I am relatively new to guitar, having started some three months ago, with daily practice of about two to three hours.

Having advanced past the nitty-gritty of the early beginner stages (at least according to the online course I follow - GuitarTricks), I'm trying to get into blues at the moment which is particularly fun because it's one of my favorite genres.

The 12 bar blues shuffle structure goes like this:

I  - I  - I - I
IV - IV - I - I
V  - IV - I - I

Throughout different courses and tutorials however - the paid GuitarTricks, as well as the free instructional videos by Erich Andreas (yourguitarsage) or Justin Sandercoe (Justin Guitar), I am constantly being told that it is imperative that I not count out the beats in a measure in order to determine when a chord change is about to happen, but to get a feel for it and to have the chord changes happen instinctively. Erich Andreas gives an example track for which he points out the chord changes but I cannot, for the life of me, tell when they happen, let alone identify them.

Justin Sandercoe, in one of his videos, even goes as far as to say that, if you listen to a lot of music that makes use of the 12 bar blues, you will know automatically and instinctively when the chord changes are to happen. This is certainly not true for me. Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top are two of my favorite artists/bands and I listen to their music a lot but still, I don't seem to have developed this instinctive skill of correctly predicting those chord changes.

Does this, in the best case, mean that I will simply have to be patient and let my ears grow accustomed to this kind of musical structure and that it is simply going to become second nature for me over time? Or, in the worst scenario, does it mean that I am simply untalented and that, if I can't even tell IF a chord change is happening, regardless of what kind of chord change it is, at this stage, I will never be able to do so?

Do you have any advice on what I can do to train my ear to develop this skill (faster)? Any songs that are particularly helpful with this task?

  • The VI really needs to be IV. It seems that the only definitive thing to being a 12 bar blues (apart from 12 bars!) is that bar 5 is IV.
    – Tim
    Jul 22, 2018 at 17:31
  • Whoops, of course! Thanks for pointing this out, Tim! :-)
    – tigrefurry
    Jul 22, 2018 at 17:56
  • Take your time! I used to have no rhythm at all, now I can sense those chord changes pretty easily. I would describe it as a building of tension in the last measure (or half measure) before the change; the change releases the tension.
    – scott
    Jul 23, 2018 at 23:15
  • 1
    "does it mean that I am simply untalented and that,..., I will never be able to do so?" Unless you have a deficiency and are tone deaf (which is an extremely rare condition) you will have absolutely no problems with this.
    – EzLo
    Jul 24, 2018 at 13:00

4 Answers 4


First off, don't fret about such difficulties after only a few months of playing. It sounds like you are putting in a reasonable amount of practice time, so you will keep improving in the areas that you focus on in your practice. It is helpful to get with a good teacher for a while at the beginning; they should be able to help you use your practice time more efficiently. This would speed things up quite a bit, but isn't strictly necessary.

It can be helpful to practice with a metronome, and count while you play. If you do this for a while you will develop a much better sense of where you are in the music, and you will also improve your timing. Before long you won't need to count explicitly so much, and you will have a better feel for time.

Something that I have found really useful, and from your question I think that this might help you too, is to sing while driving around in the car. For example, if you want to get a better handle on 12 bar blues changes, sing the root notes of the chords for a set of changes. Pick a key (say, the key of E), and sing:

E E E E | E E E E | E E E E | E E E E |

A A A A | A A A A | E E E E | E E E E |

B B B B | A A A A | E E E E | E E E E ||

When you do this, actually say the note name as you sing it, try to sing on pitch, and try to sing in time. It is boring, but it will make you focus on the sound and form of the changes away from your instrument, helping you to internalize the sound. You can mix things up a bit as you gain confidence by varying the rhythm. You should absolutely do this in different keys (really, in every key). When I leave the house, I often pick a reference pitch before I leave, and every key that I sing in is referenced from that initial pitch. I might do four or five keys, maybe more, while I am driving around.

Note also that there are countless variations on the blues changes. You should try to find out about some of these, or about how turnarounds can be used at the end of the progressions. Incorporate this into your singing-practice and you will have plenty to keep you busy for a while, but you will develop a very good feel for the changes that you are working with.

  • 1
    Thanks, David, for your reply! This seems to be a really great idea, with singing the chord progressions, I am definitely going to give that a shot! :-)
    – tigrefurry
    Jul 22, 2018 at 17:58
  • Last bar (12) is always better as a turnaround bar. Thus V(7). Otherwise there are 6 bars with the same chord - and no sign that the end is nigh...
    – Tim
    Jul 22, 2018 at 18:09

Eventually, you may well be able to feel when a change is due. Until then, take no notice! Count if you have to. There's nothing at all wrong - particularly at your stage - with counting 1 2 3 4 2 2 3 4 32 3 4 42 3 4 then change to the IV.

Eventually, you'll be able to just count the 1 the 2 the 3 and the 4 at the start of each bar, then purely feel when it's time to change.

Also bear in mind that what you write as a 12 bar is the very basic standard one. There are many variations, some of which use 1/2 bar changes which muddy the water somewhat. The only criteria, as far as I can tell, for a 12 bar to be a 12 bar, is to start on I chord at bar 1, and be at IV chord at bar 5 - and be 12 bars long!

Counting is not something only kids do. You'll find seasoned players who still count a lot, particularly in new numbers (songs, not counting numbers!). I do it a lot, after only 60+ yrs playing...

Use of metronome is always advocated, but I'd try different ways too. Set it for 4/4, but play as if the clicks are the '&' in between the beats, for starters. Miore than just for fun. It'll improve your counting. Also try keeping the beat without the 1234. Bodily movements, if you'll excuse the phrase, work well - nod head, shrug shoulders, tap foot, etc.

Above all, remember that the best musos always know where beat 1 is! Then you'll understand that to come in on the anacrucis of a single beat, it's no good counting 1-2-3-4!


I took jazz guitar lessons at one time, and my teacher gave me a terrific exercise to develop a sense of timing.

Basically you use a metronome, but the idea is to clap your hands on each beat. If you do it correctly, you won't hear the metronome -- just your clap.

Once you know/feel where the beat is, it's much easier to play behind, ahead of, or on the beat, depending on the feel you want.


Does this, in the best case, mean that I will simply have to be patient and let my ears grow accustomed to this kind of musical structure and that it is simply going to become second nature for me over time? Yes and Yes...don't over think it.

  • @Dom some idea of why my post was deleted, would be good? Jul 27, 2018 at 13:06

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