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EASY 12 Bar Blues Guitar Lesson In C

The 12-bar blues is one of the most used chord progressions of all time. In fact, if you’re a guitarist who wants to play popular music, this is one of the most valuable things you can study.

So today I want to share with you an easy 12-bar blues guitar lesson in C. The key of C is a perfect key to start with because it uses all-natural notes. This means these notes are not modified by accidentals such as sharps (#) or flats (♭) etc.

We’ll cover the chords and how to remember a 12-bar blues. Plus how to take a riff through the blues progression, and even end with learning the blues scale in C.

So make sure you’re tuned up and let’s get started!

What are the 3 chords used in the 12-bar blues? 

The 3 core chords to a standard 12-bar blues in C are C7, F7, and G7.

Here is how I would play each of these shapes. 

C7 is like a typical open-position C chord, but here we’ll put our pinky finger (in the fretting hand) down on the 3rd fret of the 3rd string like this:

F7 can be played as a bar chord at the first fret like this:

And finally, G7 can be played like this:

In the key of C, the 12-bar blues typically uses all dominant seventh chords. So in the above chords, you’ll see the 7 after each letter name. Let’s next take a look at how they are numbered as Roman numerals within the key.

C7 is the I chord in the key of C. This is a C major chord (C-E-G), slightly modified to a C7 chord (C-E-G-Bb) for a bluesier sound.

F7 is the IV chord in the key of C. This is an F major chord (F-A-C), modified to a dominant seventh chord (F-A-C-Eb) in a blues context. 

G7 is the V chord in the key of C. It starts with a G major chord (G-B-D), and then is modified to a G7 chord (G-B-D-F) in the blues. 

How to remember 12-bar blues?

The 12-bar blues progression can be tricky to remember at first. So what I like to do is break it down into 3 sections (each 4 bars long). The first 4 bars all stay on the I chord (C7)

|C7 | C7 | C7 | C7 |

Bar 5 is where we switch to the IV chord (F7). Here we’ll stay for 2 bars and then return back to C7 for 2 bars like this:

|F7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |

Then we get to the turnaround section. This is the last 4 bars, and here the chords start moving a little quicker. We’ll start with a bar of G7 and a bar of F7, and then finish it all off with 2 bars of C7 like this:

G7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |

So altogether the 12-bar blues goes like this: 

||: C7 | C7 | C7 | C7 |

F7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |

G7 | F7 | C7 | C7 :||

When you get to the end, simply repeat right back to the top and start again.

C Boogie Woogie Blues Riff 

Now that you have the chords and the underlying structure down for a 12-bar bar blues in C. Let’s next play a boogie woogie blues riff through this chord progression. Instead of strumming the chords, you can play a riff or bass line that implies the chord. For example, instead of playing the C7 chord, you could play this blues riff:

To play this riff start on the note C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. Then slide up to the E on the 7th fret of the 5th string. And then play the note G on the 5th fret of the 4th string.

The rhythm is syncopated. The first note is on beat 1. The second is on the “and” of 2. And the final note is on beat 4 like this:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

C      E       G

Notice how this uses the notes of a C chord (C-E-G). This is how the chord can be “implied” without actually strumming a chord shape. 

The next step is to apply this same pattern to each chord in the blues. The riff for the IV chord (F7) is going to start on the note F on the 1st fret of the 6th string. Then slide up to the A on the 5th fret of the 6th string. And then play the note C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. We’ll follow the same syncopated rhythm like this:

Notice how this uses notes from the F chord (F-A-C). For the last chord, G7, we can take everything we just did and shift it up 2 frets. So now we’ll start on the 3rd fret of the 6th string like this:

And again, notice how this uses the notes of a G chord (G-B-D).

Each one of these riffs should be dropped into the form of the 12-bar blues like this:

C riff (4x)

F riff (2x), C riff (2x)

G riff (1x), F riff (1x), C riff (2x)

Since each riff is just one bar long, it should match the chord progression learned above.

||: C7 | C7 | C7 | C7 |

F7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |

G7 | F7 | C7 | C7 :||

How do you play the C blues scale on guitar?

It’s important to note that when musicians say, “c blues scale” they are often referring to the C minor blues scale. This scale is great to use to jam and improvise over a blues in the key of C major. I know it’s weird (you use the minor over the major). But that’s just the way it works.

The blues scale is very commonly used in blues, rock, and jazz music. It’s similar to the minor pentatonic scale but has the addition of a flattened fifth (also known as a diminished fifth or tritone). The scale consists of the following notes: C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb.

Here is the breakdown of the C minor blues scale:

C: The tonic or root note of the scale.

Eb: The flattened third, giving it a bluesy or melancholic sound.

F: The fourth note of the scale.

Gb: The flattened fifth, also known as the "blue note." It adds a characteristic tension and bluesy flavor to the scale.

G: The fifth note of the scale.

Bb: The flattened seventh, another important blues note that contributes to the distinctive blues sound. 

This scale can be played at the 8th position like this:


There ya have it! A guitar lesson for playing the 12-bar blues in the key of C. By breaking down the chords, progression, riffs, and even the C minor blues scale, players can confidently jump into this wonderful world of blues guitar. Review this lesson often as you keep improving your guitar playing. And for another great blues guitar lesson check out How to Play the Blues Scale on Guitar next!

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