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:

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Pentatonic Blues Guitar Scale Improv: Tabs and Audio Samples

I've found that guitar scales are more useful when we can turn them into something other than a straight-laced set-in-stone group of notes.

Sure, they're useful for understanding music theory, providing a key for us to play in and for giving a tonal description (major, blues, pentatonic, etc) to a group of notes.

But what else can we do with them?

These days I don't often recommend that someone spend time memorizing a scale from front to back. You can and there's nothing saying it won't benefit you, but in my view, and personal experience, it's an inefficient way to learn the guitar.

Why You Shouldn't Memorize Scales

In and of themselves, scales are not music.

They're melodic, but structural instead of decorative.

As a guitar player, you're largely responsible for the decorative and not the structural.

So if you do memorize a scale, that's the absolute bare minimum and not even close to being the most important step. At best, it's a moderately helpful and optional part of what it means for a guitarist to learn a scale and put it to good use.

In other words, your focus should be on learning how to apply it in a decorative sense.

The First Step of Applying a Scale

In order to start that process, the first step is to narrow our scale down and get familiar with a manageable segment.

Note that guitar scales have three basic attributes.

  1. Pattern

  2. Key

  3. Scale

The pattern of the scale tells us which fret it begins on, while the key gives us the note at which the scale rests or resolves.

Scale is simply the term used to give a name to a certain combination of notes, based on their collective sound and frequency (Pentatonic, Lydian, etc).

In this lesson our scale is the following:
Pentatonic Blues in the Key of C (third fret pattern)
One scale will give us a lot of different directions to go in terms of melody and improvisation. In this case, most of what we do will sound "bluesy" since we're dealing with a pentatonic scale and a blues variation thereof.

Let's start by examining the scale we're working with:


Note: I've omitted the line from the high E.

Working through the Pentatonic Blues Scale

Now I've mentioned that you don't need to memorize it cold, but you should familiarize yourself with it. We'll do that in steps by covering three separate tabs that each account for an incrementally bigger portion of the scale.
Soundcloud embeds are included.


This is the same run that you see going from the third to the sixth fret on the first two strings. It's just an easier way to play it. The last three notes you see in parenthesis are just some added improv to resolve the run.

Try them both.

In the following pattern, we cover everything but the high B.


Adding the two notes on the high B gives us our full scale. Even if you just played through each tab a couple times, you should have a fairly solid grasp on the scale by now and might even be able to play it from memory.



Improvising "out of" a scale generally means you're adding one or more of the following things to a given pattern within that scale:

  1. Arrangement

  2. Technique (bends, vibrato, etc.)

  3. Intervals

  4. Chords or Arpeggios

  5. Timing

These are the basic elements that differentiate a raw scale from a guitar solo or melody. And while you don't have to think too hard about where or when to use them, it's important to recognize that they're the primary tools you have to create melody outside of an established mode.

What we'll do is listen to the patterns I came up with, then I'll show you how to use these tools to come up with your own melodies.

In case you're wondering, I use a slight chorus effect for each recording.

Here's our first run.


So you can see that this tab is comprised almost entirely of notes taken from the scale, which means we've used arrangement to simply reorder them.

Technique is applied in the form of bends, slides and vibrato, the symbols of which are highlighted in red.

And lastly we finish up with a simple chord which is actually a dyad at the end of the tab.

If you wanted to further deviate from the original pattern, what could you do?

Try adding an interval; perhaps a major second by moving the dyad up to the fifth fret then back down to the third to resolve the sound.


A good way to expand on something you've already come up with is to experiment with major and minor second intervals (one and two fret jumps) and see what sounds good or what resolves with the key.

In the next tab we add a few of those intervals, as well as a bluesy chord at the end to resolve the pattern. We're also changing the timing.



In the last pattern we add a dyadic progression that is a good illustration of how experimenting with intervals can help us with improv on the guitar.



The Process

If you want to repeat this process with other scales and in other scenarios, here's a good summary of what we just did:

  1. Identified a scale, key and fret pattern.

  2. Became familiar with that pattern.

  3. Added the variables of timing, intervals, etc.

  4. Came up with something new and melodic.

Getting to the point where you can understand the process and then apply it in other areas is the goal. Not that the pentatonic blues guitar scale isn't great in and of itself, but there are plenty more out there. So try not to get hung up on the tabs and notes you're seeing.

Get to know the process then try to repeat it with a different scale.

Memorize Methods

Instead of spending your time memorizing notes, memorize the methods and structures that you've used to get those notes in front of you.

Since notes are always changing, it's not really productive to simply memorize them when it comes to topical music education. If you're learning a song, that's a different story. But as far as learning something on your guitar conceptually, look for a process and memorize that.

Because consistency on the guitar doesn't come by playing the same notes over and over again.

It comes from knowing and applying proven methods.

It's like catching a fish at a particular spot on a particular lake. Instead of remembering the method by which you caught the fish - line, lure, weather, casting method, temperature, time of day, etc - you just keep going back to that same spot hoping to have similar luck.

That's not going to make you a successful fisherman.

So don't do that same thing on the guitar.

Know the process and learn to repeat it in varying situations.

Share your own thoughts and ideas on this lesson over at Twitter and Google Plus.

Recommended Reading and Resources

Stuff you might actually find useful and isn't showing up because Google spied on your browsing history.

Flickr Commons Photo Courtesy of Guillaume Laurent

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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.


Baritone Guitars: Value List and Affordable Options (2014 Edition)

Does any guitar player get down more than Mike Mushok?

He's especially ruckus when you consider the quiet demeanor of the band around him.

You can watch it happen here on the music video for "Home."

He's a baritone guy, which essentially means that he's playing a guitar with a really low tuning and strings that are gauged to accommodate.

It's like a seven-string guitar without the high E.

Do you need a special guitar for that?


You can buy a set of baritone guitar strings (or even a 7-string set) and put them on a regular guitar with similar benefits.

So why by a baritone guitar?

Baritone guitars are specially designed to handle the lower tunings with longer scale lengths (usually 27 inches), and electronics that are designed to handle the low tonal range.

In the world of rock and metal, they've found a modest amount of popularity since a lot of artists like to have a guitar that can take full advantage of the lower tunings. So if that's you, it might be an instrument you would want to invest in.

Table of Contents

As always, we're focusing on value. That means we want guitars with a good reputation, quality (sound and structure) and at a decent price.

Here are the models we've covered. Click to jump to one if you'd like.

1. Mike Mushok Baritone PRS

Mike Mushok Baritone PRS
Customer Reviews

Mushok's PRS SE model has a 27.7 inch scale, 22 frets and thru-body stringing. It's one of the most popular baritone guitars on the market, mostly because of Staind's notoriety.

That's not to take away anything from the guitar itself, which is a great buy as most PRS SE models are.

The pickups are PRS stock, but can easily be replaced if you want to up the value of the guitar.

Notable Features

Pickups: PRS Stock
Scale: 27.7
Bridge: Thru-Body Stringing with Stoptail
Finish: Polyester Basecoat and Acrylic Urethane Topcoat

2. Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster
Customer Reviews

This guitar has a lot of appeal not just as a baritone model, but as a uniquely designed Telecaster. The main attraction is the humbucking bridge pickup and the dual Telecaster single-coil pickups at the middle and neck positions.

Notable Features

Scale: 27"
Middle Pickup: Telecaster Single Coil

3. Michael Kelly Patriot Baritone

Michael Kelly Patriot Baritone
Customer Reviews

Though better known for their acoustic guitars, Michael Kelly does a great job with this baritone model electric. In addition to obvious aesthetic appeal, it has a long-set neck that sits deep into the body of the guitar which improves sustain and tone at lower tunings.

Duncan designed humbuckers come standard along with a TonePros locking bridge.

Notable Features

Neck: Set-Neck Construction
Pickups: Duncan Designed
Frets: 22
Scale: 27.7"
Bridge: TonePros Locking

4. Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX

Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX
Video Review

Eastwood is a relatively young, up and coming guitar company, and their take on this baritone model is good all-around for what you pay. The scale is 28" giving you a little extra space on the fretboard to go along with vintage-style pickups, bridge and tremolo.

Check out the video review if you want to hear it in action.

Notable Features

Pickups: Vintage EW-P90
Bridge: PRO Adjustable Roller Bridge, Fender(r) Style Tremolo
Scale: 28"

5. Ibanez RGIB6 Iron Label RG Baritone

Ibanez RGIB6 Iron Label RG Baritone
Custom Reviews

The RG series from Ibanez is a pretty popular line, and this model is simply the baritone version with little deviation from the original. Like many Ibanez guitars, this one is geared towards the heavy metal fan, being designed to perform with low tuning and heavy distortion.

EMG pickups come standard with a 28" scale baritone neck.

Notable Features

Scale: 28"
Pickups: EMG 81

Other Buying Guides and Resources

If you're looking for a different kind of guitar, check out some of our other buying guides and resources.
There are plenty of guitars out there, and these posts are about narrowing down those options and highlighted where we can get the best value.

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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.