Take your blues jams to the next level with 10 inspiring chord shapes

Man playing Fender Telecaster electric guitar
(Image credit: Future)

The good old E- and A-shape barre chords provide ample ways for you to jam over any chord progression you could ever be faced with. However, there are loads more inspiring shapes to try – shapes with a little more authentic bluesiness about them. 

Here we’ve presented 10 shapes for you to try out in a I-IV-V blues progression in E – so, remember, that’s E, A and B. Start with E, A and B chords you already know, then try substituting for some of these.

1. C-shape 7th chord

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You might recognise this as a C7 shape when played at the 1st position. Keep the open strings quiet and it’s a cool moveable shape that’s great for blues and jazz. 

2. Barre chord fragment

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This one’s based on a well-known barre chord shape, but, by ditching the fifth string, the bass note has more clarity, and overall there’s a less ‘predictable’ sound.

3. Essential 9th chord

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This 9th chord is well used, but it sounds better than basic barre chords. Try sliding in from one semitone above or below in a slow blues.

4. Alternative 9th chord

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This shape benefits from the same clarity in the bass as our barre chord fragment‚ and for the same reason. Remove the fifth string for a clearer bottom-end.

5. The Hendrix chord

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Hendrix is famous for using this chord in songs like Purple Haze. Forget that for now. The point is it sounds great as the V chord in a I-IV-V blues progression.

6. Sophisticated sounds

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There’s a rich, jazzy vibe to this 13th chord, which lends itself to exposed guitar parts where its sophistication can be heard, perhaps in slow, soulful ballads. 

7. The ‘altered’ chord

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When a dominant 7th chord (B7, A7 etc) just doesn’t have enough harmonic ‘bite’, try this one out. Its #5th adds more dissonance to proceedings. 

8. Minor blues I chord

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Switching to a blues in E minor (Em-Am-Bm) now, there’s a laid-back sound to this minor 9th chord that sounds great allied to a Dorian mode solo. 

9. Minor blues IV chord

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You could stick to Am or Am7, but why not build on our minor 9th opener with this lovely minor 11th on the IV chord.

10. Minor blues V chord

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Rounding out the minor blues chords, you’ll find it easy to vamp around this Bm7 with the Em9 because the two shapes share common notes.

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Jenna Scaramanga

Jenna writes for Total Guitar and Guitar World, and is the former classic rock columnist for Guitar Techniques. She studied with Guthrie Govan at BIMM, and has taught guitar for 15 years. She's toured in 10 countries and played on a Top 10 album (in Sweden).