12 Bar Blues Chord Sequences

(copyright© Hugh Harris 2002)

by Hugh Harris

About this book

This is the text of a small book by Hugh Harris on the subject of developing the twelve bar blues, published by PCJ, 25 SE5 8BN UK, and currently (February 2006) marketed at 2.25 retail. Music shops can use the email form to discuss any orders. The book also has useful chord construction charts on the cover, and a bar code that works - but no ISMN.


(This book includes a section on transposing and something about guitar chordmaking.)

Almost everybody who wishes to learn to play their instrument without reading music will come across a 12 bar blues early in the process, and plenty of people are quite happy to never go beyond this point. Others seem to just go on and on exploring the possibilities, not just for blues', but also for any piece whose chords they can either deduce or obtain from another player.

Although these are all 12 bar blues, they vary considerably in their details. The earliest example I have heard of a blues breaking away from the standard 3 chord formula was recorded in the 1920's, but variations have become commonplace in more recent years.

The sequences here go from the most basic blues sequence I know to the most complicated I can think up, and are in many keys. A person wishing to explore this area of music will get a reasonably extensive experience from within this one book. They are not the only 12-bar sequences you can do, but they may be representative of the general idea of blues.

Playing these blues', I hope, will make you want to explore the many further possibilities in the field of playing 'by ear', either from chord sequences or literally 'by ear'. A further two books showing the same sequences in all keys are being prepared for printing as this one goes to press. Enquire of your music shop or write to PCJ Publications, address below.

This book is not intended to be a tutor book. The principles can largely be found in a book called 'The Rudiments of Music'. Therefore, I will only say if you play a melody instrument (one which can only play one note at a time), the first thing to do if you want to explore these sequences is to try partial or complete arpeggios (see musical dictionary) of the chords named in the sequences at the points where they occur in the piece, and according to my ear the arpeggios virtually always suggest a tune or a variant on a tune. Playing all arpeggios one after another can be difficult but not impossible (remember that an arpeggio does not have to start on it's root note) - but rather rewarding. Once you have tried that, see what other notes (notes which are not in the arpeggio) you can play that still fit in, and which you can leave out.

If you play a chord-playing instrument try playing the chords and singing blues style words to them, and then when you are happy with that see what other things you can do - like picking out a tune from within the chords (which is where most tunes come from).

The 'turn-around' chord at the end of most sequences would be left out last time through.

Any suggestions for improving on this book would be appreciated.


(The upright lines are bar lines - 4 bars per line - and the small b's are flat signs. Repeat the whole sequence as many times as you like).


 	C	l	C	l	C	l	C	l
	F	l	F	l	C	l	C	l
	G	l	G	l	C	l	C	ll

2.	C	l	F	l	C	l	C7	l
	F	l	F	l	C	l	C	l
	G	l	F	l	C	l	G7	ll
(last time replace bar 12 with a C chord)

3.	C	l	F7	l	C	l	C7	l
	F7	l	F7	l	C	l	C	l
	G7	l	F7	l  *C    F	l   C   G7	ll

(last bar same rule as above sequence. It will now be taken for 
granted that this is going to happen on all further sequences 
so that you will not have to keep reading the same sentence over and over).

* Where bars have two chord names in them this means play half a bar of each chord.

4.	C	l	F9	l	C	l	C9	l
	F9	l	F9	l	C	l	A7	l
	D7	l	G7	l	C	l	G7	ll

5.	C	l	F9	l     C	  B7	l	C7	l
	F9	l	F9	l     C    Bb	l	A7	l
	D9	l   G7  F9	l    C    F9	l  C     G7	ll
(If you are having difficulty with the ninths, just play sevenths in their place - and 
if you are having difficulty with sevenths, just play the basic chords in their place. 
The sequence will still work.)

6.	C	l	F9	l   C   B7	l	C9	l
	F9	l	F9	l   C   Bb7	l	A7	l
	D7	l  G7  F7	l   C   F7  	l  C     G7	ll

7. 	C	l	F9	l   C    B7 	l	C9	l
	F9	l	F9	l  C  Dmin	l Emin Ebminl
	G9	lD9/ F7  G7* l  C F7	l  C   G7	ll

*The bar with three chords has a forward slash in it to show that the C9 
is played for 2 beats whilst the other two are played one beat each 
(that amounts to a total of 4 beats in the bar, as of course it should).

8.	C	l F  F#dim	l	C	l	C9	l
	F	l    F#dim	l	C	l	A9	l
	D7	l     G9	l	C	l	G7	ll

9.	C	l	F	l	C	l	C7	l
	F	l	F	l	C	l	A7	l
	D7	l G7  F7	l   C   F	l   C   G7 	ll

10.	C9	l	F9	l	C9	l	C9	l
	F9	l	F9	l	C9	l	C9	l
	G9	l	F9	l	C9	l	G9	ll

11.	C	l	F9	l	C	l	C7	l
	F9	l	F9	l	C	l     Amin7	l
	D7	l     Gaug	l    C    F	l C / G7 Gaug  ll

12.	C	l	G7	I   C   C#7	I         C7	I
	F	I        G7	I   C    C7	I	A7	I
	D7	I	G7	I   C    F	I    C   G7	II

13.  C  F7	I   C   F7	I	C	I	C7	I
	F	I   F#dim	I	C	I  Gmin  A7	I
	Dmin	I	G7	I  C   Fmin	I  C    G7	II
Up to this point, all the blues' have been in the key of C to keep things simple whilst making it easy to see how subtle changes can be made whilst still retaining the essential 12 bar blues. I now add a few in other keys ('type' refers to the C version you have already tried):

Type 4.	

	F	l	Bb9	l	F	l	F9	l
	Bb9	l	Bb9	l	F	l	D7	l
	G7	l	C7	l	F	l	C7	ll

Type 5.	

	F	l	Bb9	l     F	  E7	l	F7	l
	Bb9	l	Bb9	l     F    Eb	l	D7	l
	G9	l   C7  Bb9	l    F    Bb9	l  F     C7	ll

Type 6.	

	G	l	C9	l   G   F#7	l	G9	l
	C9	l	C9	l   G   F7	l	E7	l
	A7	l   D7  C7	l   G   C7  	l  G     D7	ll

Type 7. 	

	Bb	l	Eb9	l   Bb    A7 	l	Bb9	l
	Eb9	l	Eb9	l  Bb Cmin	l Dmin Dbminl
	F9	lC9/ Eb7  F7* l  Bb Eb7	l  Bb   F7	ll

Type 8.	

	Eb	l Ab  Adim	l	Eb	l	Eb9	l
	Ab	l    Adim	l	Eb	l	C9	l
	F7	l	Bb9	l	Eb	l	F7	ll

Type 9.	

	Ab	l	Db	l	Ab	l	Ab7	l
	Db	l	Db	l	Ab	l	F7	l
	Bb7	l Eb7  Db7	l   Ab   Db	l   Ab   Eb7 ll

Type 10	

	E9	l	A9	l	E9	l	E9	l
	A9	l	A9	l	E9	l	E9	l
	B9	l	A9	l	E9	l	B9	ll

Type 11.	

	A	l	D9	l	A	l	A7	l
	D9	l	D9	l	A	l     F#min7	l
	B7	l	Eaug	l    A    D	l A / E7 Eaug  ll

Type 12.	

	D	l	A7	l     D   C#7	l	D7	l
	G	l 	A7	l   D      C7	l	B7	l
	E7	l	A7	l   D     G7	l   D    A7	ll

Type 13.  

   G C7	I   G   C7	I	G	I	G7	I
	C	I   C#dim	I	G	I  Dmin  E7	I
	Amin	I	D7	I  G   Cmin	I  G    D7	II
From this point onwards it might be easier for you to look at how the notes on a piano or keyboard relate to each other mathematically (and notice that the distance {'interval'} between two white notes without a black between them is the same as the distance between a white note and an adjacent black note) and, using your intuition, it may well become apparent that all the sequences I have written out for you have things in common which apply whatever key they are in. The musical intervals ('distances' between notes - in this case between chords) become predictable because to be a twelve bar blues all the chords used have to fit into twelve bars, and because they all have a basic form which was stated in number one sequence, and which has been elaborated on as we have gone along.


Some instruments when you play a note written on the stave actually sound a different note to the note written. That is, an alto sax player will read C and play it, and then discover that it matches the note Eb on the piano instead of C (for instance). This can be very disconcerting until you realise that all the notes on the alto do the same thing, so all you have to do is know which one would actually match the piano C (A, in fact), and in due course you get to know what all the notes on the alto come out as on the piano. This is called transposing, and is used by only some instruments. The transposing instruments are named by what their C note comes out as on the piano. Thus the alto sax is an Eb sax, and the tenor, whose C matches the Bb on the piano, is a Bb sax, and occasionally you might come across an A instrument (but it is rare) whose C matches the A on the piano. And on even rarer occasions you might come across F instruments. But I think that is about all. The main thing from your point of view is to establish what key each player has to play in when playing with others. If the piano can only play in C, then the alto will have to try playing in A, or the tenor in D, etc., and of course the chord sequences will have to be adjusted into one key for one instrument and another for another (it took a long time, but I have developed the ability to read them in one key whilst playing in another). To facilitate this, here is a list of transpositions:

 'Concert' note	   Bb plays	   Eb plays	     A plays	     F plays
  (piano note)
	A	     B	            F#/Gb		C		E

	Bb/A#	     C		     G	              C#/Db		F

	B	    C#/Db           G#/Ab		D             F#/Gb

	C	     D		     A	              Eb/D#             G

	C#/Db      Eb/D#            Bb/A#		E	       Ab/G#

	D            E		     B		        F                A

	Eb/D#        F		     C		      F#/Gb            Bb/A#

	E            F#              C#		        G                B

	F            G               D  	      Ab/G#              C

	F#/Gb	   Ab/G#           Eb/D#		A	        C#/Db

	G            A		     E	              Bb/A#               D

	Ab/G#       Bb/A#            F		        B	        Eb/D#
With this chart (if you have the patience) you will be able to hand-write a chord sequence for any player on any transposing instrument as long as you have the concert chords to start with and as long as you know what key their instrument transposes to ('what the transposition is').

Footnote. I hope this booklet has been an entertaining taster. Books 2 and 3 have the same set of sequences but in all other keys between them.

Addenda. After this book was finished, I heard somebody behind a hedge in Westgate on Sea playing the following. I really did think it worth adding:

	C  E7	    I F  F#dim	I  C  E7	I   Am   C7	I
	F   	I	F#dim	I  C   E7	I	A7	I
	D7	I   G7   F7		I  C \ F F#dim I   C   G7   II
Guitars Whilst this book is not specially directed at Guitarists, it is likely a large number of users will be guitarists, so for those who do not already know here is how you can make up your own fingerings for a chord on a guitar:

The guitar (in standard tuning) is tuned EADGBE, the first E being the lowest string, and the frets raise the note of a string by half a tone per fret, with the consequence that once you know what notes are permissible in the chord you are making you can find all the reachable places where that note can be made with your finger (some chords use open strings mixed with pressed strings). The chord will not be the chord you want without all the notes in the arpeggio, but if you double some of those notes that won't matter, and neither will it matter much if they are in a funny order (ie C chord is CEG, but standard guitar fingering gives ECEGCE if playing from bottom up).

To make it simple, draw six lines representing the strings on a piece of paper and 14 or more lines across representing frets (first line being the 'nut', where the actual tuned notes sound because there is not a finger pressing on the string), and then name the notes to be obtained by pressing the strings at the frets. You can then have a few shirt buttons to put on the chart representing where you might put your fingers, and allowing for the fact that you only have four fingers and a thumb it will become apparent which chords are possible and which are not - all the chords with too many fingers and all the chords where the stretch is too great, plus any chords where fingers get in each other's way.

It is not usually desireable to try to make a six-string fingering for every chord, and most blues guitarists (I am not a guitarist so this is only from watching them play) seem to use four-string chords.

I will not comment on the 'one-size-fits-all' runs so many guitarists do, because I would like to believe you will be able to do something of your own by a bit of careful listening and applying the general principles of this book, and that you will find that more satisfying.

The choice of the key of C. The key of C is not ideal for all instruments, but of course using the tables you can transpose the sequences into any key you like if you have the energy for it, and later in the book there are sequences in other keys. The reason for choosing C for the original set of sequences was so that people could notice the 'evolution' from simple to less simple and how it worked, using a piano or keyboard (on both of which it is easiest to play in C).

Books 2 and 3 between them have 12-bars in all keys.

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this whole document copyright Hugh Harris 2002.