February 1, 2023

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Founder of S&C and master guitarist. He loves teaching guitar and believes everyone can learn to play!

Use Extensions

So we all know the regular boxy 7th chords that we probably start with when playing the blues, so our first step will be breaking out of this sound to use something with a little more colour. 6th, 9th, and 13th chords work great over a 12-bar blues, and offer up different flavours that work great within the style. Try the following for a blues in the key of A:

example 1

Chromatic Lead In

A great and simple way to add a bit of spice is to use one of the chords that we already have, the D9 chord in bar 5, and chromatically approach that from either above or below at the end of the previous bar. This will create a bit of tension which is resolved when we land on our IV chord.

example 2

Diminished bV Chord

Another way to introduce some tension is a chord that is basically known as ‘the tension chord’, which is the diminished 7th chord. This works great in-between the IV and I chords in bars 5 and 6, and can also give the soloist an opportunity to outline the changes. An interesting thing about the diminished 7th chord is that it is made up of notes that are all a minor 3rd apart. This means that we can move the entire up or down in intervals of a minor 3rd to create even more movement, e.g. Ebdim7 – F#dim7, Adim7, Cdim7. This really jazzes up the sound and can bring it more into a jazz blues vibe.

example 3

Don’t Play The Whole Chord

So whether you’re using the regular 7th barre chords or these new extension chords that we’ve just discussed, these are all quite big chords that contain a lot of notes. But do we really need all of those notes? Well, that will depend on who you are playing with. If it’s just you, a bass player and a drummer then you may well need to fill all that space. But what if you’re also playing with a keyboard player and a second guitarist? Probably not then. Often just playing the important notes of the chords, such as the 3rds and 7ths will give a much simpler but succinct sound. This will also keep out of the way of other instruments around you, and give you more space to build intensity later by adding in more notes in a louder/more exciting section of the tune that you are jamming over.

Add Licks In-Between!

Who ever said that if you’re the rhythm guitarist that you’re only allowed to play chords? No one did! A great way to break things up and make your overall rhythm part sound much more authentic is to add in some simple licks around your chords. This could be a response to a vocalist or soloist (heard of call & response?), or just simply to fill in some gaps between your chords. Simple cliché blues licks work perfectly here, usually derived from the pentatonic scales, and really makes what you do choose to play become more memorable and seem much more purposeful.

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