You Want To Play Blues, Rock & Roll or Jazz You Need To Start
The Saxophone Blues
If you're a saxophonist interested in playing any type of blues
based music including rock and roll and even jazz then you need
to use the blues scale as your number one tool to make things sound
right. Of coarse the saxophone blues scale is not only for saxophone
players... I'm just saying it that way because I'm usually talking
to an audience that are saxophonists.
A little history
If you want to investigate back to the beginnings of the blues as
it came about in America just start with W.C. Handy, who was a black
composer active in the early 1900's when the blues form began to
get popularized in large part because of his instrumental compositions
"Memphis Blues" (1912) and "St. Louis Blues"
(1914). Of coarse the blues oral tradition can be traced back to
the mid 1800's.
The blues scale
Because our western music has it's roots in European classical music
the music theorists needed to notate the blues scale as it was naturally
played and sung into an understandable notation which could be analyzed
and played by western trained musicians.
The simplest way to explain it's theory is this:
Simply take the traditional major scale; C D E F G A B C and flatten
the 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Now it looks like this: C D Eb E F Gb G A
Bb C.Notice the E, G, and B have been flattened, they are the 3rd,
5th and 7th notes of the C major scale and flattening them makes
the scale sound minor thus giving it the "blues" or sad
sound as opposed to the "major" or happy sound.
- blues scale
For us sax players these flat notes are perfect to
incorporate a "growl" sound to further emphasize that
"bluesy" expression or make it a bit more nasty. Two other
things to notice; the 3rd and 5th can be played as a flat or not
but the 7th generally is only played as a flat and not the major
7th in this type of scale or musical genre.
So now our basic major scale of 8 notes is now a blues scale of
10 notes. There are other variations to this blues scale; the basic
version for example is a 7 note scale: C Eb F F# G Bb C (the F#
being the same as the Gb). Adding the D, E natural and A give us
more musical possibilities and will not change the basic sound of
the blues scale. Even adding a flat 9th ( D flat) was a favorite
thing Charlie Parker did a lot and is a good way to jazz up your
basic blues scale
Here's a sample of some typical blues phrases that I play using
this blues scale: saxophone
blues scale riffs
(taken from the cd Rock & Roll Saxophonist)
The blues progression
Of coarse this is all just words and notes and theory. You have
to apply it and in any blues music this is done over a musical progression
thats 12 measures in length, thus the term "12 bar blues".
We're in the key of C so the first 4 bars will be the C chord. The
5th and 6th bars change to the 4 chord which is F (4th note in the
The 7th and 8th bars change back to the 1 chord (C). The 9th and
10th bars change to the 5 chord, which is G. The 11th and 12th bars
change back to the 1 chord (C).
When starting out you can get away with just playing
the same C blues scale over the entire progression but try to emphasize
1 or 2 of the notes in the F and G chord to make things a little
more interesting. For example, over the F chord play an F or an
A note to emphasize the harmonic color of the chord a little more.
basic 12 bar blues
variations on the
12 bar pattern
Can you spot the variations I used?
1) Bar 2 goes to F
2) Bar 10 goes to F
3) Bar 12 goes to G
The blues mean different things to many people ranging from musical
styles to a way of life or philosophy. The blues do have musical
influences from Europe and Africa but it is truly an American musical
form and tradition fully rooted in the black experience of the post-war
southern United States.
I want to be clear that when I talk about the blues or the blues
scale I'm not only referring to this type of musical tradition and
style but include funk, R&B, country, jazz and pop. Like the
old saying goes; The blues had a baby and they names it rock &
roll and from there came just about every form of pop music in western
history since that explosive time in the mid 1900's
And so, I think it's safe to say that the blues scale is easily
one of the most used and important scales for all types of western
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Swingin, & Rockin
Rock & Roll Saxophonist
Swing Meets Rock
King of the Mood Swings