12 Blues Chords That You Should Know

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The jazzy, sorrowful twang that demarcates blues music from other genres reflects the rich culture and deep emotions that caused it to develop. Blues music is a central part of America's music culture, and its unique form can be found in jazz, rock, hip-hop, and many other genres. The creative combinations of blues chords that musicians use when playing traditional blues music create an atmosphere that draws its listeners into its mysterious, sorrowful world.

Many people recognize that blues music sounds and even feels distinct, but few know how musicians accomplish the rare sounds and emotions that accompany every blues song. One reason that blues is so distinct is that all of its chords are dominant, resulting in a compelling tension and imbalance that is very distinguishable. Even without having a full understanding of the techniques used within the genre, it is easy to appreciate the beautiful melodies and chords that makes blues what it is today.

What Makes A Blues Chord Unique? 

The most striking aspect of a blues chord is the specific style or attitude that defines it. Blues music first originated in the deep South from enslaved African Americans. These unfortunate souls invented songs full of profound emotion and sorrow to pass the time and express themselves in one of the few ways they were allowed, and they also used song to send secret messages. While a slave master would only hear meaningless melodies, the slaves of the time communicated messages about how to get to the underground railroad through their songs.

The deep emotions that compelled blues music to be created can be heard in the rhythm and lyrics of the songs. Another way to identify blues is its unique lyric structure, which is usually comprised of three lines of rhyming lyrics. The singer will often sing one line and then repeat it, possibly altering the tone to express a different emotion, then singing a distinct third line that replies to or contemplates the message in the first two lines. This is similar to the call and response technique that was originally used by slaves in the field, giving a fun, interactive rhythm to blues music.

Blues music is full of anguish and sorrow, which is reflected in its lyrics and rhythms. Another way that its tragic origins are revealed is through the slightly lower pitch that defines blues music; each note is played in a lower pitch than on the regular scale. This may be because of how the African scale was adapted to the Western one. The deepening of the pitch results in a more sorrowful, pensive and enigmatic sound, contributing to the deep emotion expressed in the lyrics and further distancing blues music from other genres.

12 Blues Chords That You Should Know

1. "A" Blues Scale In 5th Position

This classic blues scale is an A blues scale in 5th position. It has the root, b3rd, 4th, b5th, 5th and b7th degrees of an A major scale. This chord is essential when playing A major blues, as it is a part of many popular blues songs throughout the ages.

2. Albert King Box

Known as the "Albert King Box" because of how much King used it, this is a reduced version of the previous scale. It is comprised only of the root, 4th, 5th, and b7th, making it easier on the fingers. This has a similar sound to its counterpart, but it is simpler and easier to master for beginners who are working on their finger dexterity.

3. B.B. King Box

The "B.B. King Box," named because of how much King used this from the sixties on, is comprised of the same scale degrees as the Albert King box but covers more of the fingerboard.

4. A New Direction

This vibrant blues chord is an opening phrase played over an I chord. It bends the B5th or Eb and the blue note that is between C and C#. This lick then resolves to the root of the I chord, allowing the player to move on in a totally new direction.

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5. Get To The Root

This colorful chord bends to the b5th or Eb and the b7th or G before returning to the 4th or D, the root of the IV chord. The bend creates tension and suspense before finally resolving to the root.

6. The Classic

Another chord famously used by B.B. King, this is the classic I chord lick, with a bend on the b7th to the root of A. This bend should be done with the pinkie, with the other fingers backing it up. To execute it effectively, the player needs to employ a wide vibrato and correct intonation.

7. The Albert King

Named for Albert King because of his frequent use of it, this chord should begin with the ring finger completing a full-bend step and then repeat of the root A. The index figure should be on the b3rd or C and the major 3rd or C# should be executed with a vibrato.

8. Slide It

The 8th blues chord that every blues player should know is a sliding IV6-to-IV9 chord pattern executed with your index finger, with your pinkie contributing by nicking the dyad. This gives players a temporary escape from the scale, always a welcome change.

9. Bluesy Bend

This fun bend is popular in electric guitar songs, giving a spicy flavor to any blues song. Bend the b7th or G or the scale to the root A using your ring finger, and maintain the bend while you put your pinkie on the B3rd or C. This dyad, from A to C, provides the 5th and 7th of the IV chord, emphasizing the dominant 7th.

10. The Triplet

This compelling chord was first played by B.B. King in "Three O'Clock Blues," featuring a quarter-note bend that starts off each beat. It has a fun triplet pattern that produces a sound full of drama and tension.

11. Low To High

The blues chord that traverses from low to high begins with digging the root A, then the b5th and b3rd out of the B blues scale. The 6th or F# should be played as well. Utilize all four fingers and go from low to high, and don't forget the quarter-step bend. This jazzy chord is a great contribution to any blues song, bringing in a fun upbeat element and captivating listeners.

12. Twisty Turns

In this flashy blues chord, you should begin with your index finger and change to your ring finger for the full-step bend of the 5th or E to the 6th or F#. Go down the chromatic run of E to Eb to D with your index, middle and ring fingers, and use your ring finger to achieve the half-step bend. Eb is used as a tone between E and D, and there is a half-step bend from the B to the C.

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Tips And Tricks To Playing Blues Chords

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If you have an interest in Blues, you probably already know that the dominant 7th chord is played most frequently in blues music. Some other essential ones are the 9th and 13th chords, which are two blues chords known for giving extra spice to an otherwise normal chord progression. Perfecting these chords is the first step to becoming a good blues player as using the right combinations of blues chords will make your music both more mysterious and more vibrant.

Another exercise that can set any beginning blues player on the path to jazzy, bluesy songs is to experiment with playing these chords in different positions. This will make your songs and melodies unique to each other and result in a lively, challenging rhythm. Blues chords can be played in any key, so try moving them so that they land on different notes. This will allow you to try out many different combinations, opening up the possibilities for a wide variety of songs and rhythms.

It is also essential to memorize all of the basic blues chords and learn to play them in a 12-bar blues progression. Practice this a few times using different chords each time until you are comfortable with every combination. Then, practice this exercise every day for a few weeks to become an expert on blues chords. Performing these exercises is an excellent way to perfect the rhythm and chords that are so emblematic of blues music.

Conclusion

Blues is vibrant and soulful, evoking profound emotions in its listeners with its tangy scales and low-pitched notes. It has developed over time, spreading its unique character to different genres of music and effectively capturing the hearts of its listeners. Any musician making a debut into blues should become familiar with the twelve chords listed as this will be an excellent base upon which you can develop your bluesy skills. Once you have perfected these chords, you should be able to play many classic blues songs, bringing you closer to the level of the great musicians who created them

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