How To Play A 12 Bar Blues On The Bass Guitar

I always think the test comes when you are in a music shop trying out a bass or when someone asks you to play them something. If you don’t know what to play then you need to expand your repertoire (which is just a fancy word for the music you know how to play). Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.

All the following examples are demoed and explained in the video above. The blues is the cornerstone of many styles of music and everyone should know how to play a 12 bar blues bass line. Here is a blues in the key of A. There are so many variations of the blues but let’s focus, for now, on one thing and you can diversify from there.

To be able to improvise freely and comfortably over this progression is a real achievement. Refer to the video for examples of how to start off easy with this and then some more advanced ideas. Use the backing track when you feel comfortable.


Ultra Simple Version

If this is new to you then just try and memorise the above progression; which only uses open strings. Play along to the backing track and try and get everything synchronised and in time.

Blues Pattern

Here’s a nice little pattern you can use. Since there are no open strings being used here you can actually move the pattern around if you want to play in different keys.

Total Improvisation

You can go beyond simple quarter notes here but remember the blues uses a shuffle feel (see ‘Groove: 6 Examples Of Different Feels’) so make sure you know how to play that.

In the video I show you a few ideas you can use. They are:

  • Mixing up quarter notes and eighth notes and having fun with the shuffle feel.
  • Using a variety of patterns, scales and phrases.

Here are some of those patterns, scales and phrases you can use. These are moveable shapes and can be applied to whichever root note you are on (5th fret A, 5th fret D or 7th fret E).

Ultimately, the total freedom to play what you want is what we all want to do. Start simple though and master that before you move on. When you feel comfortable, always push yourself to the next level.

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