The differences between "simple" blues and "advanced" blues are similar to the differences in all styles of music: melody, harmony, and time. Often times the only similarity between simple and more advanced blues is that they both have 12 measures in the form.
In the basic blues, we played the melody using the five (or six) note blues scale. Improvisation could also use that same blues scale. If you listened to some of the early blues guitarists you'd see how the improvisation is really simple and based on the pentatonic scale for the most part.
In advanced blues, improvisation can still be based on the blues scale, but because more chords are tossed into the mix jazz players will often shift their playing more towards chord oriented playing, or even bebop where the improvisation notes are very much dependent on the chord (and particular notes in the chord.)
In the end, though, you select the notes you want to play depending on the chord, how it relates to the chords around it, and how your melodic ideas fit into the structure of the chords.
In this lesson we'll look at:
- Examples of Blues Changes from very simple up to Parker changes.
- Some examples of over-used but nice sounding piano blues licks.
Blues Chord Changes
There are a lot of different ways to interpret the blues. Here are five examples of 12 bar blues chord progressions. It is somewhat difficult to notate so that it sounds good, so I have put graphics of sheet music up with the chord changes and then used MIDI to record myself playing those changes.
Do not try to analyze what I am playing. Instead analyze Hank Jones, Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal,, and other great jazz/blues pianists. If I were good enough for you to want to analyze my playing, I'd be famous, on the road with Ray Brown (RIP!), and probably wouldn't have enough time to work on this.
These next examples are mostly in the key of F, but you should practice blues in all keys. On most of these the first chorus is chords while the second chorus contains some improvisatory material.
Example 1 - Traditional Blues
You should be familiar with these chords because they are the same ones you saw in the Simple Blues lesson.
Example 2 - Jazz Blues 1
This first set of altered blues changes is still fairly basic, but a great place to start learning about altered progressions. No matter who you are playing with, you can get away with playing these changes in the blues because they are basically considered standard jazz blues changes.
A 1-6-2-5 (F7-D7-Gm7-C7) turnaround has been added at the end of the progression (you could substitute A7 for the F7 because A7 is the 5 of D7 and leads right into it), and some leading chords have been added inside the progression (such as the D7 leading to the Gm7)
Example 3 - Jazz Blues 2
This example takes the standard jazz blues changes and reharmonizes them a little bit. A few more 2-5's (such as the Cm7-F7 at the end of the first line) have been added, there is a tri-tone substitution on the last line where the Gb7 is (it could be a C7), and the 1-6-2-5 turnaround at the end has been altered in the tri-tone manner. If you felt like it, you could add an Ab7 on beat 3 and 4 in the last measure of line two which would lead nicely into the Gm7 chord on the last line.
Example 4 - Jazz Blues 3
This example is more reharmonizing, and in this case we're experimenting with the circle of 5ths just a bit. The first line is altered quite a bit, but it is altered in such a way that it leads into the second line where there is a Bb7. See, that Bb7 is a keystone in the blues progressions we've been dealing with, and as long as you get to that Bb7, you can do almost anything you want in front of it as long as you don't get lost and hit the Bb7 when you're supposed to!
Don't ever go so far in your experiments that you lose your place in the music. That is a big show stopper. Experiment at home, jam when you're on stage.
Example 5 - Parker Blues
Charlie Parker had every tool in the book at his disposal in his playing. He had tools that weren't in books at all, and I'm sure a lot of the stuff he knew went to the grave with him. Bird played the blues in all the styles and with all the different chord progressions you could imagine, but one particular chord progression stands out among everything he did in the blues. This progression has come to be known as HIS progression. In a jam session you might hear someone yell out, "Blues in Bb, Parker changes!" Here they are in F. You can see them in action in his tune, "Blues for Alice."
Example 6 - Minor Blues
Minor blues is fairly popular in the jazz world so it is a good idea to know the basic chord structure in case you are called on to play some. The following chord changes can be used when playing the Coltrane's minor blues song, "Mr. PC" and many others.
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