BLUES in F Improv Tutorial




BLUES has been a major part of EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH Improv shows from the very early days. Now our big finish, we used to use it as a middle climactic moment, ending with a rap style.

This is a great way for pianists/guitarists to play along and learn the music and/or players to practice when the musician is not available.

If you notice I have included FOUR potential ways to play the blues on piano. There are 100s more. Have fun and experiment until you feel you have found YOUR way to rock out. In general I like to rock out the 4th verse a bit. I pull back for the fifth verse as often the players as our players may not be as IN THE MIC as their solo verses. I then rock out on the fifth chorus and bring us to a big finish.

When in doubt, LISTEN. Give your singers what THEY need to succeed. I like to get funky but sometimes that throws less experienced singers.

CLAP!!!! CLAP on TWO!!! This is a hip style. NEVER clap on one.


Four players each take a verse, coming together for the chorus, where we simply sing the title of the blues, established by the MC based on audience suggestion.

With each VERSE the player establishes a AABB rhyme scheme. Line one sets up a rhyme with line two. Line three sets up a rhyme with line four.

LINE TWO rhymes with LINE ONE
LINE THREE (does NOT rhyme with line one or two)
LINE FOUR rhymes with LINE TWO

For the FIFTH verse, each player takes ONE line. PLAYER 1 sets up a rhyme for PLAYER 2. PLAYER 3 sets up a rhyme for PLAYER 4.

To best sing the blues, let the bass have its moment. Squeeze each line into the space AFTER the down beat and before the bass comes back in on the back end of beat 3 of the next bar.

This gives you a nice breathe and chance to focus the next line, while delivering great style.



The “12-bar blues” is a chord structure that is the basis for 1000s of songs of the past 100 years. Almost every Chuck Berry song is a rocked out version of the blues. Our Blues Improv game is a variation of this form. We double the first line form four bars to eight. This is a traditional form used by many blues artists. THe chorus is the second two lines.


For those that do not know music theory I will keep this as plain as possible. Above you will see the chord pattern for a typical blues in E. The three main chords in the key of E are E (the ONE – I – chord), A (the FOUR – IV – chord) and  B (the FIVE – V – chord)

You will notice in the above patterns I have added a 7. When playing the blues we almost NEVER play a simple triad – or the notes E G# B in the E chord. We almost ALWAYS add at least the 7th note, in this case a D natural (In the Key of E major, we usually play D#). The 7th note adds that extra gritty quality that never quite feels resolved.


blues in G

What do you do with the left hand while playing piano?

If you notice the sheet music for the key of F I am demonstrating a more typical honky-tonk base pattern.

Above is a walking base in G. A walking base can be just about any set of notes that help keep the beat and help establish the tone of the chord. We usually play some version of the base triad with a few passing tones that add color to the sound.

This emulates an upright base in blues/jazz, later adopted by boogie and rock a billy – early rock n roll.

Just when you fall into a pattern, find a way to break it up. Jump an octave. Add some rhythm.

Learn to play a walking bass in every key. (Including C#)


Traditionally in blues and jazz, the bass player keeps the beat, NOT the drummer. The bass holds the one and drives the beat.

The drummer subdivides the beat, adding syncopation. Usually driving a strong 2 and 4 with the hi hat but not necessarily a must.

While playing the IMPROV GAME, trust the one. The first beat of each measure is almost more implied than hit hard as in most western musical forms.

REMEMBER Clap on two to maintain the beat.


As in story telling and acting, silence is a powerful force in music. It is jarring when rocking out. When all STOP in the middle of a song, if even for half a beat, the audience feels it.

Play with silent moments when improvising your melodies and words and bass lines. TRUST those moments and they will deliver artistically.


Blues in D

Here we have the blues in D. Note the chords. The ONE chord is now D7. The FOUR chord is now G7. The FIVE chord is now A7. If you notice we play the same blues scale above regardless of the chords. This is the beauty of improvising the blues. ANY of the notes in the D blues scale work at any time.

Expanding upon that notion of Improving music, similar to Improvising Comedy/Theater, you cannot possibly play a wrong note. EVERY mistake is a gift. In jazz/blues we say, repeat a mistake and becomes a riff.

What makes the blues scale stand out is the flat 3 (F) and 7 (C) of the scale. In the key of C we would play Eb and Bb at most times.  A flat 3 usually leads to minor chord. But in the blues it causes dissonance – edgy sound that wants to be resolves, except in blues we never quite completely resolve matters. We are singing the blues, not sunshine and flowers and rainbows here.

Learn to play this scale in every key. Practice it the way a classical cat might practice their major/minor scales.


C Blues CHords

Learning to play the blues means learning more about chords. We talked about the 7 chord above. Let’s go a little deeper.

EVERY NOTE can be justified in your improv melodies because EVERY note can be justified as a member of the chord or a melodic passing tone. To make your blues more interesting play with the chord structure. Modern music often will one chord on top of another.  A D chord above a C chord is actually a C 9 #11 13 chord. OK perhaps I skipped ahead.

Learn to play all the different chords starting from every note. You should be able to play a G dim 7 chord (G Bb Db Fb) at beck and call.

Once you learn these chords and a few basic patterns you will be able to jam on 1000s of songs and look like a pro with just a few tricks.




Artistic Director, Walt Frasier



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