How to Lock Down Basic 12 Bar Blues Progressions

In the context of the guitar, 12 bar blues often refers simply to bluesy-sounding progressions comprised of three chords. Formally, the three chords are the first, fourth and fifth in a given key, written in roman numerals. So in the key of E for example, a 12-bar blues progression would be the following:

Image Courtesy of FromThePhotoPit


The Incredibly Simple 5-Step Blueprint for an Addictive Melody

The Incredibly Simple 5-Step Blueprint for an Addictive Melody

We want our music to be memorable, right?

And as guitarists, the primary way we give notoriety to our music, is by contributing (or accommodating) melody.

Yes, it's a music theory-term, but one that we should know and focus on.

That's not to say we've no responsibility to rhythm. We're obligated to be rhythmically sound and accurate; perhaps the most difficult aspect of the guitar to teach. But primarily, our job (especially those of us who would classify ourselves as "lead" guitarists) is characterized by melody.

So what makes a good melody?

How do people remember it?

I hesitate to tell you there's a formula, because creativity isn't formulaic. But I'll call what I'm about to show you a blueprint.

It's a template that you can use to build catchy melodies that don't sound like annoying garbage. What's even better news, is that these blueprints are incredibly simple and clean. So you don't need to fill up a notebook in order to learn how to be creative.

We'll use five points to build addictive melodies.

1. Less than 10 Notes

An addictive melody is simple and easy to remember.

Thus, an ideal melody line for the listener will be short. Think 10 notes or even less.

More importantly than counting notes, is understanding that it doesn't take a blinding guitar solo or a complex mode to come up with something entertaining and memorable. Instead of looking to shredders for your melodic inspiration, look to lead vocalists.

What they sing is also considered a melody line, unless of course they're singing backup.

Think about what you hear Paul Hewson (Bono) singing in U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

"But I still, haven't found, what I'm looking for..."

That phrase builds the melody of the chorus.

Now it's not smart to just copy the lead vocal line during songs, but you can use them for inspiration and guidance when coming up with your own melodies.

What you'll notice is that they rarely require a lot of notes.

2. A Decorative Effect

The modern guitar player is fortunate to have so many tools and sounds at their disposal. And while a shimmering effect isn't required for great melody, it's an incredibly easy way to enhance your sequences and make them seem fuller.

Some might say that it's cheap. They might say something like:

"Your melody should be good on its own merits, without having to use an effect to prop it up."

First, I agree that a melody should be good on its own merits, but more so, I don't believe that an effect can "mask" a bad melody.

The Incredibly Simple 5-Step Blueprint for an Addictive Melody
It's not like you can come up with something terrible, kick on your chorus pedal and all of a sudden it sounds awesome. While you certainly can overuse your effects, I'm talking about using them to enhance and improve what is already a well-written melody.

Here are some good effects to focus on.

  • Short-Timed Delay: It can be a lot of work to set your delay right, but a shorter repeating cycle (maybe one or two seconds) can add a lot of depth to simpler patters. To use the U2 example again, David Evans (the Edge) has this technique down to a science.

  • Shallow Chorus: Deep choruses can actually cause your tuning to sound slightly off, which is one of the reasons I prefer a really subtle chorus sound. You can read up on how to adjust the settings of your chorus pedal, if you want more information.

  • Slow Phaser: Once again, we're going for subtlety. If the phaser effect is too quick, you risk muddying your sound and distracting from the melody. Here's some more information on placing your phaser.

  • Reverb: A good amp will usually come with a reverb knob, which can couple nicely with any of the three effects we've already mentioned.

The trick to making these work with simple melodies is to take your time when it comes to experimenting with different sounds and figuring out what fits.

You've also got to make sure you're not adding too many effects and snuffing out your sound.

One or two is usually enough to get the job done.

3. A Feeling (Positive or Negative)

All music should invoke an emotional response from the listener. What guitar players tend to struggle with is wanting to invoke a visual response or to entertain someone by what they see. To be sure, some guitar players can do that.

John Petrucci and Steve Vai make a living by being impressive to watch, just as much as they are to listen to.

But chances are, you're not either of those guys in terms of your skill level. Most of us aren't.

And even if you were, you'll notice that they're still incredibly melodic, with music that's emotionally drawing and sensitive.

So don't count on the visuals of your playing to entertain people. That's far more difficult than appealing to their emotional side, which is what a well-crafted, addictive melody is designed and intended to do.

But how do you create an emotional melody?

There are primarily two ways:

  • Major Key: Major keys are going to have a more positive and "happy" resolve than a minor key. Scales and chords that are major in their tonality are good for invoking this response.

  • Minor Key: Predictably, minor keys are the opposite, as they exude a more dark and gloomy resolve than major keys. Scales and chords with this quality are good for drawing out a corresponding emotion.

Above all, an addictive melody will help the listener feel something.

The power of positive and negative emotions have long been the driving force behind the popularity and appeal of music in general. If you take that out and try to appeal solely on visual stimulus, you're going to fail, no matter how fast of a player you are.

4. Simple Intervals

Intervals (in the context of the guitar) are used to signify the number of notes (or frets) between two notes.

We've discussed them at length in a number of posts, but most notably in the Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory. I've also touched on it in a piece I wrote for the Guitar World Blog. By piecing these basic intervals together, we can come up with sequences and methods for building either a minor-sounding pattern or a major-sounding pattern.

We'll start with the major pattern method.

Building Melodies in a Major Key with Basic Intervals

For our major key melody, we'll use something called a tetrachord.

Tetrachord is simply the term used to describe the following interval sequence: Whole - whole - half. A major scale is said to be two identical tetrachords separated by a whole tone.

So our tetrachord example:


And our major scale example:


The Incredibly Simple 5-Step Blueprint for an Addictive Melody

Building Melodies in a Major Key with Basic Intervals

To create melodies with a minor key, we can start by taking only the last two components of our tetrachord and modifying it a bit to get a minor-sounding sequence of notes.

Instead of whole - whole - half, we use whole - half - whole, demonstrated in the following tab:


Memorizing these patterns will give you a starting point when you're ready to begin writing your own melodies.

5. A Familiar Chord Progression

Chord progressions, particularly within a musical genre, are incredibly consistent.

Some might condemn this as a lack of creativity, but if you want to play what's going to sound good, it helps to get familiar with the established and commonly-used chord progressions of our day.

For example: Why is the G, C and D progression so widely used?

Because it provides a simple, great-sounding backdrop for vocal and instrumental melody.

So the morale of the story: You don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your chord progressions. They're a foundational component of your musical genre of choice. So if you want to create melodies that are addicting and easy to remember, build them over top of those widely loved and accepted progressions.

To outline the process and be a little more specific, here's what it looks like:

  1. Choose a key (C for example).

  2. Look for chords in that key.

  3. Chose a common chord progression (listed in the above link).

  4. Improvise or write a melody.

Having the chord progression in place makes melody a lot easier.

I would always recommend having a way to record or play back chord progressions so that you're able to write your melodies over top of them. Otherwise it's difficult to come up with them outside of some kind of chord structure.

Take the time to set that up before you start writing your lead sequences on the guitar.

And you're done...

That's it.

Five steps, and you've got yourself all the tools you need to create melodies that people will like and remember.

The more you're able to understand the musical components that are involved with what you're playing, the easier it will be for you to write music and contribute something worth listening to.

And now that you've seen the process, the word "melody" should no longer be a mystical and ambiguous phrase in your mind.

Quite the opposite; it's concrete.

Though a small aspect of music theory, it has a lot of technical implications for how we tackle the guitar.

Don't Shun Music Theory Terminology

Therefore we shouldn't be so quick to turn our nose up at terms and concepts that fall under the category of theory.

These terms are important and not as hard to understand as you might  think.

My advice is to take the time to understand them and get them right. It'll give definition and clarity to what you see happening on the fretboard. You'll know, "Ok, I'm playing a melody right now." instead of, "I'm playing "this."

You want to be able to describe with some level of familiarity what you're actually doing.

You've started with melody, so why not tackle a few more theory terms in plain English?

Connect With Us

We don't use a blog commenting system for the same reasons that CopyBlogger doesn't. That said, you can connect with us via Twitter or Google Plus.

If you like our resource and want to support us, check out our donate page.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Terekhova and Giulio Magnifico

Print Friendly and PDF

About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

I want to keep this as simple as possible.

So here it is -- we're going to teach you about music theory with bullet points that explain most (not all) of what you need to know, especially as it pertains to your guitar.

No prior music theory experience or study will be necessary.

I'll use as much plain English as possible. Terminology is necessary and I'll use it (and define it) where needed, but I'm going to keep things intentionally simple and short-winded.

Here's what you'll learn by the end of this article:

  • Basic vocabulary and definitions.

  • Foundational information and topics.

Now, here's what you won't learn:

  • The inner-workings and mathematics of music theory.

  • Topics and concepts that are not necessary for the average guitar player.

Why do I need to know music theory?

Guitar players (and many teachers) have downplayed the importance of music theory for a long time. To some extent, that's a good thing. There is a lot of music theory that guitar players don't need to know because of the nature of our instrument.

But ignoring it completely is, I believe, to our detriment.

Music theory is helpful for a few reasons.

  1. It helps you put words and correct terminology behind simple musical concepts and structures.

  2. It allows you to converse with musicians who are formally educated in music.

  3. It gives definition and structure to what you see happening on the fretboard.

By the end of this article, all these things will be true of you.

Good luck and enjoy.

1. What is sheet music?

Sheet music is the formal or "proper" way to identify songs on paper so that others can read them. People learn to read and write sheet music the same way they would learn to read and write a language.

You'll recognize sheet music by three basic components:

  1. Staff: Comprised of five lines and four spaces, the staff makes up the grid on which notes are drawn.

  2. Clefs: There are two clefs you'll see on the staff; treble and bass. They are used to assign individual notes to certain lines and spaces.

  3. Treble Clef: The treble clef is also called the "G Clef." Thus any note placed on that line becomes a G.

  4. Bass Clef: The bass clef is also called the F clef. The staff line in between the two dots is always F.

  5. Ledger Lines: This is a small line that extends the clef above or below the staff, if needed.

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

2. How do I tell a note's duration?

In music theory the term "note duration"is a system used to show how long a note is supposed to be held, or simply the length of time it is to be played.

  • Whole Note: The longest duration.

  • Half Note: Half the length of a whole note.

  • Quarter Note: One-fourth the length of a whole note (four quarter notes equals a whole note).

  • Flags: Notes smaller than a quarter note have flags. Each one halves the value of the note.

  • Eighth Note: Has one flag.

  • Sixteenth Note: Has two flags.

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

3. Measures and Time Signatures

Measures and time signatures work together to provide you with the tempo or rhythm of whatever notes you might see on sheet music.

Instead of simply guessing or interpreting a vague term, like "allegro," you can get closer to the actual beat of the song if you can read and comprehend this aspect of the sheet music.

Here are the terms you need to know.

  • Measures: A segment of time defined by a number of beats.

  • Bar Lines: Vertical black lines used to separate measures.

  • Time Signatures: Show you how many (and what type) of notes a single measure contains.

  • 4/4 Time: Four notes, each held the length of a quarter note.

  • 3/4 Time: Three notes, each held the length of a quarter note.

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

4. Rests

Rests are used to show periods of silence within a measure and are illustrated by symbols that indicate the length of a given rest.

  • Rests: Periods of silence within a measure in sheet music.

  • Types of Rests: Different durations of rest corresponding with different types of notes.
The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

5.  Generic Intervals

The concept of an interval is one of the most useful aspects of music theory for a guitar player to learn. It's also fairly simple.

An interval is simply the distance between two notes. Or in other words, how many notes are between two notes. On the piano that distance is covered in keys, while on the guitar it's covered in frets.

  • Interval: The distance between two notes.

  • First Apart: Two notes that are the same, played back to back (C to C, or C to C#).

  • Second Apart: Two letter notes that come one right after the other (C to D).

  • Third Apart: Two letter notes stacked one on top of the other (C to E).

  • Fourth Apart: C to F

  • Fifth Apart: C to G

  • Sixth Apart: C to A

  • Seventh Apart: C to B

  • Eighth Apart: C to C (octave).

Let's look at it in terms that are more typically used on the guitar. These are also referred to "specified" intervals.

  • Minor Second: One Fret (for example, going from the third to the fourth fret on the same string).

  • Major Second: Two Frets

  • Minor Third: Three Frets

  • Major Third: Four Frets

  • Perfect Fourth: Five Frets

  • Tritone: Six Frets 

  • Perfect Fifth: Seven Frets

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

6. Chords

Most guitar players know their fair share of chords and are likely to understand at least some of the mechanics involved. But the music theory behind chords can also be helpful as you delve deeper into the guitar.

Here are your definitions and theory-related bullet points.

  • Chords: A combination of three or more notes played simultaneously.

  • Root: A single note within a chord that represents its musical letter value.

  • Triads: Chords that are created with a root note, a third and a fifth interval.

  • C Major Triad: A three-note chord built with a root note, major third and a perfect fifth from the root.

  • C Minor Triad: A three-note chord built with a root note,  minor third and a perfect fifth from the root.

7. Scales

You've likely heard the term "scales" and even played a lot of them if you've spent any significant time with the guitar.

But what are they exactly?

Here's a quick look.

  • Scale: Any set of musical notes ordered by frequency or pitch.

  • Ascending Scale: A scale ordered by increasing pitch.

  • Descending Scale: A scale ordered by decreasing pitch.

  • Pentatonic Scale: Five notes per octave (commonly used in western music).

8. Ties

You've probably seen lines in sheet music that connect two notes.

Those are called ties.

Ties are used to combine or merge multiple notes of the same pitch. They also let the duration of a note travel across a barrier, for instance, a vertical measure line.

The Guitar Player's Plain English Guide to Music Theory

Other Resources

We've covered most theory concepts that would be applicable and practical to you as a guitar player. But if you want to go deeper into music theory and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the topics involved, I'd recommend the following websites and educational resources:
A baseline understanding of music theory is going to be valuable to all musicians, though an in-depth pursuit is only necessary for composers or those who wish to be formally trained.

How long would it take to fully comprehend it?

Consider that theory classes in college are a semester long and usually follow each other (Theory I, II, etc.) through one or two years. That's a lot of information to retain. But for those who are motivated to do it, they don't need to be in college to have access to most of those resources.

If you're willing to buy and read a couple of books on the topic, Amazon is all you really need (see recommended reading below).

Following Up

You might be wondering: What can I do to follow up on this information?

How can I retain it?

Unfortunately, one of the only ways to really get music theory is to review it and push yourself through some disciplined memorization. Application comes when you're playing the guitar and you start to name certain theory concepts as you play.

For instance, you'll begin to identify root notes in your chords and intervals within your lead sequences.

That's the best way to follow up on this information aside from just memorization. You need to find a way to apply it to your instrument.

Do I need to read sheet music?

A lot of young musicians wonder if they "need" to read sheet music.

The short answer, is no.

However, it can be incredibly beneficial to you, even if you're not playing in a formal setting. So don't struggle with sheet music to the point where you're frustrated, but you should know the difference between a bass and treble clef, and where middle C is located.

It's the kind of stuff we covered here.

In other words, you should to develop a "conversational" knowledge around sheet music. Which is not to say you have to be able to fully read and play by it, but you should understand the basics.

You should know what you're looking at.

Recommended Reading

Practical Theory Complete
Understanding Music Theory
Student's Guide to Theory

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Paco Espinoza Photography

Print Friendly and PDF

About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.