Watch the Working with a I IV V online guitar lesson by Vicki Genfan from Acoustic Rhythm Survival Guide

The I, IV & V chords are the building blocks for so much of the music in the world, especially in the Western world. We're going to look at this progression in the context of two very common blues progressions, the 12 bar blues and the "Quick Change" blues. It's not clear as to the exact origin of what we now call the blues, as it evolved over a long period of time. However, many refer to Africa as the ‘cradle of the blues' and it's easy to connect the early "call and response" style songs sung by the slaves in the South to our present day blues. Richard Scott, author of "Chord Progressions for the Songwriter" says, “The blues is a simple but expressive style of music that evolved in the nineteenth century from southern African-American spirituals and work songs.” Jazz, R&B and rock all have their roots in the blues. After showing you some "familiar" ways of playing these progressions, I'll show you some new twists you can play around with.

Here's the way a 12 bar blues progression is laid out (all the chords may be dominant 7th chords, but don't have to be.)

I7 – 4 bars
IV7 - 2 bars
I7 - 2 bars
V7 – 1 bar
IV7 – 1 bar
I7 – 2 bars (the second bar of this usually has a "turn around" - some version of a V7 that leads back to the I7)

Now here's the "quick change" progression: (The "quick" refers to going more quickly to the IV chord)
I7 – 1 bar
IV7 – 1 bar
I7 – 2 bars
IV7 – 2 bars
I7 – 2 bars
V7 – 1 bar
IV7 – 1 bar
I7 – 2 bars (again, the 2nd bar of this will likely be a turnaround on some variation of a V7 chord)


The two different forms are really different in how they "feel" try playing them in any key you like and pay attention to how you feel and what melody or lyrical ideas come to you with each version. If you're not a composer, record the two versions and then play around soloing (not important what level of skill you have here just keep it very simple if you need to, we're going for "feel" not chops), and notice how you're playing is different over the different forms. You may prefer one to the other, or just notice that they say different things musically.

You can find a vast library of blues songs in each form. In addition to the examples I've played on the video segment, here are a few more. These feature the 12 bar progression:

See See Rider by Ma Rainey, Corrine Corrina by Blind Lemmon Jefferson, Ramblin' on my Mind by Robert Johnson, Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker, Rock Me Baby by B.B.King.

Some additional examples of tunes using the "quick change" progression are:
Backwater Blues by Bessie Smith, Traveling Riverside Blues by Robert Johnson, Rock Me Baby by B.B.King and Mean Old World by Otis Rush.

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