5 Progressions Blues Guitar Players MUST Know

5 Progressions Blues Guitar Players MUST Know

In these lessons, Chris Buono digs deep into the what, how, whys and wherefores of blues progressions. You will learn how to play progressions in various keys and forms to freshen up your jam session or rehearsal!

Check out this selection of free blues guitar lessons from Chris Buono’s Guitar Lab: Blues Progressions for some sonic freshness!

Sussy Strut

Download the tab, jam track & notation for this blues progression.

In this first segment many of the core approaches to Blues Progressions will be laid out for you, so listen up. In order to start kickin’ around ideas, it’s important you have a solid foundation in the basic 12-bar blues progression. The one we have here is so basic the only IV chord in sight is the double-bar instance at bars 5 and 6.

Throughout this course we’ll be taking a deep look into the chords you’ll be playing. From basic grips to extended altered excursions we’re going to cover a lot of ground, so you’ll have plenty of firepower. To get started, this segment will dole out the skinny on the core of most every chord in Blues Progressions: the b5 interval between the 3rd and b7th. This is the crux of a dominant 7th chord, which is the backbone tonality of these 23 progressions. Following that probe we’ll take a first look into extending those dom7 chords into phat-sounding 9ths and 13ths.

The third and final segment will be the first of many times I’ll introduce a signature approach to a progression. In the case of Sussy Strut you have a simple approach to changing things up by way of dom9sus4 chords as well as moving triads.

Ford-ward

Download the tab, jam track & notation for this blues progression.

A great way to get your hands fretting some new blues is to check out modern players who are pushing the envelope and taking the style to new places. One such beloved artist is guitarist/singer Robben Ford. While Ford is all about the real deal he’s more known for his modern approaches to blues playing. Evidence of this is all over his soloing but when you take a look beneath what’s he playing (or singing) over you’ll uncover some real slick progressions. This quirky 6-bar blues is a great example of Ford’s hipness. Taken from a tune called “Ragged Road” from the Handful of Blues CD done with his rhythm section The Blueline, this six bar jam in B feels great.

There’s a lot to swallow in this one in addition to wrapping your inner clock around a 6-bar progression. Listen for what’s called an “anticipation” in bars 1, 2 and 5. This is where a chord that is meant to be played in the next bar on the downbeat is played on the last upbeat of the preceding bar “anticipating” the change. When you get to the third phase of the progression you’ll be treated to some uncommon voicings. Though they’re a little left-field for most they stay true to the voice leading standards this course adheres to and will serve as some great candy chords to have in your bag. That said, just like combining concepts and transposing changes, to get even more out of this course try to substitute these new voicings in the other progressions.

For the Bird

Download the tab, jam track & notation for this blues progression.

Continuing with the jazz vibe we have a super-charged blues progression courtesy of Charlie Parker. This set of changes is from a tune of his called Blues For Alice. From the series of chromatic ii-Vs starting in bar 6 to the brisk 164 BPM you’re getting into some s#%t with this one! An underlying concept called back cycling is lurking within the changes. In the upcoming Back Cycling segment you’ll get full picture as to what that is, but in the meantime think of it this way: A series of V chord cadences that eventually lead up to a final resolution.

While these last three progressions were played in more of a jazz context that’s not to say they can’t be played in another style. Try dropping these, as well as all the other progressions throughout the course, in various styles. If you feel like an entire progression isn’t making the adjustment all that well try taking pieces of it and combining it with others. Take the first fours bars of one, the middle of another and the final four of yet another and see what you get. In the end you’re making your collection of blues progressions that much more robust.

Hurricane Allman

Download the tab, jam track & notation for this blues progression.

Throughout the course we’ve delved into many standard blues tunes and gave them the once over. There was Freddie Free (“Freddie Freeloader”), The Wes Coast (“West Coast Blues”) as well as the immediate three we just went over. Of all of them no set of changes is more admired than the treatment T-Bone Walker’s “Call it Stormy Monday” received courtesy of the Allman Brothers on their seminal live album, Live at Fillmore East. If you listen closely to Duane Allman (I mistakenly called out Greg in the video) as he introduces the tune he first credits the song incorrectly to Bobby Bland but then quickly makes good and cites T-Bone Walker. The reason is because the changes the Brother’s are throwing at you in their version was never actually played by T-Bone Walker. The genesis of their changes was taken from a Bobby “Blue” Bland record that included “Stormy Monday” called Here’s The Man (good lookin’ out, guys!)

If you don’t know this progression in this form already, drop everything and learn this from top to bottom. These changes are a lot of fun to comp as well as solo over and everyone truly digs them. While you’re at it check out how Duane and Dickie Betts play the changes with the cleverly placed sliding 6ths and more–essential stuff!

Massive

Download the tab, jam track & notation for this blues progression.

As the name implies this minor blues progression goes for broke and throws a sizable bag of tricks at you in 12 bars. You have Dorian IV7 chords in bars 2 and 5, a back cycling ii-V in bar 8 that sets up the bVI7 chord, which by the way is a cool twist on what was just played in the same bar in the previous set of “Thrill is Gone” changes; and a tritone m7 sub at beat 3 of bar 11 to a half step resolution down to the iim7 chord that is 50% of the final cadence. Man, that IS massive.

Continuing to live up to the name of this progression, a massively important chordal approach in regards to minor jams in general is laid out for you in the third chorus–quartal harmony. In quartal harmony you have chords that are built upon stacked 4ths. They afford you and the soloist massive flexibility, to say the least. While this is not the first time we’ve played these type of chords here in Blues Progressions, we’re gonna geek on it for real this time around to make sure you know what’s what. Regardless, be sure to key in on the who, what, how, and why of this approach and get it into your bag if you haven’t already.


If you’re getting a taste of great things to come, there are 23 progressions in the full course in addition to the accompanying 167-page manual features lead sheet charts with pint-sized chord grids beneath the chord symbols for quick reference and fingerings, for all 23 progressions. Bust out of your rut with Buono’s full course!