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Blues Guitar Lesson: Variations on the 12 Bar Blues


One of the most fundamental chord progressions that has shaped a near-endless number of songs in genres ranging from blues to jazz, rock, bluegrass, and beyond is the 12 bar blues. It’s a song form that is deeply rooted in American, and now world, music culture, and is an essential chord structure that every musician should know and explore.


In a past lesson, critically acclaimed guitarist, former Director of Programs at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, CA, and ArtistWorks master blues guitar instructor, Keith Wyatt, walked us through the most basic, fundamental version of the classic 12 bar blues chord progression. He highlighted pivotal guitar chords and fingerings for the progression and discussed introductory blues improvisational techniques that can be employed over this foundational song form. You can explore that lesson here.


In this online blues guitar lesson, Keith elaborates on his introductory lesson by teaching a few of the most common variations on the 12 bar blues form and provides different ways that you can spice up the progression. In particular, he outlines two variations on the 12 bar blues progression: the quick-change progression, which alters bar 2 of the form, and a common alteration to bars 9 and 10 in which the progression moves from the IV to the V chord.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play blues guitar from a master musician like Keith Wyatt? Try some free online blues guitar lessons now!


“There are some very common variations on the 12 bar progression that every blues guitarist should know,” Keith explains. “It’s quite common to add different changes to the standard, stripped-down 12 bar blues progression in order to create a different harmonic flow. Especially at slower tempos, folks will often add more chords to keep the energy of the song moving.”


As you continue to internalize the sound and feel of the standard, stripped-down 12 bar blues progression, as Keith refers to it, don’t be afraid to explore the vast array of alternative variations to the form. While veering away from the standard 12 bar progression may feel intimidating at first, familiarizing yourself with these common variations will provide you with the necessary vocabulary to play in the blues style, and will also help cement the 12 bar form in your musical memory.


“One thing that’s true of a lot of blues arranging is that nobody really says anything,” Keith explains. “You just have to stay relaxed, keep your ears open, and listen to hear where the bass player is going. Having knowledge of the most common variations to the progression will help you respond and make quick adjustments to your playing when you need to.”


To learn more about the different variations on the 12 bar blues progression, dive into this online blues guitar lesson from Keith Wyatt:


Variations on the 12 Bar Blues with Keith Wyatt:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play blues guitar? Through our comprehensive blues guitar lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Keith Wyatt, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Keith’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner guitar to advanced performance techniques, classic blues tunes, improvisation, music theory, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as blues guitarists and musicians.


Try out some free sample music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Blues Guitar Lesson: The 12 Bar Blues Progression with Keith Wyatt\

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