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12 Bar Blues in All 12 Keys Intro


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12 Bar Blues In All 12 Keys

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In this tutorial series I've played a 12 bar blues over backing tracks in every key and at two tempos (80 BPM and 120 BPM). This is a valuable way to get used to playing in every key and comfortable with playing anywhere on the fretboard.

I play each blues with two goals in mind.

1. The first time through each blues (the first 12 bars) is a unique and specific approach to rhythm guitar playing. This means chords that outline the I-IV-V of a blues.

2. The second time through each blues (the next 12 bars) I take a solo. This means I play a collection of various licks and tricks that are an approach to lead guitar playing.

Remember that any of the chords or licks I play can be transposed to any of the other 11 keys other than the one I am playing in. I also vary the guitar, the guitar settings, the amp settings, the picking attack and dynamics each time to show how much variation is possible in the context of a simple 12 bar blues.

This is basically a concise summary of what I learned from performing in blues bands for 20 plus years, 4 hours a night in blues clubs, bars and dives. Since every tune is based on the same thing, you have to find ways of making variations on each blues so they are distinct from each other.

The rhythm guitar parts are especially helpful in doing this. Notice how each rhythm part really establishes the overall feel of each blues and makes it unique from the one before and after it. The lead parts are sometimes hard to do. Remember that I am just improvising and you don't have to do exactly what I am doing. The easiest way to learn lead guitar ideas from these lessons is to start with the basic pentatonic box shapes you already know. Start with the first box shape and put the "1" (the root note of the scale) on the right note for the backing track. Just start playing pentatonic and keep your ears open! Listen for what sounds good. Remember it, repeat it, commit it to memory. Listen for what sounds bad. Remember it, avoid it, commit that to memory!

You are on your way!

The idea is to get used to using a familar visual pattern in a new or different location. So, for example, you may be comfortable with playing blues chords or bluesy, pentatonic leads in A, but you are not so comfortable with A flat. But all you have to do is play the same notes, one fret lower!

The bottom line is that using these backing tracks can give you an opportunity to make practicing that A flat scale a little more fun or satisfying.

Obviously, if you can already play easily in all 12 keys, then this is more of general reference for you. Look at it like more tools or resources at your disposal to add to your blues chops.

Every one of the backing tracks in this tutorial series is a stereotypical 12 bar blues structure. The reason this progression is called "12 bar blues" is because there are 12 "bars" or measures - or 12 counts of 1-2-3-4. The basic pattern is presented here:

I (one chord) 4 measures
IV (four chord) 2 measures
I (one chord) 2 measures
V (five chord) 1 measures
IV (four chord) 1 measures
I (one chord) 1 measures
V (five chord) 1 measures

Also of note is that the last two measures is always a turnaround that walks up from the root note to the fifth scale degree.

Each key is done at two different tempos to give you a "slow blues" at 80 BPM and an "up tempo blues" at 120 BPM. Each lesson page has the MP3 backing track audio file I used to created the lesson. They can be used in the player at the bottom of each lesson page. Or you are welcome to download them and use them in a media player or digital audio workstation (DAW) and play or record your own 12 bar blues!

For more on how to play lead solos over blues using the pentatonic box shapes check out my other tutorials here:

Pentatonic Scale Basics

Pentatonic Scales: Boxes & Frameworks
Pentatonic Minor Scale Exercise: All 5 Shapes
Pentatonic Major Scale Exercise: All 5 Shapes
Connecting Pentatonic Patterns: Series 1
Connecting Pentatonic Patterns: Series 2
Connecting Pentatonic Patterns: Series 3

Blues Licks Using Pentatonic Scales

Basic Standard Blues Licks In A Minor Pentatonic
E Blues Rhythm & Lead: Series 1
E Blues Rhythm & Lead: Series 2
Major Notes In Minor Pentatonic Series 1
Major Notes in Minor Pentatonic Series 2
Major Notes In Minor Pentatonic Series 3
Major Notes In Minor Pentatonic Series 4

With all that in mind, let's play some blues!

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