Lets Play Some 12 Bar Blues Rhythm Guitar

Picture this, you’re jamming a 12 bar blues ripping it up with a killer improvised solo on your acoustic guitar. You finish and go to play the rhythm while someone else takes a solo. What do you do to keep things interesting, and to inspire whoever is soloing over your rhythm playing?

Hopefully you have a little more to offer than the same old chord forms and strumming patterns. If not, this is something you need to fix, as it’s a great in-balance in your playing that is never good. In fact it’s very common to hear players excel in the soloing department, and really struggle on the rhythm side of things. Yet, generally speaking, rhythm guitar is what we do the majority of our time when playing music.


12 bar blues guitar

Blues is a great vehicle to start developing your rhythm guitar chops as it’s the universal language amongst musicians. Everybody can play through a 12 bar blues, and it’s often the go to thing to do when first meeting up with someone for a jam. There have been many times in my own life where I have literally just met someone and within minutes we are jamming out a blues together, sometimes in actual gig situations. It’s great fun to do!

However, as stated previously, you need more than just soloing and improvisational skills to really cut it. The rhythm side is just as important and today I’m going to show you 3 awesome ways you can approach a 12 bar blues when playing the rhythm. You will be able to take these ideas into your next jam and blow everyone away as you yourself won’t just sound better, but everyone else playing with you will too.

The 12 Bar Blues Progression

A 12 bar blues is something most guitar players learn very early on. Today we will work in the key of G. Here is the progression:

|G7 | | | |C7 | |G7 | |D7 |C7 |G7 |D7 ||

Now, there is nothing wrong with reading your way through this chart playing open or bar chords. The problem is if this is all you can do. As you can imagine, that would get pretty boring, pretty quickly, not just for yourself who is playing the chords, but for the person soloing over them too.

Unfortunately, many guitar players can only do this (ie. play basic chord forms) when put on the spot to play a 12 bar blues, whether it be at a jam or in a gig situation. It’s a shame because there is so much more you can do with a 12 bar blues as far as the rhythm guitar part is concerned.

The other thing to consider when developing your rhythm guitar chops is the benefits it has for those you play with too. I know that I have always improvised my best when I am playing with a great rhythm guitar player. It gives me so much more to feed off, and you can bet I will be seeking that player out again to jam with, or perhaps form a band.

So, if you want to be the player everyone wants to play with, develop your rhythm guitar playing!

Let’s get into it…

1. Adding A Touch Of Jazz To The Blues

Jazz and blues are closely related, and the styles actually cross over with what is commonly known as a jazz blues progression. This is also 12 bars in length and typically uses more chords than your standard 12 bar blues. I love adopting this approach when playing the rhythm part to a blues. It really brings out some cool sounds when you solo over it.

Here is a 12 bar jazz blues progression in our key of G:

|G7 |C7 |G7 |Dm7 G7 |C7 |C#dim |G7 |E7 | Am7 |D7 |G7 E7|Am7 |D7 ||

As you can see and hear there are more chords in our example above, however we are playing the same 12 bar form. In the jazz world it is very common to substitute chords into a progression. While it’s beyond this article to go into detail regarding this, the above progression is a great way to introduce some more chords you can use in your rhythm guitar playing. This is true not just for a blues but for other areas of your playing too.

With that being said, learn the example above and start getting some of these chords into your ears and your fingers so they become part of your rhythm guitar playing arsenal you can draw from when playing/jamming.

2. Rhythm Riffs For Your Blues Playing

One alternative approach to strumming chords all the time is to use riffs in your blues rhythm playing. These are known as rhythm riffs funny enough, and are great for creating a part that will work well in line with someone improvising over them. When you have some rhythm riffs down in your playing it would be a good idea to create variations of them.

3. Using Block Chords In Your Blues Progression

Block chords are another great way to approach playing the rhythm part of a blues progression. I remember when I first came across these guys many years ago and literally applying them to everything and anything I could. I loved the possibilities I could do with them and they were the first kind of chord I really understood after learning open and bar chords.

These chords are sometimes referred to as 4, 3, 2, 1 voicings in relation to the strings they fall on.

What To Do Next

Your first step is to get each example down above. This may take a little time, which is fine, just don’t rush it. Once you have however, there is more you should and can do.

I purposely kept the examples in this article in the same key. This was so you could more easily connect them together. Once you have these rhythm approaches down, you then want to apply and connect them together. This is vitally important if you want to make anything in this article part of your own guitar playing.

I can’t stress this point enough.


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Apply the things you learn, over and over, in many different musical contexts. Also mix the things you learn together too. By doing this you will inadvertently come up with your own variations which is the whole point. Your aim is to be able to play and improvise through a blues coming up with varying rhythm parts as you progress from one chorus to another.


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