1 4 5 - The Backbone Of Blues
Most major and minor key blues typically follows a simple formula involving just three chords. We can number these chords 1, 4 and 5. These numbers represent a relationship of chord degrees that reside in a given key.
The1chord, also known as thetonic, is typically thefirst chordin a progression andtells us the keywe're playing in. The 1 chord can be thought of as "home" in our progression journey. When you hear musicians say "take it home!", they're talking about resolving to the 1 chord.
For example, in the key ofGmajor, G major would be our 1 chord.
In the key ofGminor, G minor would be our 1 chord. Simple enough!
In blues, the 1 chord is always the same as the key name.
Another chord used in blues progressions is known as the4 chord, also called the subdominant.
In our key of G major, that would beCmajor.
In Gminor, the 4 chord would beCminor.
The final chord in typical blues progressions is the5 chord, also called the dominant.
In G major, that would beDmajor.
In G minor, the 5 chord would beDminor OR major (more on this variation later).
1 4 5 is essentially the backbone of blues. A fixed formation of three chords.
First, you should learn to visualise this145relationship in whatever key you might be playing. Conveniently, the visual relationship stays the same for any key, a bit like a scale pattern. We just position it at the appropriate fret for the key we're playing in.
The easiest way to visualise 1 4 5 is to first identify the root/bass notes of each chord on the 6th and 5th strings...
6th String Tonic/1
5th String Tonic/1
Tip: The 5 chord root is always one whole step, or two frets up from the 4 chord root!
Remember, that root note formation is movable depending on the key in which you're playing.
So if you were playing in the key of A major, simply position the 1 chord root on the note A (e.g. 6th string, 5th fret) and position the 4 and 5 chords based on the formation above.
Always start with the 1 chord and, no matter what that 1 chord is, the 4 and 5 roots will fall into place based on the above relationships.
Using A major as our example key, I might play the following chords. Start by finding your tonic/1 chord root (A in this case) and build an appropriate chord shape on that position (e.g. A major)...
Then, up to the 4 chord, building another typical chord shape on that root position (D7)...
And finally, the 5 chord, again using our relationships from earlier. Here I'm playing E7...
Of course, you can also use open chords if they fit within the key (e.g. A, D and E would!). But the above, 1 4 5 visual relationship is a quick way to determine which chords should be used in any chosen key.
Major Key Blues
Most blues you'll hear is in a major key. That means the first chord (the tonic or 1) in the progression is either a major chord or a dominant 7th chord (which is a major chord with an additional tone).
You can learn all about the chord types used in blues in a separate lesson. But below is a table showing you the 1 4 5 relationship in the five most common major blues keys...
Sometimes, the 4 chord is played as a minor 4 chord.
A typical example of this in the key of E would be: E, A, Am, E, B7, E. You could see this is mixing major and minor key blues. Experiment with using this variation in the different forms later in this lesson.
Many guitarists just use open chords or barre chords in their blues progressions. Remember also, for heavier blues styles, power chords are often used in place of full blown 7th chords.
Minor Key Blues
Minor key blues uses exactly the same 1 4 5 root relationship from earlier, but with minor chords instead of major/dominant 7th. Simply change the chord type of each chord to minor!
For example, an A minor blues progression would typically be: Am7, Dm7, Em7 (1,4,5).
However, sometimes a dominant 7th 5 chord is used to create more tension before the return "home" to the minor tonic.
For example: Am7, Dm7, E7.
In other words, we only change the 1 and 4 chords to minor. The 5 chord stays the same as it would in its major key.
Keep these variations in mind as you go through the examples below...
12 Bar Blues Chord Progressions
12 bar blues is the most commonly used blues form.
First, if you're not familiar with the concept of "bars", let's break it down...
Bars (also called measures) in blues can best be described as consisting of a count of four.
So 12 bars would be 12 x 4, before the sequence repeats. Here's how the first four bars would be counted out...
Below is an audio example of how those first four bars might sound. Each hit of the symbol represents a count. There's a count in (intro) of four beats before the bars begin...
And below is an example of the full 12 bars in action. In the below clip, you'll hear two 12 bar runs of a typical blues progression (key of E), with a typical ending. Try to keep the count in your mind as it goes - 1 2 3 4 etc.
Now, there are several variations on when the chord changes occur during the 12 bars. However, the overall length remains the same.
Let's break it down, bar by bar. Below are some of the most common variations. In the table you'll see the chord number (1, 4 or 5) in the sequence next to each variation (var.)...
So as you can see (and hear), the variations are quite subtle. But there are consistencies such as the 1 chord on the first, third and fourth bars, and the 4 chord on the fifth and sixth bars.
The 5 chord only comes in during the last four bars.
Blues influenced many derivative styles, but many stay true to the 12-bar form. Take a listen to this "rock and roll" 12-bar example which involves a stop-start section at the start of some of the 12 bars...
And a minor key 12 bar blues track. This one throws in an extra chord (can you identify which one?)...
The last two bars typically contain what is often referred to as the "turnaround". This is the climax of the 12 bar blues sequence that prepares the listener for the return to the tonic (the return home) and a new 12 bars.
There are a number of embellishments you can apply during these last two bars to enhance the turnaround function, but we'll cover those in a separate lesson on blues technique. If you listen to blues, you'll already be familiar with some turnaround variations.
8 Bar Blues Chord Progressions
Less common than 12 bar blues, the 8 bar blues form condenses the 1 4 5 sequence into... 8 bars!
Below are some common variations. Note that, in this blues form, chord changes can occur within the same bar, as indicated in the some of the variations below. When this is the case, the chord change will occur on the third count, in the middle of the four count bar. Listen to the examples to get your bearings...
Notice how that last variation starts on the 4 chord. This is commonly used as a bridge or interlude in a standard blues progression. In short, you don't always have to start on the tonic chord!
The audio examples are played at a relatively quick tempo. Often blues will be slowed riiiiight down, such as this 8-bar example...
16 Bar Blues Chord Progressions
An even less commonly used form, but still good to know about! 16 bar blues can be seen as an extension of the standard 12 bar form (four additional bars).
Some common variations below. Try chopping and changing chords. There are no rules as such, just ideas...
Blues can have more of a mellow groove. Take a listen to the following 16-bar example...
Jazz Blues Chord Progressions
Jazz often uses the staple blues chord progressions from above as the foundation and embellishes them by adding other chords from the diatonic scale, such as the 2 and 6 chords. It may also alter the chord quality on those degrees (e.g. from minor 7th to dominant 7th).
Plus, it often adds diminished chords, for example a half step up from the 4 chord position (e.g. Eb7 to Edim7). This is often referred to as a "passing" chord.
You can learn all about these other chord degrees back in the main section.
Some typical jazz variations on the 12 bar blues, in the common jazz key of Bb (B flat) would be...
Note that BbM7 with a capital M is an abbreviation for "Bbmaj7" or "B flat major 7th".
I'll cover jazz variation more in its own section, but the above examples should give you a solid grounding in jazz blues form, which you can build on in your own way.
Try transposing these progressions to different keys to challenge your knowledge!
Time for a cold one I think. If you've got this far, then you've hopefully learned something new about the flexibility of the blues form. But underpinning it all are those three simple chords: 1, 4, 5.
Master this relationship, and you'll be able to back up virtually any blues jam in any key.
What is an example of A 12-bar blues progression? ›
12-bar is a prominent chord progression often used in rock and roll. I Feel Good by James Brown and Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley are all song examples of 12-bar blues progressions. Other examples include Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, Hound Dog by Elvis Presley and Ball and Biscuit by the White Stripes.What is the typical 12-bar blues progression? ›
A 12-bar blues is divided into three four-bar segments. A standard blues progression, or sequence of notes, typically features three chords based on the first (written as I), fourth (IV), and fifth (V) notes of an eight-note scale.What is 12 8 blues progression? ›
12/8 Blues - Overview
The top number tells us how many of those beats are in a bar. So in 12/8 time we have twelve eighth notes in a measure. In other words, four triplets. We can count this as ONE-two-three, TWO-two-three, THREE-two-three, FOUR-two-three.
In whatever key you are in, 12-bar blues uses the same basic sequence of I, IV, and V chords. It is most easily thought of as three 4-bar sections – the first 4, the middle 4, and the last 4 bars. The first 4 bars just use the I chord - I, I, I, I.What are the 3 chords used in the 12 bar blues? ›
The standard 12-bar blues progression contains three chords. These three chords are the 1 chord, the 4 chord, and the 5 chord. Since we're in the key of E blues, the 1 chord is E, the 4 chord is A, and the 5 chord is a B. Now let's talk about blues rhythm.Is 12 bar blues Easy? ›
Now we know the structure of the 12 bar blues and how to apply it to different keys, we need to learn how the I, IV and V chords fit together within the progression. Luckily, this is nice and easy. The 12 bar blues is easiest to understand if you break it down into 3 sections – each one 4 bars long.What are the most common chord progressions in blues? ›
The primary harmonic structure of the blues is the I-IV-V progression, which derived from church music of the South. Unlike most tonal music, which uses dominant 7th chords (1–3–5–b7) as functional harmony, the blues uses them to add color, most commonly in a 12-bar form (FIGURE 1).What is the most common key for 12 bar blues? ›
In it's most basic form, it contains just the I, the IV and the V chords of the given key. It's important to understand that the 12 bar blues is a cycle and it is repeated many times during a performance. The blues is most commonly played in the keys of F, Bb & Eb.What key is most blues played in? ›
The two most common keys in blues music are E and A. There are others, but these two keys are the most common.What 3 basic chords are used in the blues progression? ›
The standard 12-bar blues progression has three chords in it – the 1 chord, the 4 chord, and then the 5 chord. In the key of E blues, the 1 chord is an E, the 4 chord is an A, and the 5 chord is a B. Let's talk about blues rhythm.
What are simple blues progressions? ›
There are different versions of the 12-bar blues progression – also called blues changes – but the simplest form uses 3 chords: the I, IV, and V. The most basic 12-bar blues is just 3 blues chords played in a 12-measure (bar) pattern. This progression, played on a loop, forms the foundation of the entire blues genre.What are the 3 chords in every song? ›
The I (tonic), IV (subdominant) and V (dominant) chords (primary triads) together encompass all seven tones of the tonic's major scale. These three chords are a simple means of covering many melodies without the use of passing notes. There are tens of thousands of songs written with I, IV and V chords.What is the 3 chord trick? ›
The three-chord trick refers to an idea in music theory where a song, phrase, or musical idea is most likely to be based on the tonic, sub-dominant, and dominant chords (I-IV-V) of the major scale. These three chords can either work as the structural basis for a song or as an accompanying melody.What chords are in C in 12-bar blues? ›
A 12 bar blues divides into three four bar segments. In its simplest form, it'll contain the tonic, subdominant and dominant chords. In the key of C, this would be C major, F major and G major.Is Led Zeppelin rock and roll 12 Bar Blues? ›
'Rock and Roll' is Led Zeppelin at their most nostalgic. A clear homage to the music that inspired the band in their youth, the second track from Led Zeppelin IV is a high energy callback to the 1950s, complete with a traditional three-chord, twelve-bar blues chord progression.What blues chords are in C? ›
What are blues chords? Your blues chords in the key of C are C7, F7, and G7. That's it! You only need to learn 3 chords to get started playing the blues, which is why it's the first style I recommend that students learn if they want to improvise or play jazz.What popular songs use the 12 Bar Blues? ›
- Robert Johnson - "Me and the Devil Blues"
- Bessie Smith - "Mean Old Bedbug Blues"
- Bessie Tucker - "Better Boot That Thing" & "Bogey Man Blues"
- Victoria Spivey - "Blood Hound Blues"
- Alberta Hunter - "Beale Street Blues"
- Memphis Slim & Willie Dixon - "All By Myself"
Notice how many of the most commonly used progressions use different combinations of 1, 4, 5 and 6. The 'Axis of Awesome' chord progression. This sequence is so famous it has its own Wikipedia page. It's the most popular chord progression in all of pop music and has featured in hundreds of incredible songs!What is the saddest chord progression? ›
A progression like Am-F-Em-Am makes for quite the depressing chord sequence and is used in "Requiem for a Dream".What are examples of blues progressions? ›
For example, an A minor blues progression would typically be: Am7, Dm7, Em7 (1,4,5). However, sometimes a dominant 7th 5 chord is used to create more tension before the return "home" to the minor tonic. For example: Am7, Dm7, E7. In other words, we only change the 1 and 4 chords to minor.
What blues scale is in F? ›
The notes of the F Major Blues scale are F G Ab A C D. It's key signature has 1 flat. Press play to listen to the scale. Click the virtual piano or the notation to hear each note.Did the Beatles use 12-bar blues? ›
"12-Bar Original" is an instrumental 12-bar blues by the Beatles. It was recorded in 1965, but was not commercially available until 1996 when an edited version of take 2 of the song was included on the Anthology 2 album. Prior to editing, the length of take 2 was 6:36.What scales are best for 12-bar blues? ›
Start with a scale shape
The minor pentatonic scale is a fantastic scale to jam over a 12-bar blues with, but by adding a few more notes you can infuse your blues with the slick sounds of virtuoso blues-meisters such as Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford and more.
What Notes Are Used to Improvise? The scale most commonly played on this blues is a minor pentatonic scale from the same root as the tonic chord. So this C Blues would be played with a C minor pentatonic scale. You can also normally use a C major pentatonic scale, and mix it with the minor pentatonic, too.What is the best open tuning for blues? ›
Both the blues and folk genres have leaned on open G tuning to deliver a rich, soulful sound. Classic rock (and even modern rock with classic rock flavoring), also uses open G to add a distinctive bluesy tone.What are the 3 elements of blues? ›
- it was common to include bent notes - usually the flattened third, fifth or seventh note of the scale.
- the performer often improvises over a chord progression.
- melismas are heard in many blues vocal melodies.
The short answer is … because it sounds great! All of that tension embedded into each of these three major chords by adding that minor 7th gives the blues its unique sound.What is the best blues chord? ›
E major is the most common blues key on guitar, so you could think of E7 as the 1 chord, A7 as the 4 chord and B7 as the 5 chord.What are the 3 most important chords in correct order? ›
The I, IV, and V chords are the three most common and arguably the most important harmonic elements in the musical universe. Built off of the first, fourth, and fifth notes of any major or minor scale, these three chords form the basis for much of the music found in several genres.What are at least three 3 types of blues music? ›
- Boogie-Woogie Blues. ...
- Delta Blues. ...
- Chicago Blues. ...
- Jump Blues. ...
- Soul Blues. ...
- Texas Blues. ...
- New Orleans Blues. ...
- Spice things up with your food and your music.
Is there A 16 bar blues? ›
The sixteen-bar blues can be a variation on the standard twelve-bar blues or on the less common eight-bar blues. Sixteen-bar blues is also used commonly in ragtime music.What are the blues scale chord progressions? ›
The Blues Progression and the Blues Scale - Introduction
The simple blues progression consists of three dominant 7th chords, I 7, IV 7 and V 7. The measure layout is as follows: I 7 (4 bars), IV 7 (2 bars), I 7 (2 bars), V 7 (1 bar), IV 7 (1 bar) and I 7 (2 bars).
The primary harmonic structure of the blues is the I-IV-V progression, which derived from church music of the South. Unlike most tonal music, which uses dominant 7th chords (1–3–5–b7) as functional harmony, the blues uses them to add color, most commonly in a 12-bar form (FIGURE 1).How do you write a blues chord progression? ›
The blues progression uses chords I, IV and V of the key you are in. In the key of E, the I chord is E7, the IV chord is A7, and the V chord is B7. The I chord shares the same letter as the key itself (an E7 chord when we're in the key of E).How many chords are used in the 12-bar blues? ›
The standard 12-bar blues progression has three chords in it – the 1 chord, the 4 chord, and then the 5 chord. In the key of E blues, the 1 chord is an E, the 4 chord is an A, and the 5 chord is a B.What is the most common key for 12-bar blues? ›
In it's most basic form, it contains just the I, the IV and the V chords of the given key. It's important to understand that the 12 bar blues is a cycle and it is repeated many times during a performance. The blues is most commonly played in the keys of F, Bb & Eb.What chord do blues songs end on? ›
Normally,blues turnarounds end with the V chord or a lick based on the V chord before repeating the progression. Blues endings replace the V chord with the I chord, as you'll see below. If you want, you can replace the last measure with one based on the V chord to create a similar turnaround.What is blues rhyme scheme? ›
There are generally three lines in the blues stanza—the second line repeats the first, and the third line brings home the rhyme. The lyrics are usually set to twelve bars of music in 4/4 time.