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12 Bar Blues Style

The Beginner's Course

Time to chunka-chunka :)

This is probably the most-used riff in blues and rock music. This blues riff is very important to learn! You'll hear this sequence in 1000s of songs, either in this ‘pure' form or with a couple of simple variations.


Watch The Video Lesson


TAB and Notation

12 Bar Blues


Playing 12 Bar

Start with your 1st finger in the 2nd fret (fourth string). Play this note, and the open fifth string together twice. Then, making sure you leave your 1st finger down the whole time, add your 3rd finger two frets higher and play those notes twice. So, the 3rd finger goes off and on the 4th fret (fourth string), while you also play the open fifth string.

Always play the string that has your finger on it and also the next thickest string (physically the string above it). None of the other strings should be played at all. Try and let your 1st finger rest on the strings below the note you are playing to mute them. Just a soft touch will be enough to stop them from ringing out.

Changing between the chords is the hardest part. It will be easier if you remember to always start a new chord with only your 1st finger down, and of course you will always finish a bar with the 3rd finger down. This gives you a chance to change the string that your 3rd finger is on, and will help make each transition smooth.

Take it slow to start with and make sure that you play the right amount of notes on each chord, otherwise it won't be a 12-Bar blues. It might help to count along with each bar, “1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +”. If you can, try to tap your foot on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Try and focus on maintaining an even rhythm as you change chords. This won't be easy at first, but you should get it after a few goes.

The outer palm of your picking hand should rest lightly on the thickest string when it needs to be muted for the A and D chords.

The rhythm was described to me when I learnt it as a ‘Chunka-Chunka' rhythm (thanks to my first teacher in Tasmania, Pete Thompson!). The proper word is swing 8s or a Shuffle. You should be able to get it by listening to the CD, or by saying “Chunka-Chunka” as you play, which might sound a bit silly but gives you the rhythm. We have already looked at the shuffle rhythm in BC-156 • Rhythm Guitar Basics 3

Now some of you may notice that I am doing some string muting in the video on the website. Now, to tell the truth, I shouldn't have been, because it's a more advanced technique than you should be thinking about now, but because a few people asked about it in the forum I'm adding this in.

The picking hand has a few jobs going on, it sometimes does a palm mute, or a partial mute but to get a real distinctive shuffle it also does a full mute between each pair of notes. So,it goes note, mute, note note, mute, note note, mute, note note etc. I really do not recommend you getting into doing that yet! Maybe have a try if you are feeling 100% confident with the normal playing, but it's not something a beginner should focus on. There's more about palm muting in Stage 9.


Let's start by listening to the 12 Bar Blues so you know what it is you should be sounding like!

Listening and onwards...

You should really concentrate on getting a good feel for this kind of riff, and so you need to hear how this kind of playing should sound. Listen to some old Chuck Berry, Status Quo or Rolling Stones songs for great examples of this. Spend a bit of time with the blues before you move on. It is the basis for a great many songs so it is an important thing to have in your repertoire. If you are into the blues you might want to check out Leadbelly, as he is the earliest example of this style that I have come across.

You must really get this sorted before you move onto the next stage, because it builds on what you have been doing here and if you have not got it down you'll find the next part will be very difficult.

Next it's on to some BC-184 • Basic Fingerstyle Exercise

Beginner products you may like from
Justinguitar Beginner's Course DVD set
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Beginners Course Book
Practical Music Theory

I have five great beginners products that will help you make the most of this course and you'll find them all at The Official JustinGuitar Store. If you want to really support the site then please buy direct from us. :)

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Lesson ID: BC-183