How To Mix The Blues Scale With Bebop Over A Jazz Standard

blues scale jazz pianoWould you like to learn how to use blues sounds to improvise over a jazz standard?

In this lesson I want to talk about some of the discoveries I made on my tours with B.B. King.

Most newbies think that there is a big separation between blues and jazz.

A Big Discovery From B.B. King

In reality, many of the blues masters are using a lot more than the cliche 3 chords that most people think of as blues.

Sure B.B. would play some songs with 3 chords but lots of others songs he was playing actually had chord changes that were much closer to jazz chord progressions. Mind blown!

blues bebopWhen I would watched him play a lot of his set list contained songs that really had more jazz influenced chord changes.

I’d hear him rip some jazz lines, throw in some jazzier chords, and mix it all together w/ the blues. Audiences ate it up!

Now, today’s video I want to teach you some improv tricks you can use on 1 of the ‘jazz tunes’ B.B. would play all the time. Autumn Leaves.

I put jazz in quotes because really this is a tune that EVERY well rounded musician must know.

Blues & Jazz Improv Basics Video #1

Today’s video should help you add a lot of soulfulness to your jazz improvisation.This is a follow up lesson to our introduction to blues scale for piano.

Let’s explore some of the playing concepts from the video now below.

Using The Blues Over Jazz Songs

blues bebop scaleHere the basic concept to keep in mind. If you apply these concepts you should be able to do get started using it right away!

1. This isn’t the most advanced concept you can use when improvising over a jazz song. It is simple and effective though.

2. I like to think of using the blues scale as just a simple ‘spice or sauce’ that can always be used. It’s not the most complex ‘taste’ in the world but it works.

3. On a real gig you may do a whole chorus of a tune using blues scale but you probably wouldn’t do it for several choruses in a row.

There’s a lot more spices that the best jazz and blues musicians cook with! 

4. It’s for that reason that later in the video I show you how mixing blues and bebop together creates a nice counter balance of more complex sounds and simpler sounds.

5. Always remember that using different ‘spices’ or sounds in your playing helps keep the listener engaged and entertained. 

6. You can also use the blues scale and blues concepts over II-V-I’s. We learn how to do this within the Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall licks inside my DVD The Jazz Masters Method.

What Jazz Standards Can I Apply This Concept To?

There are literally hundreds of tunes that you can use this improvisation concept on.

Here are 5 tunes that my best jazz students all know.

I’m also going to tell you WHY and some great nuggets you can learn from them.

1. Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves features the 3 most common jazz chord progressions. Moves you find in hundreds of other tunes. Plus, it has tons of must know chords.  I ALWAYS show my students how to use reharmonization in this tune too. Once you learn the formulas you can then use them in any tune.

2. Blue Bossa

If you want to add some tasty Brazilian rhythms into your playing then this is a great tune to learn. The tune is short (only 16 bars), is a great study for you on how to switch keys smoothly. Plus, you can improvise on it using blues scale, bebop patterns, modal concepts, and more. Super fun!!

3. Stella By Starlight

This is probably the most popular jazz ballad of all time. Incredible study in jazz harmony and how to successfully use different melodic ideas over lots of different chords. (Hint: my improv chops even took a big step up when I jumped into this one)

4. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

Everybody needs to dig into some Duke Ellington at one point. This is a great tune to start with. Classic melody, a great study in the 1-6-2-5-1 chord progression. Plus, the bridge features a chord progression that you’ll find in dozens of other tunes. It’s great if you want to learn some jazz gospel harmony moves. Blues fits right in too!

5. Summertime

One of the most haunting melodies out there. If you love the sound of dark and rich soulful chords than you’ve got to learn this tune. Lots of quick minor 2-5’s and a super bluesy melody. Plus, you can use tons of classic bebop licks on the chord changes to this one.

Every pianist needs to know these songs. They will do incredible things for your playing.

The 10-20 Minute A Day Jazz & Blues Practice Solution

“BUT WAIT! Steve, these are great suggestions and all but is there an easy way to learn these tunes?”

Don’t you worry. I’ve got you covered.

jazz piano lessonsThat’s why I created the Premium Jazz Elite Membership Program.

Inside the program I walk you step by step how to break down and play all of these must know jazz standards, how to improvise over them, how to use blues to electrify your tunes, and more.

Oh, give you 3 levels of arrangements for every song.

So, no matter where you are with your playing skill, you’ll find training right your level. This will help you pick up these songs in no time.

The secret is in our 3 levels of arrangements system that’s designed to take you from beginner to pro. No other program has a powerful feature like this.

So, If you want to take your playing up several notches in a 10-20 minutes a day then you’ll love this program  —>

Take the guessing out of what to work on next. Now, go make it happen!

 Never Forget Rhythm

I want to make one last point. Last is not least in this situation though! 🙂

When you’re playing over the tunes above please remember groove and swing feel is super important! 

One of the main reason why the improvisation concepts I discuss above work so well in the video above is because I’m executing with a good rhythmic feel.

Really focus on keeping good time and making sure you’re rhythmic execution is precise.

If you’re not practicing with a metronome or some sort of excellent time keeping device (like a good jam track) start now!

And again if you don’t have a great summer and bassist to practice with we’ve got tons of jam tracks for all songs and at a variety of tempos inside the Premium Course

You can also start transcribing and exploring the playing/rhythmic concepts of master jazz musicians. This is also tip for getting a great rhythmic feel.

If you’re new to transcribing you can check out my article and review of Transcribe.

Transcribe is a software tool that helps you slow down and learn from your favorite recordings.

Other Blues Piano Resources

I spent a number of years of my life touring with blues artists all around the world. One thing I noticed was that no matter where I was in the world people really connected with the sound and feeling of blues. I think it’s a universal sound. 🙂

how to play blues pianoIf you really love the blues sound too and want to learn more about playing blues piano you can also check out my DVD Learning Chicago Blues Piano.

Have a ton of fun practicing this stuff! Be cool until next time my friends! 🙂


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Steve Nixon