ is a segment of musical time and in this blues progression we 12 bars. Hence: ’12 bar blues’.

This trick is used so often and it’s essential for us to get this down if we want to get comfortable in blues-based guitar playing.

A 12 bar blues progression looks like this:

Ok, let’s look at the pattern. This is one of the best blues guitar lessons you can get under your belt:

The 12 bar blues progression

learn blues guitar

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Can you see the bar lines? (The vertical lines between each chord.) If we count the spaces in-between the bar lines you can see that there’s 12 of these.

It sounds like this (can you hear that there are 4 beats in each bar?):

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Listen to that audio a few times if you need to. It might take a little while to sink in but this is one of the most fundamental blues guitar lessons of all so you need to stick with it until you understand it! 🙂

blues guitar lessons

Note: This is a moveable pattern

In the above example we happen to be playing in the key of A. But we could be in any key – the PATTERN stays the same.

For example, if we were playing 12 bar blues in the key of B then everything above would simply be moved up two frets.

Our chords A, D, E turn into B, E, F#

The 12 bar blues progression is a PATTERN that can be used in any key. (The chords may change, but the pattern stays the same.)

Learning the progression

Throughout all these blues guitar lessons we’re going to be referring back to this pattern. It’s important you get comfy with these chords so you can follow along.

90% of the time, a 12 bar blues pattern will use just 3 chords.

For these 4 blues guitar lessons we’re going to be kicking around in the key of A, so we’ll be using these three chords: A Major, D Major and E Major.

Don’t worry too much about understanding ‘keys’ for now, just worry about getting these chords down!

Let’s quickly learn these essential blues chords:

A Major

blues guitar lessons

To follow along with these blues guitar lessons you need to master this chord:

  • Place your first finger on the second fret of the D string.
  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the G string.
  • Place your third finger on the second fret of the B string.
  • Strum from the A string!

Here’s what your A chord should sound like:

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If this chord is too hard for you to play, check out this article: 3 Easy Ways To Play The A Chord On Guitar

D Major

blues guitar lessons

The next essential chord for these blues guitar lessons is D. To play this chord:

  • Place your first finger on the second fret of the G string.
  • Place your third finger on the third fret of the B string.
  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the D string.

Here’s what your D chord should sound like:

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Too hard? Read this: 3 Easy Ways to Play the D Chord on Guitar

E Major

blues guitar lessons

The final chord you must know to play through these blues guitar lessons is E. To play this chord:

  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the A String.
  • Place your third finger on the second fret of the D String.
  • Place your first finger on the first fret of the G String.
  • Strum all the strings.

Here’s what your E Chord should sound like:

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For some easy E chords, read this: 4 Easy Ways To Play The E Chord On Guitar

Learning the 12 bar blues progression

Now we know the chords, let’s put them together in a blues progression. Here is our 12 bar blues progression in the key of A.

blues guitar lessons for beginners

Try and play this. It should sound something like this:

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Notice how we can loop the chords around and just go right back to the beginning? That’s the beauty of blues music, it can just keep on going. The progression is very satisfying and doesn’t need a ‘chorus’ or ‘bridge’.

This is a brilliant chord pattern to jam with and is a ‘universal’ chord progression used by musicians all over the world. If you want to jam with a total stranger, this is what you use.

Can you see now why this is one of the most valuable blues guitar lessons of all? I hope so! 🙂

One of the ‘problems’ with the chords we’ve used here is that when you first learn these chords they don’t sound totally bluesy.

This is where we can use substitute chords to make them sound bluesier! (And in the next of these blues guitar lessons that’s what we’re going to look at.)

blues guitar lessons

Blues Guitar Lessons #2 – Using jazzier chord voicings in our blues progression to make it sound awesome!

I’m going to show you a really cool and simple way in which we can spice up our chords and make our standard major chords sound more sophisticated.

This will enhance these blues guitar lessons and also any other blues guitar that you play in the future.

We’re going to use a very simple piece of musical theory to help our chords stand out from the rest.

blues guitar lessons

As I mentioned earlier, there are only 3 chords in a 12 bar blues pattern.

If we’re using the key of A, those 3 chords are A Major, D Major and E Major.

It’s Blues Ninja Time, so let’s turn these into ‘dominant seventh’ chords. That sounds scary and complicated but it’s not. This is just a slightly different version of the standard chords.

These are called substitutions and one the best blues guitar lessons you can learn is how to use them. Think of a chord substitution like a substitution in a football match.

easy blues guitar lessons

In a game the manager often changes a player half way through the match to bring on a fresh pair of legs or to add a new dimension or change the shape.

So how does this apply to these blues guitar lessons?

The original ‘player’ is your standard major chord and the substitute is your new dominant seventh chord. When we ‘substitute’ a chord we completely replace the original chord.

Dominant chords

Dominant chords often feature a number after them and you’ve probably already seen these chords. For these blues guitar lessons we are staying in the key of A so we’re going to use A7, D7 and E7.

Using dominant sevenths (A7, B7, C7, D7 etc) is a great way of making your standard major chords sound MUCH bluesier.

Let’s quickly compare the two versions to understand how to go full-on blues:

The standard A Major chord

blues guitar lesson chords

The bluesier A7 chord

easy blues guitar lessons

To play an A7 Chord you:

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd fret of the D String.
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 2nd fret of the B String.
  • Strum from the A string!

It should sound like this:

Can you hear how much more bluesy it sounds?

Here’s our standard D major chord

learn blues guitar

Now the D7

blues guitar lessons D7

To play a D7 you:

  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the G string.
  • Place your first finger on the first fret of the B string.
  • Place your third finger on the second fret of the E string.
  • Strum from the D string.

It should sound like this (I hope you can hear how these blues guitar lessons are getting bluesier by the minute!)

The standard E Major chord…

blues guitar lessons E7

…and our E7 chord

blues chords

To play an E7 Chord you:

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the A string.
  • Place your 1st finger on the 1st fret of the G string.
  • Strum all the strings.

It should sound like this:

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So just to re-cap and make sure we’re clear on the chords we’re using for these blues guitar lessons, if you’re playing in the key of A then you swap A, D and E (take them out completely) and replace them with A7, D7 and E7.

Here’s what this final bluesier progression sounds like:

Standard Major chords are great, but using 7th Chords is a great way of making your blues progressions sound more sophisticated and authentically bluesy.

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Blues Guitar Lessons #3 – Learning the ‘blues note’ & spicing up the pentatonic scale

In this lesson we’re going to be taking at a look at a ‘secret’ note that helps us sound like a blues god.

The blues guitar lessons we covered earlier were foundational. They gave us a base. Now we’re going to build on that base and add a sprinkling of awesomeness!

We’re about to move from chord-based stuff (rhythm guitar) into note-based stuff (lead guitar).

If you need a primer on lead guitar you should check out these two articles which will turbo charge your lead guitar skills:

For this part of the lesson you’re going to need to know the Minor Pentatonic Scale. We’re going to stay in A, so it looks like this:

blues guitar lessons

If you’d prefer to see it as a chordbox it looks like this. (We’re choosing to play this in A, so the ‘barred’ line, with the two root note on it, is on the 5th fret.)

Minor Pentatonic Scale

It should sound like this:

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Within this scale there are a few notes which work really great over a blues progression.

What we can do here is TARGET these notes in our solos and riffs to sound extra bluesy. This is one of the most fun blues guitar lessons so follow this closely! 🙂

The Blues Note/Tritone

There’s an important blues note which we need to know and it’s found in the blues scale.

This is what is known as the tritone.

The blues scale is the same as the Minor Pentatonic Scale except we add one note in.

Here’s what the blues scale looks like and this is another of those blues guitar lessons that you simply must master:

Blues Scale

Can you spot where the note has been added in?

In our scale we now have notes on the:

  • 6th Fret of the A String.
  • 8th Fret of the G String.

I love this scale which is why blues guitar lessons are my favourites! 🙂

We can add these notes into a lick to sound like a blues god.

Here’s an example lick which I’ve created which uses this note.

blues guitar lessons

It should sound something like this.

 

Ok, now let’s look some next-level blues tricks…

blues guitar lessons

Learn Blues Guitar – The Minor 3rd

Ok, now we’re going to look at a specific note within the blues scale.

We need to target the Minor 3rd here. Don’t worry too much about this term just know that it sounds great over blues!

We’re going to need to find out where this note is in our scale. It’s in 3 places.

  • The 8th fret on the low E String.
  • The 5thh fret on the G String.
  • The 8th fret on the high E String.

When we play lead phrases we can direct our attention to this note. This is one of the most fundamental blues guitar lessons of all, so make sure you take this one in!

Here’s an example lick which I’ve created that focuses around this note.

Minor 3rd Blues Lick

This lick sounds like this:

Notice how I’ve started with the Minor 3rd and used it as the second to last note in the phrase. This gives a great bluesy feel.

Learn Blues Guitar – The Major 3rd

In this next one of our blues guitar lessons we’re looking at another super-cool note that sounds awesome in a blues setting: The Major 3rd.

This isn’t in our Minor Pentatonic Scale however it is VERY close by.

This note is on the 6th Fret of the G String.

So just like our Minor 3rd we can create a lick which surrounds this cool blues note.

Have a go at learning this one (we’re stepping up the difficulty here!):

Major 3rd Lick blues guitar

It should sound like this.

Don’t worry if you can’t get this riff down. It’s quite intricate. The important thing is you can see the NOTES we’re using here. You can play around with these notes and improvise to your heart’s content because you KNOW they’ll work in a blues setting.

ACTION POINT: Try and improvise with these notes over a backing track. Type “blues backing track in A” into YouTube and you’ll find dozens of cool backing tracks you can improvise over.

Combining What We’ve Learned Into One Awesome Blues-fest!

As well as using all these notes on their own we can combine all of what covered to sound like we’re totally bluesy.

Here’s an example where I play over a backing track using all three licks (and the chords we covered earlier).

Hopefully you can hear how bluesy it sounds and understand how we built this up through chords, the 12 bar progression and then using some bluesy notes to add spice.

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Have a go at mixing these licks up, they sound great together. The best way to learn these licks is to use them and mix them up. Play around with them. Make mistakes and notice new patterns, that’s all part of the fun!

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Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

Blues Guitar Lessons #4 – Learning from the greats

I often get students saying to me:

“I’ve learnt the right scales that work over blues, but I don’t sound good! What am I doing wrong?”

The most important lesson I learned when playing the blues was to borrow and learn phrases from my favourite guitar players.

Sometimes when I tell people this they say: “But isn’t that stealing? You’re not being creative and original if you’re stealing from other guitarists…”

The reality is that ALL musicians borrow ideas from other musicians and use them in their own music. It’s how music works. And it’s also a great way to sound awesome quickly.

Some Classic Blues Riffs and Licks

For the last of these blues guitar lessons I’ve transcribed a few licks from some blues icons, which you can learn and use in your own guitar playing.

Luckily for us, they’re all in the key of A so we can drop these licks straight into our A Blues progression that we’ve been working on throughout this lesson. (You might not be one of the blues greats just yet, but you’re on the road amigo!)

Lick 1

This a lick in the style of Eric Clapton.

And looks a little something like this..

blues guitar lessons eric clapton

And sounds like this..

Watch out for that small bend on the 7th fret of the G string at the start! That’s a classic Clapton trick.

Lick 2

This is a lick in the style of B.B King and looks something like this.

bb king blues guitar lessons

And it sounds like this:

Lick 3

This is a lick from guitar god Jimi Hendrix, it looks like this:

blues guitar lessons Jimi Hendrix

And sounds like this:

Watch out for that full bend on the 7th fret of the G string!

By learning these licks, you can use these ideas in your own playing and become inspired to be a blues god.

Keep ‘layering’ up your knowledge

Blues guitar lessons like those we’ve covered today just add one layer. Keep learning and you add layer after layer. That’s how you make progress. Don’t worry about learning everything. Just add the next ‘layer’.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen and learn from your musical heroes. Not only is it inspiring, but the amount you learn from actually playing what they played is incredible.

Click here to download this lesson’s worksheet to save or print for future reference

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learn blues guitar

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

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We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

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