He just shrugged his shoulders and looked at me sheepishly!
“Oh okay then. How about those exercises we were doing? Can I hear how you got on with them?”
He just looked at his feet!
“Oh dear! What HAVE you been practicing?”
Suddenly a mischievous grin appeared on his face.
“I’ve been playing the blues ALL week!!! It’s been driving my mum crazy. I play it before and after school. I can’t stop!”
It never ceases to amaze me how much fun students have at learning to improvise the blues. And not forgetting the kudos it earns them when they can use it to entertain friends and family. Best of all, it’s just so easy to learn!
So this month, here are some free resources to get you started or to add to the ones you use already. I’ve tried to make the sheet music universal to whatever instrument you play or teach (treble & bass clef/guitar & bass tab). I’ve also recorded a slow blues backing track (in G) that you and your students can “jam” with.
Introducing the coolest scale on the planet! Whatever instrument your student plays, they will love learning the blues scale. But how can they go from learning a scale to improvising like a rock star?!? Well, you will notice on the sheet music that I’ve also included three classic rock riffs that use the blues scale. These riffs are really easy to pick up and they’ll love sharing them with others.
A house needs a foundation. As you know, the blues, in its most basic form, is built on a fixed 12-bar (measure) chord progression. If you teach a polyphonic instrument like piano or guitar, I would highly recommend encouraging your students to memorise these changes using the sheet provided. Once they’ve got the routine, encourage them to play along with the track to help them improve their timing.
Tips to get more tips! To finish the article, here are a few ideas to help even the most unadventurous students develop impressive improvising skills:
• Imitation: clap a two-bar (measure) improvised rhythm for the student to copy. Without a gap, keep this “musical tennis” going for a few minutes, all the time using a metronome or drum beat at around 80 beats per minute to provide a steady beat.
• Question and answer: again using a steady beat in the background, this time encourage the student to make up different responses to your questions. Now swap around and let them lead you!
• Scale: get the student to learn to play the blues scale by memory to know the pitches inside out and at least two octaves. Next, try getting them to start and finish on different notes of the scale.
• Imitation: get the student to try and copy your two-bar phrase using only two notes at first from the blues scale, for example G and Bb. It will give them good ideas but it won’t sound exactly the same which will help them on the road to independence. Gradually add more notes from the blues scale as their confidence builds.
• Question and answer: again using a limited palate of pitches, encourage the student to make up different responses to your questions. Don’t forget to swap around and let them lead the way!
• Solo: now it’s time for that jaw-dropping solo! If they can remember to work in two-bar phrases, this can now be surprisingly easy. Also, it’s a good idea for them to start low and simple and to gradually work higher up their instruments saving their best, face melting moments for the climax of their solo!
Remember to instil the importance of rhythm over pitch: good improvising uses interesting rhythms and doesn’t need to use all the notes of the scale
Blues backing track (in G):
Chord changes for 12-bar blues: click here
Blues scale in G – standard treble & bass clef notation: click here
Blues scale in G – guitar & bass tab: click here
Feel free if you would like me to email any of these resources directly to you or adapt any of them to something more specialised for your instrument, please contact me and I’ll see what I can do.