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Style Guide: Essential Blues Progressions


Minor Key 12-Bar Blues

Up to this point we’ve examined blues progressions in major keys. Now let’s shift our focus to the minor blues progression. The basic minor 12-bar blues is very similar to its major counterpart, except that—you guessed it—the progression is built around minor chords!

In Fig. 12, we use a V7 or V7(#9) in measures nine and 12 to arrive at a very common version of the minor blues.

The progression in Fig. 13 uses the bVI chord in the ninth measure, which then moves to the V7 in the 10th measure. Notice how the V7(#9#5) creates smooth voice-leading. You’ll find this change in the last four measures of the progression.

Now, we have all the pieces to play the classic B.B. King minor blues, “The Thrill is Gone.” This tune includes the bVI, however, instead of being a dominant 7, it’s played as a major 7. The sweeter sound of the major 7 provides cool harmonic variety. Fig. 14 presents the progression in the original key of B minor.

As with the major 12-bar blues, ii-Vs can be incorporated into the minor blues. When this occurs, the ii becomes a min7b5. Blues with minor ii-Vs are often found on the jazz side of the blues. Fig. 15 is a minor blues with minor ii-Vs.

8-Bar Blues

Let’s shift our attention to some 8-bar progressions. Two variations we’ll discuss can be found in “Key to the Highway” and “Sittin’ On Top of the World”—popular standards every blues guitarist needs to know. In Fig. 16, you’ll find the 8-bar variation for “Key to the Highway.”