Welcome to week #32! This week we’re going to look at one of the most common elements found in improvisation today, the Blues. If this is your first time here, welcome! I’d highly encourage you to check out some of the past week’s tips as some of them might be helpful for you. For our returning friends…welcome back and I hope you find this week’s tip beneficial to your playing! If you haven’t yet, I want to encourage everyone to check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and invite you to check it out by going to the link to the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music for more information. The E-book version works great on mobile devices (which is an instant download available all across the globe) and the printed version is sturdy and sits nicely on a music stand. We should have the E-book version available in a few different languages very shortly.

The Blues and blues licks are found all over in improvisations. Jazz can trace its roots back to Blues, but some falsely believe that you only find blues and blues licks in the Blues. If you listen to albums throughout jazz history, you’ll find that the blues/blues licks are present on all types of song vehicles (standards, “modal”, contemporary, Blues, etc). Before we get into how we can use blues licks in our improvisation, let’s look at what the Blues Scale and how it’s constructed. The Blues Scale is built off the root, flat 3rd, 4th, sharp 4th (or flat 5th), 5th and flat 7th. Below is the “C” Blues Scale:
C Blues Scale

If you notice, the Blues Scale looks just like a pentatonic scale, just with a passing tone. Below is the Eb Pentatonic Scale:
Eb Pentatonic Scale

Many educational systems teach their students the Blues Scale as one of their first exposures into improvisation. One of the reasons for this is that the Blues Scale works over the entire Blues Progression. However, I find that students that learn this scale first tend to overuse the scale and become reliant on it. EVERYTHING they play sounds like they’re running up and down a Blues Scale. This scale, like any other tool used in improvisation, needs to not be overused.

There are times when you have a desire to play something in your improvisation that a Blues Scale type lick fits perfectly. Below are a few short licks that I like that are strictly based on the Blues Scale:

Blues Example 1

Blues Example 2

As I mentioned above, the Blues Progression is not the only song vehicle type that you can use the Blues or blues licks on. I’ve found that any time you have a progression that stays in the key center for a period of time (i.e. some standards “A” sections, “A” section on Rhythm Changes, etc) you can, if tastefully done, insert a blues line. Those lines can be like those above that are based strictly off the Blues Scale. OR…one of my personal favorites is combining the key center’s major pentatonic scale with the Blues Scale. For example, if we’re playing a standard that has its “A” section in the key of “C” I will mix the C-major pentatonic scale WITH the Blues Scale.
C Pentatonic Scale
Blues Scale

It might help for you to see some musical examples of what I’m talking about with the mixture. Below are a few lines (some come straight out of my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose which goes further into talking about how we can use the blues scale to target) that combine both the pentatonic scale WITH the Blues Scale:

Blues Example 3
Blues Example 4

Notice how those lines contain an “A” and/or a “D” in the line? “A” and “D” aren’t found in the C-Blues Scale. I find when you create with these two scales, you communicate a more melodic sounding line. Below is another example (again straight out of Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) that is a mixed line over the ii-V-I progression:

Blues Example 5

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and find it beneficial to your playing! Please feel free to share this tip/blog with your friends, colleagues and students. Also, I thought it would interesting to see some of your favorite blues licks if you wouldn’t mind sharing. I think we can all benefit from each other and would love to see some of your favorites. I look forward to hearing from you!

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