Style History/Area Characteristics Instruments Labels Artists
Country Blues Synonyms:
Rural Blues
Folk Blues
Downhome Blues Country Blues is the more general term for all raw acoustic Blues styles. See the regional styles (like Delta or Piedmont Blues) for detailed information.
Delta Blues Earliest Blues style from the Mississippi Delta (the area in the northwest section of the state of Mississippi between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, not a real delta in geological terms), first described in the beginning of the 20th century. First recorded in the 1920's. Acoustic, raw sound, fingerstyle, few solos, minor pentatonic, open strings, bass lines, 7th chords, key often E or A, open tunings for slide playing, one man band Vocals, harp, guitar, slide guitar Fat Possum Records
Arhoolie Records
Vestige Records
Yazoo Records
Columbia Records
Rooster Blues
Sun Records
Bukka White (1906 - 1977)
Charley Patton (1891-1934)
Hound Dog Taylor (1915 - 1975)
John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) (also Detroit Blues)
Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter (1888 - 1949)
Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966)
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
Robert Lockwood Jr. (1915 - 2006) )
Skip James (1902-1969)
Son House (1902-1988)
Willie Brown (1900 - 1952)
Piedmont Blues A Country Blues style developed during the 20's and 30's in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Influenced by ragtime and country string bands it was played by both black and white, rural and urban people. A fingerpicking style emulating ragtime piano, the left hand piano rhythm is played with the thumb and the right hand piano melody with the forefingers. 12 bar structure, fingerpicking, bouncy alternating thumb bass, more lively and melodic than the low-donw Delta Blues. Acoustic guitar, vocals, slide Victor/RCA Records
Document Records
Yazoo Records
Blind Blake
Blind Boy Fuller
Barbecue Bob
Reverend Gary Davis
Blind Willie McTell
Chiago Blues Synonyms:
Urban Blues
City Blues Developed from the Delta Blues when in the 1920s and 1940s (Great Migration) the black population started to migrate northwards (usually along the Mississippi river), to the big industrial cities like Chicago (and Detroit), which promised profitable job opportunities and so a better life. Nearly 3 million blacks left the south between 1940 and 1960. They took their music with them, adapted it to the urban life, the Blues became electrified and was played in a band with drums, bass and piano. Influenced by jazz music, Blues players like Muddy Waters or B.B. King created the new Chicago style. Players Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield opened it to white Americans.
Electric guitar, often played with a pick, elegant style, jazz influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, fluid phrasing, key often C, G or B/Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow minor Blues, small bends, intense vibrato Vocals, harmonica, electric guitar, bass, drums, piano, keyboard, horns Chess Records
Cobra Records
J.O.B. Records
Vee-Jay Records
Arhoolie Records
Sun Records
Delmark Records
Alligator Records
B.B. (Riley) King (1925)
Muddy Waters (1915 - 1983)
Big Maceo Merriweather (1905 - 1953)
Big Bill Broonzy (1893 - 1958)
Buddy Guy (1936)
David "Honeyboy" Edwards (1915)
Elmore James (1918 - 1963)
Howlin' Wolf (1910 - 1976)
Hubert Sumlin (1931)
J.B. Lenoir (1929 - 1967)
Jimmy Rogers (1924 - 1997)
Junior Wells (1934 - 1998)
Mike Bloomfield (1943 - 1981)
Otis Rush (1934)
Robert Lockwood Jr. (1915 - 2006)
Sunnyland Slim (1907 - 1995)
Willie Dixon (1915 - 1992)
Texas Blues Spread from the Delta already in the 20's, it was the music of African American working in Texas at on the fields or in lumber camps and oilfields. With the great depression the people started to move to the big cities like Houston and Galveston (like the Delta Blues musicians moving to Chicago). Texas Blues includes both the early acoustic pre-war Blues as well as the post-war urban electric Blues and the new era of bands like ZZ Top or the Fabulous Thunderbirds with Stevie Ray Vaughan, the variety is much bigger than in other styles. The rhythm ("Texas Shuffle") is different to the Chicago rhythm and has some spanish flamenco and jazz/swing influences, the guitar is the dominating instrument both for solo and rhythm. Acoustic or electric guitar, often played with a pick, jazz and flamenco influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, chromatic runs, fluid phrasing, key often C, G or Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow minor Blues, small bends, intense vibrato Vocals, acoustic or electric guitar, bass, drums, sometimes horns or keyboard Duke Records
Peacock Records
TopCat Records
Prevatt Records
Dallas Blues Society Records
Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897 - 1927)
Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter (1888 - 1949)
Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins (1912 - 1882)
Albert Collins (1932 - 1993)
Freddie King (1934 - 1976)
Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954 - 1990)
T-Bone Walker (1910 - 1975)
ZZ Top
West Coast Blues California Blues Developed mainly by Texas Blues artist moving to California in the 1940's, the West Coast style doesn't have an acoustic pre-war phase. Without the typical country roots it's more jazz-oriented, smoother and often piano based with influences from the Jump Blues style. Well known is the Texas born T-Bone Walker and his "Stormy Monday Blues" electric guitar, jazz and Jump Blues influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, chromatic runs, smooth phrasing, key often C, G or Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow Blues, show effects Vocals, piano, electric guitar, bass, drums, horns (saxophone), rarely keyboards, small combos Aladdin Records
Swingtime Records
Modern Records
Speciality Records
Imperial Records
T-Bone Walker (1910 - 1975)
Charles Brown (1922 - 1999)
Amos Milburn (1927 - 1980)
Pee Wee Crayton (1914 - 1985)
Johnny "Guitar" Watson (1935 - 1996)
Lowell Fulson (1921 - 1999)
Jump Blues Jump Blues came up during the 1940's with a huge Jazz/Swing influence. The danceable uptempo music was played by big bands and became the precursor of Rock 'n Roll as well as Rhythm And Blues (R&B). Shouting vocals, big band style, saxophone solos, less guitar (only rhythm), uptempo Vocals, brass instruments (horns, saxophone, ...) drums, piano, guitar, big band Aristocrat Records
Modern Records
RPM Records
Specialty Records
Atlantic Records
Chess Records
Louis Jordan (1908 - 1975)
Amos Milburn (1927 - 1980)
Floyd Dixon (1929 - 2006)
Charles Brown (1920 - 1999)
Joe Turner (1911 - 1985)
British Blues That's what this site is all about... when Big Bill Broonzy, Howling' Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other Blues artists had their first gigs in Great Britain in the 1950's and early 1960's, artists like Chris Barber, Alexis Corner, Cyril Davies, John Mayall as well as the Rolling Stones began to discover the Blues roots and started playing it. It was the birth of the electric guitar heroes like Clapton, Green, Page, Beck and more and the beginning of groups like the Blues Incorporated, Yardbirds, Cream, Fleetwood Mac or the Who. see Chicago/Delta Blues and other styles like Blues Rock Vocals, guitar, bass, drums, piano Blue Horizon
Immediate Records
Mobile Fidelity
Rhino Records
Kalamazoo Records
Eric Clapton
John Mayall
Alexis Corner
Chris Barber
Cyril Davies
Jeff Beck
Jimmy Page
Peter Green
Rolling Stones
and many more...
Piano Blues General term for all piano based Blues forms like Boogie-Woogie, Cool Blues, Barrelhouse and more. From Barrelhouse style (12-bar blues, repeating rhythmic patterns left hand, melodies and improvisations right hand) to Jazz Blues. Piano, drums, bass, guitar, horns, vocals -   Cow Cow Davenport
Roosevelt Sykes
Clarence "Pine Top" Smith
Leroy Carr
Walter Davis
Roosevelt Sykes
Big Maceo Merriweather
Champion Jack Dupree
Sunnyland Slim
and Jimmy Yancey
Otis Spann
Dr. John
Jazz Blues Having the same roots Jazz music is heavily influenced by the Blues, so there are many Blues elements in Jazz music. It combines the 12 bar structure, blue notes and blues phrasing with jazz harmonies and jazz chords. 12 bar structure, blue notes, chord substitution, ii/V progression instead of V/IV, dim chords Guitar, saxophone, piano, horns, bass, vocals Rhino Records
Vanguard Records
Prestige Records
Blue Note Records
Muse Records
Mose Allison
Lonnie Johnson
Roy Milton
Jimmy Rushing
Big Joe Turner
Jimmy Gourley
Bill Heid
Bill Jennings
Chuck Rainey
Freddy Robinson
Bobby Short
Alvin "Red" Tyler
Jimmy Witherspoon
Ray Charles
Charlie Parker
Louis Armstrong
Coleman Hawkins
Chris Barber

What do Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," Hank Williams' "Move It On Over," and Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Special" all have in common? Each one of these classics is based on the 12-bar blues pattern (or one of it's variants), a standard chord progression that runs through American music the way the Mississippi Rivers courses through the American heartland, interconnecting and nourishing the nation. Because blues has influenced almost every American musical style, it is a common ground for musicians in this country. Most experienced guitar players here, it seems, know at least a bit of blues. Learning how to play the chords to the 12-bar blues pattern will therefore enable you to jam with players from a wide range of musical backgrounds, as well as hardcore blueshounds. It is the first step to becoming a blues player, and therefore a natural starting point for this new column, in which we will learn how to play the blues on guitar and also harmonica. So get your ax out of the case, tune it up, and read on.
Think of learning the blues form on guitar as a recipe-we'll assemble the ingredients, then throw them into the pot and cook them into a spicy gumbo. First, you'll need to know a few dozen chords. Figure 1 is chart of standard chords commonly used in blues rhythm guitar. These are also referred to as open chords because they usually use open strings. This sampling is just enough chords to get you started playing in the most commonly used guitar keys, not a complete listing (see Ted Greene's jazz book Chord Chemistry for the most comprehensive compilation in print I know of). If you see any chords here you are unfamiliar with, learn them. The chords given here are A, Bb, B, C, D, E, F, F# and G in the major, minor, 7th, minor 7th, and 9th forms. The fingering of each chord is given above the diagram; an "x" above a string in the diagram indicates that that string is not played.

Some tips for playing chords- keep your left wrist arched down slightly. Your thumb should be perpendicular to the neck with the knuckle on the middle of the neck and opposite the index finger. The fingers should be curled, with the end segments coming almost straight down on the strings on the tips of the fingers near the nails. No finger should be allowed to touch a string other than the one it is pressing down. The exceptions to this are the partial barre chords such as F minor in which the index finger is held flat on the fingerboard to press down from two to five strings, and the 'bent-back ring finger' chords (Bb9, B9, G minor, and G minor 7th), in which the ring finger is placed flat over two or more strings. You can check yourself to see if you're playing a chord cleanly by picking the strings one at a time from the bass to the treble. If you hear a dead, muffled, or buzzing string, adjust your finger position so that the chord is clear.

Figure 2 shows full barre chords, which are chords in which the index finger is held flat on the fingerboard and presses down all six strings. Barre chords, which are more difficult to play than non-barre chords, are used to make a standard chord such as E or A movable on the guitar neck. The same barre chord can thus have 12 different pitches depending on which fret it is on. The two most commonly used groups of barre chords -the E-form chords and A-form chords - are shown here.

When practicing barre chords, hold the index finger straight from the tip to the proximal knuckle, which is the where the finger joins the back of the hand. Also, place the middle knuckle over the second string. This will help you get the cleanest sound in the beginning. The exception here is the Bb chord, which is a ring finger barre chord For the Bb, hold the second, third, and fourth strings on the third fret with the ring finger and then place the index finger on the first fret of the fifth string. The first and sixth strings are not played, and the ring finger must be bent so the first string is not pressed down.

Now that we learned some chords, the next step is putting them together to make a 12-bar blues pattern. For this, we'll need a dash music theory: how chords are organized into keys. We'll temporarily define a key as a scale harmonized by three major chords, the I, IV, and the V. For example, in the key of A, the first note in the scale is A, the fourth note is D, and the fifth note is E, so the chords based on those notes are termed the I, IV, and the V chords respectively.

Figure 3 is a table of I, IV, and V chords in the seven keys most commonly used in blues - A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. There are five others, Bb, C#, D#, F#, and Ab, but they are mostly used in jazz (guitarists refer to them as the "remote" keys) and tend to require the more. The rows give the chords in each key, and the columns show the position of each chord in each key. For example, in the key of C, the I chord is C, the IV chord is F, and the V chord is G. To plays blues rhythm guitar you'll need to know what the three principal chords in these keys are.

The last ingredient is the 12-bar blues itself shown in Figure 4. This chord pattern is used to accompany the typical three-line verse form of blues lyrics, as well as instrumental breaks in between the verses. The first line sets up the situation, for example "Hey, mama, where did you stay last night," and is repeated. The last line is a rejoinder-"Your hair's all tangled and you ain't talking' right." In the standard 12-bar form, each line is four measures long with each measure lasting for 4 beats. The first line can consist of four bars of the I chord or the pattern I-IV-I-I, which is known as the "quick change" variation. The second line consists of two bars of the IV chord followed by two of the I chord. In the third line, the V chord can be substituted for the four chord in the tenth measure, and the also for the I chord in the final measure if the pattern is going to repeat. These variations are shown by the two vertically aligned chords in the second, tenth, and twelfth bars.

Now that you have the left-hand fingerings to the chords, the I, IV, and V chords in the seven guitar keys, and the 12-bar pattern all bubbling in the pot, we're almost ready to serve the meal and play the blues in several keys. For this, take each key, and use the appropriate chords to construct the blues pattern. Here's an example: in the key of A, A is the I chord, D is the IV chord, and E is the V chord. Therefore, the12-bar blues in A would go like this: A-A-A-A-D-D-A-A-E-D-A-A. The key of F should be practiced with both standard and barre chords. Strum down once per beat.

Blues is usually played in the major key, which for guitarists means either major, seventh, or ninth chords may be used for the I, IV and V chords. In minor key blues (for example, "The Thrill Is Gone," by B. B. King), minor or minor 7th chords may be used for the I and IV chords, and major, seventh, or ninth chords used for the V chord.

The last step is to add some rhythm to the recipe and learn some strumming patterns with the right hand. In Figure 5, the arrows indicate pick direction, and how each strum is counted is given below the notes. The easiest strum is the basic downstrum, which you just used when you were putting the chords together in the 12-bar form, and consists of 1 strum per beat. When you are first learning chords, this is the best one to use. Figure 5 also gives you strums for other rhythms commonly heard in the blues: the shuffle, slow triplet blues, even eighth notes, the "sock" style (used in "jump" blues), and the famous "Bo Diddley" beat. Now try playing blues in the seven keys in both the major and minor variations, using each strumming pattern in all keys.