The most popular blues music chord progressions share a lot of commonality with those in rock. Derived from Southern church music or worship music, the most ubiquitous is a harmonic structure familiar to rock and pop artists: the I-IV-V or one, four, five blues pattern. Unlike its contemporary tonal counterparts, which use dominant seventh chords (1-3-5-flat7) to deliver a functional harmony, blues compositions use these to add color to songs, most commonly in the iconic 12-bar blues.
Also unlike other genres, there are relatively few blues chord progressions. The majority of familiar songs consist of the same three chords (I, IV, and V), using variations. Perhaps one of the most often used is the I, IV, I, IV, I, V, IV, I, V or in the key of C Major, C, F, C, F, C, G, F, C, G.
Blues music generally relies quite a bit on the twelve-bar structure, usually in 12/8 time. (The 12-bar blues chord progression is:
- I chord – 4 measure
- IV chord – 2 measures of the
- I chord – 2 measures
- V chord – 1 measure of the
- IV chord – 1 measure of the
- I chord – 1 measure
- I chord – 1 measure
Minor blues mostly follows the vi, ii, vi, IV, III7 progression or in the key of C Major, minor sixth, minor second, minor sixth, fourth, and dominant third-seventh: A minor, D minor, A minor, F Major, and E7.
Some of the most famous blues songs strip their chord progression down to just two chords, relying on the lead guitar and walking bass to create movement, like the I, ii blues chord progression or the major first and minor second. So, in the key of C Major, it’s just C Major and D minor throughout the song. It uses a neat trick, creating tension with the minor second, which generally resolves nicely to the major fourth or IV chord. But, the I, ii blues chord progression never does and proves that sometimes, less is more.
Blues, pop, rock, and country share a lot of the same elements. One blues chord progression, vi, I, II7, or the minor sixth, first, and dominant second, making songs sound both bluesy and country-ish. In the key of C Major, this would be A minor, C Major, and D Major7.
The VI, I, II blues chord progression looks strange at first sight because it uses a major sixth rather than a minor sixth. But, in the world of effects – particularly distortion – there are no real major or minor chords because they’re power chords or fifth chords. Played in C Major, it is A Major, C Major, and D Major, which sounds quite familiar because it appears frequently.
Another blues chord progression pays homage to its genre’s roots by putting a unique spin on traditional patterns, the vi, IV, V blues chord progression. It creates a serious sound and in the key of C Major, uses A minor, F Major, and G Major. This makes for a very moody composition and leaves plenty of space for solos.
Ambiguous but ubiquitous among some of the most memorable songs, the V, IV, I or five, four, one blues chord progression is one of the simplest and most versatile because it fits neatly into blues, country, southern rock, and blues rock. And, in the key of C Major, it’s a straightforward G Major, F Major, C Major pattern.
A sentimental and gentle blues chord progression is the vi, IV, I. It works very well with acoustic and slower tempos. The minor six, major four, and one is likewise great for sweet, romantic, or somber songs. In the key of C Major, it would consist of A minor, F Major, and C Major.
A pop-styled sequence, I, vi, IV, V, can also be used in rock and blues. It’s really all about how the pattern is played, not in the order, but in the timbre, attitude, and style. With just the right licks thrown in, this progression of one, minor sixth, major four, and major five can work nicely. Plus, it’s good to know for such occasions that require more of a pop feel. In the key of C Major, this is C Major, A minor, F Major, and G Major.