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Characteristics of the Blues

Chuck Anderson

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Chuck Anderson recognizes blues to be a blues in this JGT lesson – his Jazz Guitar Improvisation Lesson Series continues.

Blues Analysis

There are many types of Blues but the most common form is 12 bar blues. We’ll take up 16 and 8 bar blues another time. The most common keys in jazz blues are: C, G, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db as well as the relative minor of each.

Characteristics of Blues

First, we have to recognize a blues to be a blues. Although there are many songs that are “bluesy”, they are not necessarily blues. Blues refers primarily to a chord progression – not to a mood, tempo, or a sad lyric. 

Blues in jazz can be any tempo or mood from sad to happy. It’s not the lyrics that make a song blues but its chord structure. Every form of American music has its roots in blues. We will concentrate on “jazz blues”.

Identify as many tunes as you can that fit our description of blues.  Blues for Alice, Billie’s Bounce, C Jam Blues, Route 66 etc. You can also find blues in my originals such as Blues for Chris, Aqua Blue, Exit Blues etc,

Characteristics of Traditional Major Jazz Blues

1) 12 bars

2) No bridge or chorus

3) The I, IV and V chord of a key

4) The I and IV are typically 7th chords but they can be maj7 chords.

5) Traditional blues places the I chord at bar I and continues it through bar 4.

6) Traditional blues places the IV chord at bar 5 and continues it through bar 6.

7) Traditional blues places the I chord at bar 7 and continues it through bar 8.

8) Traditional blues places the V chord at bar 9 and continues it through bar 10.

9) Traditional blues places the I chord at bar 11 and continues it through bar 12.

This bare bones approach defines blues but does not account for all the chord changes that blues uses in jazz.

Characteristics of Quick Change

Major Jazz Blues

1) 12 bars

2) No bridge or chorus

3) The I, IV and V chord of a key

4) The I and IV are typically 7th chords but they can be maj7 chords.

5) Quick Change blues places the I chord at bar I and continues it through bar 1.

6) Quick Change blues places the IV chord at bar 2 and continues it through bar 2.

7) Quick Change blues places the I chord at bar 3 and continues it through bar 4.

8) Quick Change blues places the IV chord at bar 5 and continues it through bar 6.

9) Quick Change blues places the I chord at bar 7 and continues it through bar 8.

10) Quick Change blues places the I chord at bar 7 and continues it through bar 8.

11) Quick Change blues places the V chord at bar 9 and continues it through bar 9

12) Quick Change blues places the IV chord at bar 10 and continues it through bar 10.

13) Quick Change blues places the I chord at bar 11 and continues it through bar 11.

14) Quick Change blues places the V chord at bar I 2 and continues it through bar 12.

This bare bones approach defines blues but doesn’t account for all the chord changes that blues uses in jazz.

Where do all the extra chords come from? This info is used to analyze and to compose jazz blues.

Post Point Chords

Post point chords are locations for the I, IV and V chords.

The I chord is at bar 1, the IV is at bar 5, the I is at bar 7, the V is at bar 8, the I is at bar 11.

To fulfill a post point, either the chord itself needs to be at these prescribed locations or a valid substitute needs to be there. Examples could be 9th chords for 7th chords or a III chord for a I chord etc. Chord substitution is a big topic that we will get into later.

Linking Chords

Between post point chords, a writer can use any progression that, to their ear, links one chord or post point chord to another. This is where your knowledge of Harmonic Analysis becomes invaluable. eg C7 E7 Am7 C7  F7 etc. This shows that the E7, Am7 and 2nd C7 all function as links from the original C7 to the F7. This is unlimited in its possibilities. Analyze as many blues progressions as possible and identify the HA of each.

In blues. the I7 and IV7 are considered Full Diatonic  – not to the key but to the blues. For variety, writers have substituted  a maj7 for a 7 in order to achieve variety. The composer credited with this is John Lewis. The chord move is called the Lewis Changes. It occurs at bar 7 where you would normally have a C7 (I). The progression is Cmaj7(2 beats), 

Dm7(2 beats), Em7(2 beats), A7(2 beats), Dm7 (4 beats),

G7( 4 beats) etc. Many variations in the evolution of jazz blues have been used throughout the years.

Traditional and Quick Change

Minor Blues

The good news here is that all the information is the same except that the Full Diatonic I and IV are minor or m7 chords.

Post points, links and the use of HA are all the same.  Make sure you find some minor 12 bar blues as well They are easy to spot since the I chord will be a minor or m7 chord.

Turnbacks

Turnbacks or turnarounds are 2 bar chord progressions that occupy bars 11 and 12 of a 12 bar blues progression. This provides both writer and player innumerable ways to create momentum back to the beginning of the song.

Here are a few famous 2 bar blues turnbacks:

C7 –  Eb7 – Dm7 – G7

C7 – A7  – Dm7 – G7

C7 – Bb7 – Ab7 – G7

C7 – Eb7 – Abmaj7 – Dbmaj7

Em7 – Eb7 – Dm7 – Db7

The list is endless!!!

Summary

This takes care of Traditional and Quick Change major and minor 12 bar jazz blues structure. 

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