Blues guitar progression are the backbone of countless songs and have influenced myriad genres and artists over the decades. From the gritty streets of early 20th-century America to the global stages of today, the blues has remained a foundational pillar of guitar music. In this article, we will delve into three essential types of blues guitar progressions: minor, dominant, and altered chords. By understanding and mastering these progressions, you’ll be well on your way to capturing the essence of the blues and joining the ranks of legendary blues guitarists.

The Essence of Blues Guitar Progression

Before diving into specific progressions, it’s crucial to understand what makes a blues progression. At its core, a blues progression typically follows a 12-bar structure, divided into three sets of four bars. This simplicity allows for immense creativity and emotional expression. The most common blues progression uses dominant seventh chords, giving the blues its characteristic tension and release. However, variations involving minor and altered chords add depth and complexity, expanding the expressive possibilities of the blues.

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1. Minor Blues Guitar Progression

Minor blues progressions evoke a deep, soulful, and often melancholic sound. They are perfect for expressing a wide range of emotions, from introspective sadness to passionate intensity. The basic structure of a minor blues progression in a 12-bar format can be outlined as follows:

The Basic Minor Blues Guitar Progression

  • Bars 1-4: i (Minor tonic chord)
  • Bars 5-6: iv (Minor subdominant chord)
  • Bars 7-8: i (Minor tonic chord)
  • Bars 9-10: V7 (Dominant seventh chord)
  • Bars 11-12: i (Minor tonic chord)

Let’s consider a minor blues progression in the key of A minor:

| Am | Am | Am | Am |
| Dm | Dm | Am | Am |
| E7 | E7 | Am | Am |

Popular Variations

One common variation involves adding the iv chord in the turnaround:

| Am | Am | Am | Am |
| Dm | Dm | Am | Am |
| E7 | Dm | Am | E7 |

Influential Guitarists and Songs

Many blues guitar legends have used minor blues progressions to great effect. For instance, B.B. King‘s “The Thrill is Gone” employs a minor blues structure, creating a haunting and soulful atmosphere. Gary Moore‘s “Still Got the Blues” is another excellent example, showcasing the emotional depth achievable with minor blues progressions.

2. Dominant Blues Guitar Progression

Dominant blues progressions are the most recognizable and widely used in blues music. They provide a sense of tension and resolution that is quintessential to the blues sound. The basic 12-bar dominant blues progression can be outlined as follows:

The Basic Dominant Blues Guitar Progression

  • Bars 1-4: I7 (Dominant seventh tonic chord)
  • Bars 5-6: IV7 (Dominant seventh subdominant chord)
  • Bars 7-8: I7 (Dominant seventh tonic chord)
  • Bars 9-10: V7 (Dominant seventh chord)
  • Bars 11-12: I7 (Dominant seventh tonic chord)

Let’s consider a dominant blues progression in the key of E:

| E7 | E7 | E7 | E7 |
| A7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
| B7 | A7 | E7 | B7 |

Popular Variations

One common variation involves the use of a quick change to the IV chord in the second bar:

| E7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
| A7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
| B7 | A7 | E7 | B7 |

Influential Guitarists and Songs

Countless blues guitarists have used dominant blues progressions to craft timeless songs. Muddy Waters‘ “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Eric Clapton‘s rendition of “Crossroads” are prime examples. Stevie Ray Vaughan also extensively used dominant blues progressions in his music, such as in “Pride and Joy,” showcasing his virtuosity and deep connection to the blues tradition.

3. Altered Blues Progressions

Altered blues progressions introduce chromaticism and tension, adding a layer of complexity and sophistication to the blues. These progressions often use altered dominant chords (e.g., 7#9, 7b9, 7#5, 7b5) to create a more dissonant and jazzy sound. Here’s a basic outline of an altered blues progression:

The Basic Altered Blues Progression

  • Bars 1-4: I7#9 (Altered dominant tonic chord)
  • Bars 5-6: IV7#9 (Altered dominant subdominant chord)
  • Bars 7-8: I7#9 (Altered dominant tonic chord)
  • Bars 9-10: V7#9 (Altered dominant chord)
  • Bars 11-12: I7#9 (Altered dominant tonic chord)

Let’s consider an altered blues progression in the key of G:

| G7#9 | G7#9 | G7#9 | G7#9 |
| C7#9 | C7#9 | G7#9 | G7#9 |
| D7#9 | C7#9 | G7#9 | D7#9 |

Popular Variations

An interesting variation includes incorporating diminished chords to enhance tension:

| G7#9 | G7#9 | G7#9 | G7#9 |
| C7#9 | C#dim | G7#9 | E7#9 |
| A7 | D7#9 | G7#9 | D7#9 |

Influential Guitarists and Songs

Altered blues progressions are often associated with more modern blues and jazz-blues fusion. Jimi Hendrix was a master of using altered chords, with songs like “Red House” featuring his unique approach to blues. Robben Ford is another guitarist known for his sophisticated use of altered chords, blending blues with jazz influences to create a distinctive sound.

How Popular Blues Guitarists Use Chord Progressions

Blues guitarists have always found ways to make these progressions their own, infusing them with personal style and technique. Let’s explore how some of the most iconic blues guitarists have utilized these progressions to shape their music.

B.B. King: The Master of Emotion

B.B. King is renowned for his expressive playing style and masterful use of vibrato. His use of minor blues progressions in songs like “The Thrill is Gone” showcases his ability to convey deep emotion through simple yet powerful chord changes. King often employed the minor pentatonic scale to solo over these progressions, creating a smooth and soulful sound that became his signature.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Virtuosity and Passion

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s approach to blues progressions was both innovative and rooted in tradition. He frequently used dominant blues progressions, adding his fiery solos and rhythmic flair. In songs like “Pride and Joy,” Vaughan’s use of the quick-change variation and his aggressive playing style brought a new level of intensity to the blues, influencing countless guitarists.

Jimi Hendrix: Breaking Boundaries

Jimi Hendrix revolutionized the use of altered blues progressions. His song “Red House” is a prime example of how he blended traditional blues with psychedelic and jazz influences. Hendrix’s use of 7#9 chords and his groundbreaking techniques, such as string bending and feedback, expanded the expressive range of the blues guitar. His innovative approach continues to inspire guitarists to explore new sonic possibilities.

Eric Clapton: The Bridge Between Traditions

Eric Clapton’s work with Cream and as a solo artist highlights his versatility in using different blues progressions. In “Crossroads,” Clapton employs a dominant blues progression, showcasing his fluid soloing and deep understanding of blues phrasing. Clapton’s ability to seamlessly blend traditional blues with rock elements has made him a pivotal figure in the genre’s evolution.

Practical Tips for Mastering Blues Guitar Progression

To effectively master blues guitar progressions, consider the following tips:

1. Learn the Basics

Start by familiarizing yourself with the basic 12-bar blues structure. Practice playing and identifying the I, IV, and V chords in different keys. This foundational knowledge will be essential as you explore more complex progressions.

2. Experiment with Variations

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different variations of blues progressions. Try incorporating minor, dominant, and altered chords into your playing. This will expand your musical vocabulary and allow you to express a wider range of emotions.

3. Study the Masters

Listen to and analyze the playing of legendary blues guitarists. Pay attention to how they use chord progressions in their songs. Try to emulate their techniques and incorporate their ideas into your own playing.

4. Practice Improvisation

Improvisation is a key aspect of blues guitar. Practice soloing over different blues progressions to develop your improvisational skills. Use scales like the minor pentatonic, major pentatonic, and blues scale to create expressive and dynamic solos.

5. Play with Others

Playing with other musicians is one of the best ways to improve your understanding of blues progressions. Join a blues jam session or form a band to gain experience and receive

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We have 27 FREE guitar charts to help you learn the guitar fretboard. Learn How to play chords and scales with these free resources.

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