Blues Examples

A reference guide to the examples of songs using the basic 12-bar blues chord structure as described in the “Chords and Harmony” appendix B of Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (NY: Plume, 2007).

A basic reminder: the standard blues progression is as follows:

I – I – I – I
IV – IV – I – I
V7 – V7 (or IV) – I – I (or a V7 turnaround chord).

So, in C, for example:

4 bars of C
Two of F, two of C
One each of G7, F, C, and G7.

As the above suggests, there’s lots of minor and not-so-minor variations that particular songs or performances might take within this basic structure: chord substitutions, adding a non-blues bridge or intro, adding passing chords, taking out some chords (for example, Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” is sort of a two-chord blues, just using the I and IV chords, and John Lee Hooker has plenty of good one-chord blues!).

Straight Blues


Robert Johnson (key somewhere between B-flat and B-natural)

Cream (key of A)

“Sweet Sixteen”

B.B. King (key of C#)

“I Hear You Knocking”

Smiley Lewis (key of E)

Big Joe Turner (key of C)

Dave Edmunds (key of E)

Levitin mentions a version of “I Hear Your Knocking” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but Hawkins offers a more interesting take on the blues in his big, strange hit, “I Put a Spell On You”: it does the blues in a minor key, it isn’t 12-bars, AND it’s a waltz! So…

I Put a Spell On You

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Key of F minor)

Blues in Rock/Pop

“Tutti Frutti”

Little Richard (key of F)

“Rock and Roll Music”

Chuck Berry (key of E-flat)

“Kansas City”

Wilbert Harrison (key of C#)

“Rock and Roll”

Led Zeppelin (key of A)

“Jet Airliner”

Steve Miller Band (key of C). This one is kind of stretch, like “Get Back.” In fact it’s closer to the chords of “Get Back”!)

“Get Back”

The Beatles (key of A)

Not all that close to a blues, but here’s a Beatles song that is:


Ringo Starr, with Paul McCartney (key of A)