Minor blues tunes are some of the most popular and enjoyable songs to jam over.
With a more open feel compared to major blues tunes, these changes allow for a variety of chord subs and alterations.
In this lesson, you learn six different minor blues progressions and the theory behind each version.
As well, you learn 12 chord studies over those minor blues progressions.
Each study is written with a simple rhythm, whole and half notes.
Once you have them under your fingers, alter the rhythms as you expand them in the practice room.
Also, there are two levels of chord studies, beginner and intermediate.
Each study uses the same chord changes, but, each focuses on different chord shapes.
So, grab your axe, and get ready to master minor blues for jazz guitar.
Minor Blues Quick Facts
What is a minor blues? The minor blues is a 12-bar progression that uses the chords Im, ivm, and V7 plus chord variations.
What is the difference between major and minor blues? Major blues has a I7 and IV7 chord, while minor blues has Im7 and ivm7 chords.
What styles use the minor blues progression? Blues, rock, jazz, and pop all use the minor blues progression in their songs.
What’s the easiest way to solo over minor blues? The easiest way to solo over a minor blues song is to use the minor blues scale.
Minor Blues Chords Contents
- 10 Essential Minor Blues Songs
- Minor Blues Basic Chords
- Minor Blues ii V Chords
- Minor Blues Turnarounds
- ii V in Bar 4
- bVI to V Chords
- Descending ii V Chords
10 Essential Minor Blues Songs
If you want to add a minor blues tune to your repertoire, here’s are 10 tunes, 8 jazz, 1 blues, and 1 rock, that you can explore.
- P.C. – John Coltrane
- Birks’ Works – Dizzy Gillespie
- Equinox – John Coltrane
- Israel – Johnny Carisi
- Footprints – Wayne Shorter
- Big P – Jimmy Heath
- Stolen Moments – Oliver Nelson
- Boogie Stop Shuffle – Charles Mingus
- The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King
- Since I’ve Been Loving You – Led Zeppelin
Now that you’ve got a list of tunes, and some background on minor blues, take that knowledge to the fretboard.
Minor Blues Chords – Basic Changes
The first minor blues progression uses the basic changes in the key of D.
Here, you use only three chords:
Notice that these three chords fall in the same place as their major blues counterparts.
- Im7 – Bars 1-4, 7-8, 11-12
- ivm7 – Bars 5-6
- V7alt – Bars 9-10
As you hear in the examples below, the V7alt chord creates tension that’s resolved to the Im7 chord.
In minor keys, such as minor blues, there’s often more tension than in major key progressions.
This is an example of that tension in action.
Here’s a backing track to play with, either jumping right in and jamming or using it to play the chord studies below.
D Basic Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 1
Basic Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this beginner study, you use drop 3 chords to outline the changes.
You begin with the root on the 6th string for the first Dm7, moving to the closest shapes for Gm7 and A7alt from there.
As was mentioned in the beginning, the rhythm for this study is very plain.
Start by learning the whole-note rhythm, and then experiment with new rhythms after that over the backing track.
Click to hear minor blues chords 1
Basic Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
In this intermediate study, you learn one of the most common ways to alter jazz guitar chords, removing the root.
Here, you play mostly the same shapes as the beginner version, but with the roots removed.
This is a running theme for intermediate chords in this lesson, removing the root to create rootless jazz guitar chords.
While it seems easy to remove the root, it’s difficult to see the chord without a root as a reference.
Though you’re not playing the root, visualize it on the fretboard to help you quickly find any rootless shape.
Lastly, learn the whole-note rhythm first, then move on to experimenting with other rhythms from there.
Click to hear minor blues chords 2
Minor Blues Chords – ii V Changes
You now add in a ii V to bars 9, 10, and 12 of the minor blues form.
In a minor key, the ii chord is a m7b5 shape, as compared to iim7 in major keys.
As well, you often see the V chord written as V7alt, which is ambiguous from a voicing standpoint.
When you see V7alt on a lead sheet, you can play the b9, #9, b5, #5, or any combination of those notes.
As you progress through this lesson, work out which tension notes you like over V7alt chords.
Here’s the backing track and lead sheet for the ii V minor blues chord progression.
ii V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 2
ii V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this minor blues study, you use drop 3 chords, though this time starting with the Dm7 on the 5th string.
5th-string drop 3 chords are more difficult compared to 6th string shapes.
So, go slow with these changes, work them out of context if needed, and bring them back to the tune when you’re ready.
Click to hear minor blues chords 3
ii V Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
You now remove the roots from the previous chord study to create an intermediate level comping etude.
Use barre chords whenever possible, such as the first Dm7 chord.
Here, barre the 5th string with your index finger and play the 6th fret on the 2nd string with your middle finger.
Using barres opens up your other fingers to add extensions if needed.
Click to hear minor blues chords 4
Minor Blues – Turnaround Chords
Next, you add a bIIImaj7 chord to bar 11 to create a turnaround in the last two bars.
Though you only add one chord to the previous version, playing four chords in the last 2 bars is tough.
Take your time, remove those two bars and work them with a metronome if needed, then bring them to the full form from there.
The bIIImaj7 chord is diatonic to the underlying minor key, and the bass note leads nicely into the iim7b5 chord.
Here’s a backing track to jam along to and work the chord studies with below.
Minor Blues Turnaround Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 3
Turnaround Minor Blues Beginner Chords
You now move on to using drop 2 chords over the progression.
Here, you begin with the first chord on the 5th-string and move to the closest shapes for each chord from there.
Drop 2 chords allow you to play four notes on consecutive strings, there are no skips as with drop 3 chords.
Because of this, drop 2 chords are useful when playing with a bass player, pianist, or other guitarist.
They’re also great for arranging chord melody tunes on guitar.
Lastly, notice the Edim7 chord used to outline A7alt, creating a rootless 7b9 sound over that change.
In jazz, when you have a iim7b5-V7alt progression, you can play iim7b5-iidim7 to create a iim7b5-V7b9 sound.
Though rootless chords are more advanced, because it shares the same root as the iim7b5, this is an easy application of that concept.
Click to hear minor blues chords 5
Turnaround Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
Here are the rootless chords for the turnaround progression.
Again, barre every chord that you can, such as the second Dm7 shape in bar 2.
Here, use your index finger to barre, which frees up your other three fingers to add extensions.
Lastly, notice that the Fmaj7 and Em7b5 shapes are the same, just two frets apart, and the Em7b5 and A7alt chords are only one note apart.
This movement is one of the benefits of rootless chords.
Once you have them down, connect Fmaj7 and Em7b5 by adding is a passing chord that uses the same shape on the 9th fret.
This brings tension to your chords, and gets a Joe Pass sound over a minor blues turnaround.
Click to hear minor blues chords 6
Minor Blues Chords – ii V Bar 4
In this example, you use one of the most common alterations, adding a ii-V of ivm7 in bar four.
By doing so, you creating tension over the fourth bar, then resolve that tension into the fifth bar.
In jazz, when you want to highlight a chord, you add a ii V before that chord to lead into it.
Here’s an example of how you highlight the ivm7 chord in a minor blues progression.
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 4
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this chord study, you use drop 2 chords from the 4th-string root on the first chord, moving to the closest shapes from there.
These shapes might be a bit high for some guitars, if you don’t have a cutaway for example.
So, feel free to move them down an octave if needed.
Click to hear minor blues chords 7
ii V Bar 4 Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
In the intermediate version of this progression, you remove the roots to create rootless chords.
Again, this is a bit high up the neck, and you probably won’t start your comping behind a soloist in this range.
But, there are moments when you want to comp this high on the guitar.
If the soloist is blowing in the low range, or building intensity, you can play higher-range chords underneath their solo.
Practicing higher chords prepares you for those moments when jamming over jazz standards.
Click to hear minor blues chords 8
Minor Blues Chords – bVI to V Changes
When playing minor blues, you can substitute a bVI7 chord for the iim7b5 chord in the ii V.
bVI7 leads nicely to V7alt, and allows you to create interest in those parts of the progression.
Here’s a backing track and lead sheet that uses bVI7 in bars 9 and 12 of the progression.
As well, there’s a common walk down bassline used before that Bb7, Dm7-Dm7/C, which you find in many minor jazz tunes before a bVI7 chord.
This group of chords, Dm7-Dm7/C-Bb7-A7alt, is called the “Stray Cat Strut” progression, as it’s similar to the changes in the Stray Cats song.
bVI to V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 5
bVI to V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
In this chord study, you use one of the most common minor chord shapes in jazz, 4th chords.
These chords are built by stacking 4th intervals, rather than 3rds, which are traditionally used.
You can see these shapes used over the Dm7 and G7 chords in this study.
When using 4th chords, you bring a modern sound to your comping, reminiscent of McCoy Tyner’s piano work, who was fond of these shapes.
Click to hear minor blues chords 9
bVI to V Minor Blues intermediate Chords
As was the case with the beginner study, you use 4th chords in this intermediate version.
Again, you remove the roots to create smaller, easier to play chords, only now Dm7 and Gm7 will be 4th-chords.
After you get these shapes under your fingers, connect them with chromatic approach chords to bring tension and release into your comping.
Click to hear minor blues chords 10
Minor Blues Chords – Descending ii V Changes
The final progression uses a iiim7 VI ii V7 group to lead from Im7 chord, Dm7, to bVI, Bb7 in bars 7-9.
This adds movement to your comping in those bars of the progression.
As well, it smoothly connects the Im7 chord to bVI7, as compared to jumping from one to the next.
Because there are four chords in two bars, isolate those changes and work them slowly before playing them over the tune.
Descending ii V Minor Blues Backing Track Minor Blues Backing Track 6
Descending ii V Minor Blues Beginner Chords
Again, you use 4th chords in this beginner minor blues chord study, now beginning on the 4th string root and moving to the closest chords from there.
As was mentioned earlier, if you have trouble with bars 7-8, isolate those changes and practice them slowly in your guitar practice routine.
Click to hear minor blues chords 11
Descending ii V Minor Blues Intermediate Chords
The final intermediate chord study uses rootless versions of the previous beginner study.
One way to practice these intermediate chord studies is to play the beginner version first, followed by the intermediate version.
This allows you to compare them, and gives you two versions to play when jamming on minor blues tunes in your playing.
Click to hear minor blues chords 12