Guitar Blues Improvisation

Improvising over a 12 bar blues progression

In this lesson, Hanspeter Kruesi, teacher at GuitarTricks, introduces some improvisation concepts. If you want to improvise over a 12 bar blues, you can use different scales. The most important scales you should learn first are of course the minor pentatonic scale, the blues minor scale, and the mixolydian scale. In this lesson we'll learn these scales applied to a D7 G7 A7 blues progression.

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12 bar blues progression: D7 - G7 - A7

A classic 12 bar blues progression is composed by the I, IV and V chords of a key. In the blues progressions, the chords are all dominant chords, instead to be minor, major or other qualities. In case of D key, the blues progression is composed by D7, G7 and A7 chords. Infact, the D major scale is the following:

D (I) - E (II) - F# (III) - G (IV) - A (V) - B (VI) - C# (VII) - D (VIII)

Here are the D7, G7 and A7 chords guitar fingerings (for sake of simplicity, the chords are taken in first position, with open strings):

12 bar blues progression D7 G7 A7

Pentatonic minor scale

One must know scale is the pentatonic minor scale. If the blues progression is in D key, you can use the D pentatonic minor scale. You can use this scale over all the three chords composing the progression:

D pentatonic minor scale on guitar

Adding the flat fifth: minor blues scale

Usually, to give the pentatonic scale a bluesy feeling, we add the flat fifth (Ab/G#), marked on the diagram with a green circle, and we get the classic blues scale:

D minor blues scale on guitar

D mixolydian scale

An interesting variation we can include in our improvisations on a blues chords progression is the mixolidyian scale. We can use three different mixolydian scale, depending on which chord of the progression we are playing over.

On the I chord, D7, we can play the D mixolyidian scale. Here's the pattern of the D mixolidian scale with the root on the E low string (root noted marked with white big circle)

D mixolydian scale on guitar

G mixolydian scale

On the IV chord, the G7, we can play the G mixolydian scale. As you already noticed, the pattern shape of the G mixolydian scale is exactly the same of the D mixolydian scale; what is changed is only the starting root note. That's one of the cool things of the guitar, you'll know a lot of scales just memorizing one shape.

G mixolydian scale on guitar

A mixolydian scale

Same thing for the V chord, A7. You can play the A mixolydian scale.

A mixolydian scale on guitar

These were the very basics of blues guitar improvisation. Of course there are more advanced concepts, but with these tools you can create interesting guitar solos

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