BLUES: Learn how to play and sing blues Improv Song

This is one of the easiest song styles to learn yet perhaps hardest to describe in words. Blues is so personal to the performer, any attempt to show in form of sheet music is completely estimated and as a guide only.

When you sing/play the blues, in some ways there are no rules. Generally there is the 12-bar blues, which is the base for 1000s of songs from jazz, country, rock-a-billy, rock ‘n roll and more. But just as soon as you think you know what the blues is you realize it is always being redefined by the artists. We almost always start with the basic  form but then twist it. Perhaps we change the chord pattern. Maybe we add a bar. Perhaps we add a beat.

When singing the blues, anything goes. Just like in Improv Comedy/Theater, THERE ARE NO MISTAKES. Every mistake is a gift, right. In Blues, Jazz, we say “if you make a mistake, repeat it and call it a new song, or a riff”. Its only a mistake if you make that “I MESS UP FACE”. Instead try making that “I MEANT TO DO THAT FACE” and I’ll do it again.

More important than the notes in blues music is the rhythm. Again, what you see below is my version of a fake book type rendering of THE BLUES. However, real jazz musicians NEVER play exactly what is on the page. We add notes. We change rhythms. We swing some notes hard, while playing others ridiculously straight for effect.

Below is a sample version of the blues. I usually play in F on the piano as seen here. IN parenthesis you will find the chords for the key of E. In brackets, key of G. But you can play in any key, depending on your preference as the musician and the range of the players. Try learning the pattern below in all 12 keys. Try learning different riffs to jazz it up. Play with tempo. Change your bass lines. The blues changes its effect as you move form slower to faster tempo. I personally like to rock out.


We open with the musician riffing on the chords of the chorus. We do a little choreography. Nothing crazy. Simple step touch while clapping on 2 & 4 (NEVER clap on the ONE in Jazz/Blues). Sometimes we will sing the title of the song on the last 2 bars before the first player sings verse one.

Each verse has 4 lines of lyrics.
– One singer sings all four lines.
– Lines 1 & 2 rhyme.
– Lines 3 & 4 rhyme.

After each verse the entire cast sings the chorus.
– We basically sing the title of the song 3 times. We harmonize based on the chord pattern.


Share the lyric with all the players. Be nice when setting up your teammates for a rhyme.



If you notice in these 4 versions of EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH performing the blues, we have 2 separate pianists and a guitarist. And the 2 versions I am playing are 3-4 years apart, and I have very different performances on the piano. I change it all the time just to keep myself happy.

You will also notice so many different ways to sing the verses. Many choose to speak-sing.

WARNING TO GREAT SINGERS: In story telling the words are more important than the notes. Understanding the story/comedy can be difficult with big voices. Try speak singing a few times. Pick you moments to show us what you’ve got. Wail in the chorus on some high notes. But during your voice think DICTION!!!



To rhyme in a game like Irish jig you need have a perfect blend of focus and open minded energy. If it is your time to rhyme at the end of a phrase, tune into the set-up player with 100% focus.


Anytime you get a given, our minds go into brainstorm mode. Your off stage about to start the game, you think of all there is to know about the given subject. You then throw that out and use it as needed based on the YES ANDS you and your partner exchange.

Same deal in Irish Jig, or any song. In this game you can only think ahead so much. Once you hear the title / suggestions for the song, think of a short list. THEN the second you hear your set up rhyme, throw out 3-4 options. But right away listen to the offer given by the middle player before randomly adding your 2 cents.

Over time your mind will think faster and faster, and when in doubt your bag of tricks will grow over time as well.


Especially at the beginning. Limit your team to using one syllable words. Think Dr Seuss.

Examples –

Hop, Pop, Top, Stop, Mop, Plop, Flop, Bob

Me, He, She, We, Free, See, Sea, Tea, Tee, Gee, Bee, Fee, Flea, Key, Pea, Tree

May, Pay, Pray, Prey, Tray, Bay, Hey, They

Toe, Bow, Crow, Row, Doe, Foe, Go, Hoe, Mow, Know, Sew, Woe

There are 100’s if not 1000’s of options. Start with these then constantly expand your base knowledge. I always say the best way to learn Improv is to think like a five year old.

REMEMBER you are a team. You want to set your team mate up to look good. For a more experienced player that means CHALLENGE THEM. But if they mess up because you threw them a hard rhyme, that is as much your responsibility.



Whether setting up your partners in Jig or yourself in a Blues or other song style requiring rhyme, here is a little trick that will help you every time.

When you think of a great thing to sing about. Leave that for the final rhyme and work your way to that great end.

When you throw out a great line early, you are left scrambling on how to top it and bring it back around for a closing rhyme.

Much easier to have that “GEM” for your big finish, and find a way to get there.

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