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Approaches to Playing the Blues


Well-Known Member
What approaches do you like for playing over the (major) Blues changes ? I mean the most simple 12 bar form such as:

For example:
  1. Playing the minor blues scale of the key over the whole thing (C-Eb-F-F#-G-Bb)
  2. Emphasising chord tones for each chord (C-E-G-Bb for the I7, F-A-C-Eb for the IV7 and G-B-D-F for the V7)
  3. Playing pentatonics for each chord
  4. Playing with a dominant sound over the I, minor sound for the IV and major sound for the V (e.g. C7, Cmin7 and Cmaj7 respectively for the I, IV and V)
  5. Playing riffs or motifs

What works for you ?



Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
... Requiring the rhythm section to play a I6 on the first three bars, so I can use a maj7 like Lester Young or Parker

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
It would depend on the genre , tempo etc. If I'm playing a slow blues in a blues style, then there's a lot of repeating phrases with an emphasis on tonal changes and rhythmic progression to build some sort of tension and release. Somewhere in the mix would be some phrases from the mental archive of songs, phrasing the words through the saxophone with reference to the mood that's being aimed at mixed with some noodling in the minor blues scale.

If it's a dance or swing piece then rhythm is more important than being clever with the notes. Foot tapping repetetive phrases can work quite well.

If it's a jazz jam then whatever comes out of the sax is fine. Anything goes, don't think, just play. If it goes a little off course and gets a little off key, play it again the same. See ...I meant to do it.


Well-Known Member
IMO rhythm is always more important than clever notes

Menuhin amongst others stated you find the music in the spaces begween the notes.

tracking is important too. Listen to what you just played and build upon it ... Make a statement that makes sense


Hey Rhys
Thanks for those methods to work with. I often play that 12 bar form (I call it 'straight blues') but never thought of your points 3 & 4. I use the one scale approach, the harmonic approach, and use riffs/motifs to hear and create melodies and work them with the different sounds of the horn - like with sheet music, you have the horizontal (melody and time) and the vertical (harmony) and the third dimension, or depth of the music, is notated but expresses only a minute fraction of the depth,variety, strength, etc of that place. For me, that is where the music lives.
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