Can someone 'splain the Blues?

Long time instrumentalist, but I have kind weak knowledge of music theory.

When you are playing Blues - and really anything with a chord structure - do all the chords have to be the same? Does every ‘I’ chord need to be the same verse/riff?

Also, I read that I should target blow holes 1-4 for the ‘I’ chord, draw holes 1-4 for the ‘IV’ chord, and holes 5-6 for the ‘V’ chord. Is this true?

I feel as though this is all simple stuff but I am making it to complicated.



Hi @Dk360

To save us all a lot of time and effort, it would be a good idea for you to read this Wikipedia entry explaining some things about the “Blues”. In particular, read at least this section about some of the forms commonly used. I would then suggest reading this entry about the structures frequently used for 12-bar blues and also this entry about 8-bar blues structures.

There are also Wikipedia entries about 16-bar and 32-bar blues, but those can wait until you have internalized and processed the ones I have linked above for you to get a solid foundation.

“Yes” and “No”, but mostly “No”. What you have read is perhaps good to get started, but it is too simplified to rely on for sounding really good. It is a very restrictive set of rules that beginners can use to initially get started with improvising on the blues harp.

This is all “simple” when you understand more of the basics (not only the basics of the blues, but also some basics of music theory), and you are not making it too complicated! Indeed, if anything, you are making it too simple!!

Enjoy your journey into the world of the blues.

– Slim :sunglasses:


@Dk360 This should help! For chords, you’ve got it reverse. Would be DRAW 1-4 for the I chord, and BLOW 1-4 for the IV chord. Yes.

We don’t have a chord for the V chord. -1 and/or -4 for the root of the V chord. This is where splits come in handy:

You can play a million different riffs over any given chord. Try playing the same riff over different chords and pay attention to how a different harmonic context changes the vibe of a riff. You might love a riff over the IV chord, but not love it so much over the I chord. While this may be able to be explained with theory, at the end of the day this is ART, NOT science, so best thing is to play with this stuff and see what tickles your fancy. :wink:

Hope that helps! Rock on! :sunglasses:


This is how I started learning to play by ear. I could read but I wanted to play the stuff I heard and at the time printed music of pop,tunes was not in my budget if it was even available so I proceded to listen to a song and try to match what I heard on my horn. I still remember the first tune I learned like that. Can still play it today. The Viscounts “Harlem Nocturne” It took months to get it all but the more I did it the easier it became, and now I can copy almost anything I hear fairly quickly. All of these exercises and scales and so forth are just ways to train the ear to the muscles, to the notes. and it is achieved through repetition. The more you do it the easier it becomes. The first ones are the hardest so don’t pick a song with sentimental value because by the time you will have “learned it” you will no longer like it.


Yeah great point @GmanG. Another reason why it’s so valuable to learn by ear, you internalize it in a way that’s so different from learning from tabs.