6 Famous Songs Built on the 12-Bar Blues Progression

blues chords music theory Aug 09, 2023



The 12-bar blues chord progression is the foundation of numerous iconic songs across various genres. In this blog post, we'll delve into six famous songs that are built on this timeless chord progression. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced guitarist, understanding the 12-bar blues can open up a world of musical possibilities. We'll cover the chord patterns for each song and explore how you can use them to create your own musical expressions.

What is the 12-Bar Blues?

The 12-bar blues is a fundamental chord progression consisting of 12 bars or measures. It's a repetitive pattern that forms the basis for many classic songs. The magic lies in its simplicity and versatility, allowing musicians to create endless variations while maintaining the recognizable blues sound.

The Essential Chords: One, Four, and Five

The heart of the 12-bar blues is understanding the essential chords: the one (I), four (IV), and five (V) chords. In any given key, the one chord is the starting point, the four chord is a perfect fourth up, and the five chord is a whole step above the four. This pattern is consistent across all keys, making it easy to transpose songs to different tonalities.

Let's Explore the Six Famous Songs:

1. "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin:

Key: A

Chord Progression: A7 - D7 - E7

2. "Tush" by ZZ Top:

Key: G

Chord Progression: G7 - C7 - D7

3. "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley:

Key: C

Chord Progression: C7 - F7 - G7

4. "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard:

Key: F

Chord Progression: F - Bb - C

5. "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash:

Key: E

Chord Progression: E7 - A7 - B7

6. "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman:

Key: F# (with capo on the 2nd fret, playing as if in the key of E)

Chord Progression: E - A - B7

Using the Capo:

If a song falls outside of your comfort zone with open chords, a capo can be a helpful tool. By placing the capo on a specific fret, you can change the key of the song without altering the chord shapes. This allows you to play familiar chords in different keys and explore new sounds.

Mastering the 12-Bar Blues:

Once you understand the structure of the 12-bar blues and the one, four, five chords, you can apply this knowledge to countless other songs. The ability to recognize and play these chord progressions will unlock a wide range of music across different genres, from blues to rock 'n' roll and beyond.


The 12-bar blues is a cornerstone of popular music, and these six famous songs are a great starting point to master this essential chord progression. Remember, practice is key, and don't be discouraged if it takes time to get comfortable with the pattern and its variations. As you gain confidence, you'll find yourself effortlessly adapting this knowledge to other songs, and soon you'll be jamming along with your favorite tunes or even creating your own blues-inspired melodies. So grab your guitar, start exploring these songs, and let the 12-bar blues ignite your musical journey.


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