Tag Archives: bebop blues

The bebop blues sequence is different from basic blues in that it contains many II-V sequences.

Teaching the blues

Teaching the blues

A moment after writing the title of this article, up popped an image of John Lee Hooker smiling and shaking his head. “Nobody can teach you the blues. Blues is a feeling, something you have to live.” I tried explaining that I’m a jazz piano teacher and that teaching the blues is part of my job but the image faded.

So where do we start? If you’ve read my previous articles or are one of my students, the following message will come as no surprise: no matter how many books you read or the amount of teachers you learn from, nothing will replace two activities: playing with other musicians and listening to the jazz and blues masters. So, onwards!

In my last article I bypassed the fruitless attempt to define jazz and will do likewise with the blues, but we can still amuse ourselves by googling it. Here’s the first quote I came up with:

Melancholic music of black American folk origin, typically in a twelve-bar sequence.

I’d argue that it’s not necessarily melancholic and we’ll discuss the form later in this article. But I now want to address the subject of this article: teaching the blues.

When a potential student asks to be taught to play blues piano I have to admit to a rather grouchy response. “I teach jazz and, for me, blues is a part of jazz and jazz is a part of the blues.” Actually, I’m not convinced that this is strictly true. But for teaching purposes I find it unhelpful to separate them into two distinct compartments. If we have to take a stab at separating them, it could be said that, say, Muddy Waters is in the blues camp. But as soon as we try attaching a ‘jazz only’ label to jazz musicians it becomes nigh impossible to assert that their music has no connection with the blues. There is, perhaps, less of a blues influence in the playing of Bill Evans than, say, Oscar Peterson. It could also be said that some European jazz has evolved through influences other than the blues.

I see my job as preparing students for a variety of blues tunes that they are likely to encounter at a gig. As this is an article rather than a book, I’ll just be focusing on varying blues structures rather than chord choices, scales, licks etc.

Blues structures

A blues sequence can take on a number of guises, varying in time signature, length and chord structure. Here are some examples.

A basic blues

A basic blues contains 12 bars and 3 chords: I, IV and V. These chords are unusual in that they are non-functioning dominant 7s. In other words, rather than pointing to their tonics (1) these dominant 7s stand in their own right.

teaching the blues

The next example is a more ‘jazz’ version of this sequence, where, at bars 9 and 10, the V and IV chords are replaced with II – V. This is the sequence for Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues:

teaching the blues

Minor blues

But a blues isn’t always in a major key. Here’s the sequence for Coltrane’s Mr P.C.

(At bar 9 the chord Ab7 could be replaced with its tritone substitute D7(b5).)

teaching the blues

I should point out that when I describe the above sequences as ‘basic’ I’m referring to the amount of chords rather than suggesting that they are in any way inferior or easier to perform. Take a listen to Coltrane’s version of Mr P.C. as a case in point.

Blues in 6/8

So far my examples have been in 4/4 time but All Blues by Miles Davis is in 6/8. Here’s the piano accompaniment to his melody:

teaching the blues

Once again, notice the subtle harmonic twist in bars 9 and 10.

A blues sequence can be in a variety of time signatures, including 3/4, 5/4 and 12/8.

Bebop blues

In C Jam Blues (above) a II – V sequence was introduced in bars 9 and 10. In the 40’s the Bebop players took this to its logical conclusion, giving the sequence a complete makeover. Firstly, chord 1, the dominant 7, was replaced with a straight major chord. This was then followed with a series of descending II – Vs.

Here is one variation of this more complex sequence:

teaching the blues

This sequence works with many bebop blues sequences. One example is Charlie Parker’s Blues For Alice.

8-bar blues

All the examples so far have been 12 bar sequences, but this length can vary. Here is an 8-bar blues that would work with Ain’t Nobody’s Business.

teaching the blues

This is by no means an exhaustive list of blues variations but, hopefully, demonstrates that there is more to the blues than 12 bars and 3 chords.

bebop scales part 1

bebop scales part 1

Using bebop scales in your jazz solos is easier than you think!

Chapter 4: of Learn Jazz Piano book 4

I don’t believe that most of us can learn jazz piano by instinct alone and bebop scales should be a part of your vocabulary.

The key is getting the right balance of instinct and theory. Here are some more tips to learn jazz piano, This time we are looking at bebop scales.

I’ll begin by stating the obvious.

Major and minor scales have 7 notes.

Most jazz tunes are in 4/4.

Solos are usually built from eighth notes.

Taking these three facts into our playing, a major scale in 8s and in 4/4 time, looks like this.

Fig 42

bebop scales
Downbeats of major scale

You’ll notice that beats 3 and 4 all fall on weak notes of the chord.

In order to make these downbeats fall on the chord tones, we can add one extra note to the scale.

Fig 43

bebop scales
Adding the extra note

This extra, chromatic passing note that occurs between steps 5 and 6 is the

Bebop major scale.

Bebop major scale

Fig 44 shows the C major bebop scale ascending and descending.

Play it in swing 8s with the marked accents on the downbeats. Notice how effectively this added note drives the phrase along.

Fig 44

bebop scales
Major bebop scale 

Bebop dominant scale

Because the bebop dominant scale is paired with a dominant 7 chord, our starting scale is the Mixolydian mode.

Once again, we will be adding an extra, chromatic passing note, but this time between steps 7 and the root of the Mixolydian mode.

Here is the C bebop dominant scale ascending and descending. The passing note is B♮.

Fig 45

bebop scales
Bebop dominant scale

 Book 4 of learn jazz piano is still in preparation but you can purchase books 1 – 3 if you follow the link below:



eBook Learning Jazz Piano book 3

eBook Learning Jazz Piano book 3

Learning Jazz Piano book 3

My eBook ‘Learning Jazz Piano book 3’ is now available at the link below
This third book focuses on practical advice and strategies for the learning jazz pianist.
You can either purchase this eBook separately or as a 3-book set at discount.

Here’s the link to buy all 3 jazz piano books.

eBook Learning Jazz Piano book 3
Learn jazz piano book 3

To give you a flavour of the contents, here’s the list of chapters:

  1. Bebop blues
  2. Using rootless voicings with tritone substitutes
  3. Decoding jazz standards
  4. Simplifying lead-sheets
  5. Navigating chord charts
  6. Stride piano, part 2
  7. Playing with other musicians
  8. Working with singers
  9. Building a repertoire
  10. Suggested listening
  11. Recommended books

Here’s lesson 14: Learn Bebop jazz

Here's lesson 14: Learn Bebop jazz

Lesson 14 helps you learn Bebop jazz and Blues.

We began, in lesson 12, with a basic 3-chord 12 bar, a sequence that will get you through just about any rock & roll tune and 1000’s of blues songs. Then, in lesson 13, we added a few chord changes to make for a more interesting solo.

Now, in lesson 14, I’m teaching you the changes that Bebop players like Charlie Parker and Bud Powell played in the 40’s. No longer can your rely on the blues scale, because this sequence is packed full of II-Vs that twist and turn through an array of key centres.

Learn bebop jazz
Bud Powell

If you can play a basic blues and up for the challenge to learn bebop jazz, the link below will take you to the ‘buy lessons’ page. From there, scroll down till you get to lesson 14.


Best wishes from Paul at Learn Jazz Piano Online.

Lesson 14: Learn Bebop blues

Lesson 14: Learn Bebop blues

I’ve now begun work on lesson 14:  learn bebop blues.

This chord sequence is a long way from the basic three chords that are commonly used. Bebop blues still contains 12 bars and hits the IV chord at bar 5. But there are big differences. For a start, chord 1 is now a major 7th rather than a dominant 7th. This means that you can no longer rely on the blues scale. We then encounter a series of descending II-V patterns.

learn bebop blues
bebop blues sequence
A good place to start acclimatising yourself to the sound of bebop blues is Charlie Parker’s Blues For Alice. Learn bebop blues to sound like a real jazz musician.
Learn bebop blues
Charlie Parker
I realise that it takes me quite a while to produce each lesson but it’s the only way I can ensure a high quality.
Best wishes to you all