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5 Must Know Blues Riffs Perfect for 12 Bar Blues

Lesson ID: TB424

I’ve been obsessed with a good guitar riff since the moment I learned, Smoke on the Water.

From the early Delta Players to the flash of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the blues is full of great riffs. Countless blues songs are based around a single riff. You can take a short one-bar riff and plug it into the 12 bar blues pattern and you’ve got yourself a complete song!

How cool is that?

To get you started on your riff learning journey – or add a few to the pile – here are 5 great blues riffs perfect for 12 bar blues.

Try This Upbeat Chicago Style Pattern

You need a good upbeat Chicago sounding blues riff or two in your back pocket. This riff is a one-bar pattern using most of the notes of the minor blues scale.

View this riff as a moveable pattern and you’ll be able to change it quickly into any key. Change the root notes of the patterns. Here’s the riff in the Key of G:

The triplet on beat four can feel a little quick. If it’s out of reach for you at the moment, use a metronome in a smart way to improve your speed.

And of course, you can alter pattern without the triplet and skip the flat 5 note.

You might miss the blue-note sound, but it’s better to nail your timing than try to squeeze in a note.

Practice along with this drum loop.

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Put Some Swing in Your Step with This Texas Boogie

We’re going to Texas for this one!

This is like the riff in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, Pride and Joy but without the difficult upbeat scratches. This way, you get to know the structure of this fun, boogie style riff.

Try jamming with this pattern over this drum loop and focus on getting that swinging rhythm.

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Looking for something a bit more involved? Try this Texas Style Blues I put together for TrueFire’s 2015 Next Top Guitar Instructor.

Drop in The Groove with a Rumba Blues Beat

Albert King’s, Crosscut Saw is one of the best-known Rumba Blues tunes. With it’s roots in the Latin Rumba rhythm, it’s a strong departure from traditional blues shuffles. And it’s fun to play once you lock into the groove.

The tricky part for this riff is the rest on beat two followed by a syncopated accent on the upbeat. Practice along with the drum loops below to lock in with the groove.

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Test Your Picking with this Killing Floor Style Rhythm

This is one of the busiest rhythms in this lesson and it comes from Hubert Sumlin in Howlin’ Wolf’s band.

Like the riffs covered so far, this riff is one-bar repeating pattern. That makes this riff easy to transpose to other keys. Plus, when you can rock a single pattern for an entire song, it speaks to just how good that pattern is!

The trick here is the tempo. At 120bpm, the 16th notes in beat 3 can be a handful. Use alternate picking for this part of the pattern.

You’ll pick the four notes with a down-up-down-up picking pattern. This helps you stay close to the string and help you get it up to speed.

Practice along in A with the tab above or experiment moving this into a different key over this drum loop:

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But what if that 16th note section is still too quick?

Try altering the riff so that you can play it but still keep the overall sound the same. Here’s what I mean:

You can trade the four 16th notes for two 16th notes plus an 8th note – you hear this in Howlin’ Wolf’s recording.

If that’s still too fast, play two 8th notes instead.

You can tweak each of these riffs in small ways like this to bring it within reach.

Put Minor Pentatonics to Work Under a Bad Sign

Albert King’s, Born Under a Bad Sign is a blues standard for good reason. Well, a lot of reasons but here’s one:

It grooves hard.

Plus, this tune isn’t based around one repeating riff like the others in this lesson. The initial riff changes as the progression marches on.

King stays on the I Chord for 8 full bars so the riff needs to evolve to avoid getting stale. There’s a bit of call and response baked in.

After the first 8 bars, we fall back into the well known 12 Bar Blues pattern for the final four bars. Here’s the main riff:

The tempo on this one clocks in a 92bpm and the notes are never quicker than 8th notes. That makes this one a perfect jam along track.

Try it out over a drum loop:

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One Quick Reminder Before You Go

These riffs are fun to play.

But a great riff serves a song.

So make sure you know the most common song form in the Blues: 12 Bar Blues.

If you get lost in the changes, it’s time to brush up on the structure.

Know the pattern cold → Quick Guide to Learning 12 Bar Blues.

It makes everything we just covered more useful.

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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