Blues Guitar Institute

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Use More of the Fretboard with this 12 Bar Blues

Lesson ID: TB254

In this video. I’m going to take your note-for-note through a cool fingerstyle, 12 bar blues in E.

The piece we’re going to break down is the example from Tuesday Blues #252. That lesson was all about using different chord voicings, different shapes of chords to expand your comfort zone on the fretboard.

Here today, we’re going to take that example that really put that to use and we’re going to cover it note for note.

So let’s get started by having a look at a few key points about the structure of our example:


We’ll play this in a traditional 12 bar blues pattern.


This piece is played fingerstyle.  Most importantly, your thumb is keeping the beat using a steady bass technique.  You can learn more about the steady bass technique along with other fingerstyle fundamental movements here:

Fingerstyle Fundamentals

In short, the bass gets a palm-muted quarter-note pulse with the thumb. Then you move through the chords of our 12 bar blues pattern playing the lowest note from the chord with this steady bass technique.

What about the other fingers?

I play mostly with a thumb a three-finger picking style because I like the options that it brings, but in this case, there’s quite a lot of brush ups (strumming lightly and upward with the index finger).  Because of this, you can play this tune almost entirely with the thumb and index finger.

Key and Chord Choice

This example is in the Key of E, so our chords are going to be E or E7, A7 and also B7. As we discussed in Tuesday Blues #252, we will use different chord voicings of these chords to play this in different spots on the fretboard.


The very first measure. We’re going to start out by sliding into this alternate voicing for an E7, okay? So there’s this little shape, a very handy little shape, and what we’re going to do is play with the bass and use the index finger on the picking hand to brush up in a triplet rhythm.

All right, so that triplet just means that there three subdivisions of a quarter note. Okay,? So in the space of a quarter note, we’re going to play three beats. Okay? The triplet. That’s the way I like to count them out, okay? You might’ve heard it done another way, but that saying the word triplet gets in my brain, it helps me out. So I’m sliding in and I’m going to do that twice. And then on beat three, I’m just going to pinch and do a pair of eighth notes there to kind of break that triplet rhythmic feel. So the first three beats are one triplet two triplet, three and.

Then we hit the bass by itself and that’s the open sixth string. And then for the very last moment of bar one, you’re going to do a very quick hammer on. Think of this is like a pickup note as we head into the next measure, bar two. What we’re going to do is generally think about this E major and then E7 shape really, right here on the fretboard. Okay, so we want to hammer in with that first finger and get ready to put these fingers down for the chord. This can help you smooth out the transition from bar one bar two.

So as you’re hammering in, I want you to think about E. You’re really going to need to be in this E shape, and more specifically this E7 shape, with your little finger down on the third fret of the second string. It’s the D note, the flat seven of E, gives it that bluesy dominant seventh characteristic. Okay? And you really want to be there because for the very first beat of bar two, what we’re going to do is play those top couple of strings. Okay? A little double stop there, just means playing two notes at a time, and so it’s pinching with the bass, and then brushing up through those two strings again, without the bass. There we go. Then we sneak this little finger back to the second fret. All right?

Pinch with the bass and then pick up to play the open first two strings, meaning first string, second string. Okay? So that bar two can be a little bit tricky, but if you really focus on nailing that transition and hammering in with the whole chord shape in mind already, it’s really going to help you out. All right? Then we hit the bass by itself and then we do just a very simple little bass move, so we hit the bass. Then with my index finger, I’m picking the fourth string, second fret. So a little octave work there. Then if you can do it, pick up and move your little finger to the third fret of the sixth string and then back to that same E octave. If you can’t, no problem, and kind of getting out of shape here and doing it like that. Okay. Whatever works for you, whatever sounds best, whatever gets the notes working. Okay?

All right. For the next pair of bars, bars three and four, it really kind of pulls back from the idea that we established in bars one and two. Okay? There’s just one real small modification and it happens in the first beat of bar three. All right. Instead of launching right into the triplets like we did before in bar one, what we’re going to do is hit the open six string for the first beat by itself and on the end of that beat, beat one, hit the open first string. Okay. And here again, come on through and hit the open second string as well. It’ll sound pretty good. Then what we’re going to do is play one set of triplets. Now we’re at beat two, so we really just replaced that first set of triplets in beat one bar one with this, in beat one bar three. Okay? Then continue as usual.

All right. Everything from that point forward is the same. It links together and it kind of helps to establish where we’re going. That musical idea that we’re trying to develop here. All right? So now I think we’ve got four bars under our belt. So I think it’s a good idea to play this through on the slow side and let you hear how the idea develops. So let’s do that now. One, two, three, four.

All right. I did something a little sneaky right there at the end of bar four. I played the same notes, but I’m trying to set myself up for a transition. Sometimes it’s these little things that make chord changes go a lot smoother. Okay? And what I did was, while we were doing this before, we played this lick by just planning that E chord shape down and not moving out of it. Well now I’m going to A, so what I can do is use that moment in time when I’m bending and just playing that third fret on the sixth string that G note, to get out of that, notice how these two fingers just kind of come up off the fretboard and make room for that index finger to come down there. All right?

But now I’m in a great position to play this A chord. Okay? So now let’s move on and check out what we’re going to do over the A chord. There’s two bars of A here, so this is going to be bars five and six, and I’ll play into it from that little bass move. All right. So what we’re doing here is getting into this A chord, like we talked about already. We hit the bass by itself and then we do some brush ups. Top three strengths, okay? And when I say top, this is the top, the treble side of the guitar. Okay? The lighter three strings, strings one, two and three in this case. Okay? So I’m playing the bass, which is now the fifth string.

And then this is my chord. I’m bowing across the second fret and just go ahead and bar across all four strings, but you’re going to put your finger down on the G note. Third fret, first string. Okay? And from time to time, you’ll see me play it like this, but right here it pays to have your middle finger playing that third fret on the first string because we’re going to stretch out, and do this long A shape and you probably see already why we call it the long A. Okay? Use the tongue in the blues. It’s one to get to know. All right? But we’re going to start with this A7 shape here. Doing those brush ups and we’ll reach out and catch that A note on top giving this a real nice, solid A sound. So let’s get into this.

Notice how the bass kept plodding along on beat through that measure. Okay? On beat four, we hit the bass by itself and then on the end, we reach to the fourth string with the index finger and slide up to the fifth fret. This is where we’re going to start splitting the chord voicings, these chord shapes. We’re going to move from this up to this shape here. Okay? And we cover this in a few different lessons, but if you’re not familiar with this version of an A7, it’s a handy one to know you probably already know this D chord shape here, but move that, shift that down a string set so that you’re on four, three, and two, and then you’ve got really the guts or the shell of a seventh chord. All right? That you can move around and if you move it to the fifth fret, where your index finger is on the fifth fret, then you’ve got an A7. All right, so a very cool, useful, movable mini chord shape for our seventh chord.

So we’re going to hit that the top of bar six here. Okay, we slide in and when we get there, we’re going to pinch with the bass and the index finger. The index finger is going to drag through your strings two and three here. Then on the end of one, hit the sixth fret on the third string. Okay? You should be there. So hit that. Then for beat two, we’re going to flatten that entire chord shape down and do the same thing. This time, you want to try to strum through and hit that fourth string as well. Okay? Then come back up.

Now here, we’ve pinched, on the end of three and then we pinch on the fifth string and first string. And then what we’re going to do is hammer back into our E. Okay? So this hammer on happens at the very end of bar six, on our way to seven. Okay? Seven, we’re moving back to E. So just go ahead and get in this position. Just get back in the E home base and watch what happens when we get there.

All right. Now I played through the chord change there because I want you to see where we’re going and we’re going to use that same move right at the end of bar six, where we finish up on the A chord. We’ve done this. Right? This deal. Then on the very last beat, the end of four, we’re going to do that hammer on and move ourselves back into E. Here what we’re going to do is that hammer on, the bass, and the open string before jumping into, you guessed it, a set of triplets.

All right? Then what we’re going to do is that same move. So I want to make sure that we get this right. So let me play through our A chord transition to E and let you see how the parts which you’ve already covered fit together. Okay, so here we go. Starting with our A chord.

Now here is one difference. Okay? We’ve made it all the way up to the point where we’re trying to transition into our B7 chord. All right. So a cool little move to get us into our B7 chord. Okay, we’re going to utilize this tone. We step into it using this bass move that we’ve been doing, but we’re going to stretch it a little bit so that we can make this work as you transition into B7, all right? So we’re going to make sure that we get that first fret, fourth string there. All right? And then, now we’re really into our B7 bar, so hit that bass. Fifth string, second fret, and then two brush ups on the top three strings under the chord. Focus on the chord, but we’re going to split it. It adds a little dark and light to the part where you hit the bass and then the treble side. Okay?

Then what we’re going do is slide up into the fourth fret, because here what we’re going to do, is getting out at this position, stay in B7, but move up here. Okay? So what we’re going to do is slide from the second fret up to the fourth on the fourth string. And when you get there, go ahead and bar and get into this shape. Same thing we’ve done here in A, but now we’re going to do it in B, okay? And then we’re going to brush up through a really similar chord melody to what we did here, where we just toggle between our A7, excuse me, B7 up here, to the B major sound and then back. Okay?

All right, and from here what we do is walk into our A7. All right? So I’m just on the fourth string. We’re going to do a lot of work here on the fourth string, so move into that. Then you’re going to hit the rest of that chord, that little shell, A7 chord. Then we keep walking up that four string and there we’re going to do a brush up, top three strings, but now we’re playing this A7. Really this, and if you shift that up, you’ve got to put your index finger down and you can move that all over the place. And here’s our A, so that’s our root for this chord. It’s an A7. Definitely a usable bluesy sound. Okay? And we’re just walking up from here to get there, but I want to keep going. All right? To get us to a really cool spot to start the turnaround.

All right? So let’s take a look at that climb and how we’re moving from this B7 all the way up here to start our turnaround and then we’ll cover the turnaround. All right. So once we get here to this B note, fourth string, ninth fret, we’re going to do this move, which is a classic blues turnaround. Think Robert Johnson, where we’ve got our root, the E, being toggled, being pedaled over a descending line. This descending line’s happening 12, 11, 10, then back to that B, okay? Then all we’re going to do, to finish this up is go down to the fifth fret and walk up to the seventh fret. But we’re going to get into that seventh chord shape.

But I hope by now you can guess what this seventh chord shape is. Okay? This was A, that makes this B. So this is a B7 here and we’re going to hit it, let it hang for a minute, especially if you’re just going to play this 12 bars one time, build some suspense before moving into this chord, which I hope by now you can figure out what this court is, right? We’ve moved here from A, B, and if we move that whole thing up here to the ninth fret and if you’re really paying attention, your root in these chord shapes has been on the third string. There’s an A right there, A7, A major, B, A7, B major. So what do you think this one’s going to be? E. So we’re going to land there and resolve on this nice E chord here.

All right. So a couple of things before we sign off, and this is important, so don’t go anywhere. If you breezed through this and maybe it was a little easy for you, then that’s great. That tells you a little bit about where you are in your development, but I would say use it as a way to just conceptualize moving and connecting different parts of the fretboard. That’s some next level stuff that will come in handy throughout the rest of your guitar journey for sure. Now, if you found this a little bit challenging, a couple of things for you. Number one, everything is challenging for all of us at some point. You’ve got to constantly struggle on the guitar. The key is to keep moving forward and keep making breakthroughs, so I hope that there’s some breakthroughs in here for you.

If you found this a bit too challenging and you need to tune up your fingerpicking skills, I’ve got a free resource that I’ll share with you. All you have to do is click the link and sign up, do the email address, all that good stuff and I’ll send it out to you. It’s got some really cool exercises that will help you get better as a finger picker, which will open up a whole new world when it comes to your playing, especially if you’re into acoustic blues, like I am. I hope you dig this lesson. If you did, give me a thumbs up, hit the subscribe button and come on back next Tuesday for another cool acoustic blues lesson and until then, play on.

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