[Sheet Music]

Lesson 9: The Blues

The Blues

The blues form is 12 bars long and goes something like this ( in C):

|C7    |      |      |      |
|F7    |      |C7    |      |
|G7    |      |C7    |      |
The V-I cadence in bars 9- 11 has evolved into two versions.

In the "rock/ r&b version" an F7 chord is thrown in after the G7 making the cadence a V-IV-I. The rock/ r&b version goes like this:

|C7    |      |      |      |
|F7    |      |C7    |      |
|G7    |F7    |C7    |      |

In the "jazz version" a Dm7 chord is thrown in before the G7 making the cadence a II-V-I. The jazz version goes like this:

|C7    |F7    |C7    |      |
|F7    |      |C7    |A7    |
|Dm7   |G7    |C  A7 |Dm7 G7|

Beware, however - the rock/ r&b version with the V-IV-I cadence is about as common in jazz as the jazz version...

The Blues Scale

This is a C blues scale:
The bluesy sound comes from using notes from the blues scale, particularly the minor 3rd and the flatted 5th over the C7 chord. As a matter of fact, the blues scale can be forced over the whole 12 bar progression and will work just fine over any one of the chords.

Scale Choices for a C Jazz Blues

bar 1: C7 - C Mixolydian
bar 2: F7 - F Mixolydian
bars 3-4: C7 - C Mixolydian
bars 5-6: F7 - F Mixolydian
bar 7: C7 - C Mixolydian
bar 8: A7 - Eb Lydian b7 or C minor pentatonic or C blues
bar 9-10: Dm7 G7 - see lesson 6
bar 11-12: turn-around: C A7 Dm7 G7 - see lesson 7

Check out Janne Hyöty's transcription of Mike Stern's Bruze solo as a great example of jazz style blues soloing.

Minor Blues

Minor blues is also very common. Here's the changes for a 12 bar minor blues ( in C):

|Cm7   |      |      |C7alt |
|Fm7   |      |Cm7   |      |
|Ab7   |G7    |Cm7   |      |

"Parker Blues"

The following version of the changes is commonly referred to as "Parker Blues" or "Bird Blues". They originated from Charlie Parker's Blues for Alice and are almost always played in F. Some versions have a Bb7 chord instead of Bbmaj7 in the fifth bar. Other tunes written on these changes are Tommy Flanagan's Freight Trane and Charlie Parker's Laird Baird ( in Bb) and Si Si. Jean "Toots" Thielemans' Bluesette ( Bb) and the A section of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Wave ( D) are also "in this ballpark"...

|Fmaj7 |Em7b5A7|Dm7G7|Cm7 F7|
|Gm7   |C7    |F  D7 |Gm7 C7|

Three Different Types of Blues Themes

A blues theme can be:

  • riff style, which means that the same phrase/ riff is played over all three groups of four bars
  • AA'B, which means that there is a first "A" phrase played over the first four bars, then repeated ( often slightly modified to fit the harmony) over the second four bars and then answered by a second "B" phrase over the last four bars
  • through-composed, which means that there are no repeated phrases, there is new material all the time


Listen to the following tunes:

  • Bag's Groove by Milt Jackson ( riff blues)
  • Blue Monk by Thelonious Monk ( through-composed)
  • Blue Seven by Sonny Rollins ( through-composed)
  • Blues for Alice by Charlie Parker ( through-composed)
  • Bluezo by Hal Crook ( through-composed)
  • C Jam Blues by Duke Ellington ( riff blues)
  • The Chicken by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis
  • Dust My Broom by Robert Johnson ( AA'B)
  • Footprints by Wayne Shorter ( AA'B)
  • In the Mood - Glenn Miller
  • Mr. C by Max Shultz ( through-composed)
  • Rumble by Link Wray and Milton Grant
  • Sonnymoon for Two by Sonny Rollins ( riff blues)
  • St. Louis Blues by W.C. Handy ( AA'B)
  • Splanky by Neal Hefti ( riff blues)
  • Tenor Madness by Sonny Rollins ( AA'B)
  • Walkin' Blues by Son House ( AA'B)

Blues Clichés

Check out some blues clichés that you should be familiar with. They are to be used in the last two bars of the blues form ( the turn-around) but moderately and with taste...


Check out my etudes

Written solos

Check out my written example solos

The minor blues solo uses ideas from Bob Russell's minor blues solo. You can to listen to Bob playing this solo here - thanks, Bob, for letting me use material from your great solo!

© 2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.