Intermediate 12-Bar Blues Riff

Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series - Lesson 5/12

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Welcome to the fifth video of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. In the last lesson, we went over the basic 12-bar blues riff. In this lesson I’ll show you how to dress up that blues riff and make it even more interesting. This lesson will show you what a little creativity can do for improving your blues rhythm guitar playing.

This riff has the same structure as the basic 12-bar blues riff we’ve already learned, but we’re going to add a few extra notes and some motion to it to make it a little more interesting. Since we’re still working with the standard 12-bar blues progression, you should know the first four bars are over an E chord.

Last time we started with an two-note E power chord, but now we’ll use a three-note version. Place your first finger on the second fret of the A string and D string, and strum the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings twice. These will be your first two swung eighth notes. Remember to use the muting technique from the last lesson.

Keeping your first finger in place, place your third finger on the fourth fret of the A string and play two more swung eighth notes. Now leave those two fingers there, place your fourth finger on the fifth fret of the A string, and play two more swung eighth notes.

Now take your fourth finger off, leaving your other fingers in place, and play another two swung eighth notes. This makes up the foundation riff to play over your E chord, and it finishes your first whole measure.

You’ll start measure two the same exact way until you get to beat three, where you need to play a regular E power chord. On the “and” of beat three we have a small tag riff, so keep your first finger in place for the B note on the second fret of the A string and play it with an upstroke. Move your second finger to the third fret of the low E string with a downstroke. Next hammer on the low E string with your third finger on the fourth fret. To finish this tag riff, go back to the B note with your first finger on the second fret of the A string with an upstroke. In the video you can see me play with tag riff with an upstroke, downstroke, hammer-on, and then an upstroke.

This basic riff with the tag takes up the first two measures of the 12-bar blues progression. Since we have four measures of the 1 chord we need to play this riff twice. Playing this riff twice takes care of the first four measures of E in the standard 12-bar blues riff. In the video, you can see what we’ve learned so far as I play those first four measures.

When we get to measure five, we switch to our 4 chord, which is an A. We’re going to use the same idea, but it will be a bit different. Start with an open A chord on the second fret, but use your first finger to cover the D, G, and B strings. Strum the inside four strings, leaving both E strings out, for two swung eighth notes.

From there, the next shape is a bit harder. Leave your first finger where it is and place your second finger on the third fret of the B string, and your third finger on the fourth fret of the D string. Play the middle four strings twice for your next two swung eighth notes.

Leave all three fingers where they are, place your fourth finger on the fifth fret of the D string, and play the middle four strings twice for two more swung eighth notes. Leaving your other fingers in place again, take your fourth finger off and play two more swung eighth notes. This finishes up your first measure of the A chord.

For the second measure of the A chord, you’re going to start the same way. Two swung eighth notes for the A, then put your second and third fingers down again for two eighth notes. On beat three you need to go back to just the A for one eighth note. From here, you’ll play that same tag riff again to finish off this second measure of A. This is a lot of information so far in this 12-bar blues riff, so take some time to get this under your fingers.

When you’re ready for the next measure, you’ll have the 1 chord again. Play the riff over the E chord again. Since it’s just two measures of E instead of four, you only have to play the riff once.

Next comes the 5 chord, and I kept this part of the 12-bar blues riff the same as the basic version we learned in the last lesson. Go to a B power chord for one measure and play the regular riff. Now we’re back to the 4 chord, so make an A chord shape again and play the first measure of the A chord riff from earlier.

We have one measure of the 1 chord next, so play just the first measure of the 1 chord riff again. To end the riff, we’re going to finish with the 5 chord, which is the B power chord again. Play just up to beat three of the riff over the B chord, and then play the tag riff to finish the “and 4 and” of the measure and the end this intermediate 12-bar blues riff.

Now that you’ve learned the entire thing, you can watch me play the whole riff along with the jam track. This riff is just an example of what you do when you get creative with the basic blues rhythm riff we learned in the last lesson. Once you have this down, you can take some time to experiment with it yourself. See if you can change a few notes or rhythms up and come up with your own version of the riff.

Pull up whichever jam track you think suits your skills right now, either 70 beats per minute or 100 beats per minute. Concentrate on getting this riff down and working on your timing. The slower jam track might be harder to find your groove with, but it will be easier for keeping up with the notes and chord changes.

Thanks for watching this video. In the next lesson, we’re going to move our focus from rhythm blues guitar to lead blues guitar. We’ll learn what could be the most important scale of your guitar career, the blues scale.

Next Lesson - The Blues Guitar Scale Shape