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Chords Used in Blues Music

In this guide, we'll unravel the secrets of blues guitar chords, equipping you with the tools to captivate audiences with your authentic blues sound.


What Sets Blues Guitar Chords Apart

Blues music isn't just a genre; it's a feeling, a state of mind that transcends mere musical notes. What sets blues guitar chords apart is their ability to convey raw emotion and tell stories without uttering a single word. The hallmark of blues chords lies in their simplicity yet profound impact. Unlike the structured cadences of classical music or the intricate harmonies of jazz, blues chords embrace rawness and imperfection, inviting listeners into a world where every note carries weight.

Exploring Essential Blues Guitar Chords

Open-Position Blues Chords

1. Dominant 7th Chords:

Dominant 7th chords, marked by their bold and assertive sound, are a cornerstone of blues music. In open positions, these chords offer a rich, resonant tone that adds depth to blues progressions. By incorporating dominant 7th chords such as E7, A7, and B7, players infuse their compositions with the characteristic tension and release synonymous with the blues.

2. Minor 7th Chords:

Minor 7th chords introduce a sense of melancholy and introspection to blues compositions. In open positions, chords like Em7 and Am7 evoke a haunting quality that speaks to the heart of the blues tradition. These chords are essential for capturing the emotional depth and vulnerability inherent in blues music.

3. 9th Chords:

Adding a 9th to traditional dominant chords enriches the harmonic palette of blues progressions. In open positions, 9th chords such as E9 and A9 introduce a sense of sophistication and complexity, elevating the overall texture of the music. These chords are favoured by seasoned blues players for their versatility and expressive potential.

Movable Blues Chords

1. Barre Chords:

Barre chords enable players to transpose chord shapes across the fretboard, unlocking a world of musical possibilities. In blues music, barre chords like the E form and A form allow for seamless key changes and dynamic expression. By mastering movable barre chords, guitarists gain greater control over their blues repertoire.

2. Turnaround Chords:

Turnaround chords serve as pivot points within blues progressions, guiding listeners from one chord to the next with finesse. Incorporating turnaround phrases such as the classic 12-bar blues turnaround adds depth and complexity to blues compositions. These chords are essential for maintaining momentum and cohesion throughout a blues performance.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Blues Chords

Mastering blues guitar chords is not merely about memorising shapes; it's about embodying the spirit of the blues and infusing your playing with authenticity and emotion. Here are some practical tips to help you incorporate blues chords seamlessly into your playing:

1. Feel the Groove:

Blues music is all about the groove. Before diving into complex chord progressions, take the time to internalise the rhythmic feel of the blues. Experiment with different strumming patterns and syncopated rhythms to find the groove that resonates with you.

2. Explore Variations:

While traditional blues progressions often follow a familiar pattern, don't be afraid to experiment with variations. Add subtle embellishments, incorporate passing chords, or explore alternative voicings to add depth and interest to your playing.

3. Express Yourself:

The beauty of blues music lies in its raw, emotive quality. Use your guitar as a means of expression, allowing your feelings to guide your playing. Don't be afraid to play with passion and intensity.

4. Study the Masters:

One of the best ways to learn blues guitar chords is by studying the masters. Listen to recordings of blues legends such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, paying close attention to their chord voicings and phrasing. Emulate their style and incorporate their techniques into your playing.

5. Jam with Others:

Blues music thrives on collaboration and improvisation. Find opportunities to jam with other musicians, whether it's at open mic nights, jam sessions, or online forums. Playing with others not only helps improve your timing and technique but also exposes you to new ideas and approaches.

6. Stay Authentic:

Above all, stay true to yourself and your musical voice. While it's essential to learn from others, ultimately, the most compelling blues music comes from within. Embrace your unique style and perspective, and let it shine through in your playing.

By incorporating these practical tips into your practice routine, you'll not only master blues guitar chords but also develop a deep understanding and appreciation for the genre. In the next section, we'll delve into advanced techniques and concepts to take your blues playing to the next level.

Advanced Techniques for Elevating Your Blues Playing

As you progress on your journey to mastering blues guitar chords, it's time to explore advanced techniques and concepts that will elevate your playing to new heights. Here are some strategies to help you expand your musical vocabulary and infuse your blues compositions with creativity and flair:

1. Extended Chords:

Experiment with extended chords such as 11ths and 13ths to add colour and complexity to your blues progressions. These rich, lush chords can create a sense of tension and resolution, adding depth to your compositions.

2. Slide Guitar:

Embrace the soulful sound of slide guitar to imbue your blues playing with a distinctive edge. Experiment with different slide techniques and tunings to create haunting melodies and expressive glissandos that capture the essence of the blues.

3. Double Stops:

Incorporate double stops – playing two notes simultaneously – to add texture and dimension to your blues solos. Experiment with sliding double stops and bends to create dynamic, expressive phrases that command attention.

4. Blues Riffs and Licks:

Develop a repertoire of blues riffs and licks to enhance your improvisational skills and add flavour to your playing. Study the phrasing and articulation of blues masters, and incorporate their signature licks into your solos for added authenticity.

5. Chord Substitutions:

Explore chord substitutions to add harmonic interest and sophistication to your blues progressions. Experiment with substituting chords within the 12-bar blues framework to create unexpected twists and turns that keep listeners engaged.

6. Dynamic Playing:

Master the art of dynamic playing to imbue your blues compositions with emotion and intensity. Experiment with varying your volume, tone, and articulation to create peaks and valleys that draw listeners in and hold their attention.

7. Call and Response:

Harness the power of call and response – a hallmark of blues music – to create engaging musical dialogues between your guitar and vocals or other instruments. Use call-and-response phrases to build tension and release within your compositions, adding drama and excitement to your playing.

By incorporating these advanced techniques into your practice routine, you'll not only expand your blues guitar repertoire but also develop a deeper understanding of the genre's rich traditions and expressive potential. In the final section of this guide, we'll recap key takeaways and offer some parting words of wisdom to inspire your continued growth as a blues guitarist.


As you continue your journey as a blues guitarist, remember that mastery is a lifelong pursuit. Stay curious, stay inspired, and never lose sight of the soulful spirit that drew you to the blues in the first place. With dedication, perseverance, and a love for the music, you'll continue to grow and evolve as a blues guitarist, leaving your indelible mark on this timeless genre. Keep strumming, keep bending, and keep the blues alive!

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Which 3 chords are commonly used in most blues music?

Most blues music relies heavily on the I, IV, and V chords, also known as the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords, respectively, forming the backbone of the classic 12-bar blues progression.

What are the chord progressions in the 12-bar blues?

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