12 Bar Blues Practice Inspiration - Transcription & Improvisation

Hey guys, i’ve been working on blues lessons for some weeks and im almost done with playing random chords tone, please let me know what you think (i wanna make sure im going in the right direction… or not :neutral_face: ) its at 100 bpm in semi-quavers, im putting ton of work and time into but i don’t know what to think about “that”.


Great job Guillaume :ok_hand:

The great thing with chord tone drills is that it conditions us to visualise the most important tones from the underlying harmony which are the primary chord tones.

When starting out with blues improvisation, it can very easy to just run up and down the blues scale. The chord tone exercises help us to break away from that approach and create more interesting interval combinations in our lines.

From analysing and transcribing blues solos, we hear that the primary chord tones (1-3-5-7) and also (1-3-5-6) play a very important role. In addition the ‘guide tones’ which is b7s falling to 3rds are very important to create smooth flowing lines between the changes.

Some other ideas which are nice to experiment with:

  • Approach Tones & Enclosures - this is where we introduce non chord tones, often a half step above or below the chord tone of the next chord. We can also take this a step further with “double enclosures” which surround the target tone by 2 notes on each side. Check out this lesson for more information:
  • Chromatic Passing Tones - Chromatic passing tones add interesting colour to our lines. The b3 moving to the 3rd is very common sound. The #5/b13 and the b9 and #9 are nice passing tones to add tension and dissonance.

  • Chromatic Runs - Also experiment with sections of chromaticism; often targeting a chord tone at the end of the chromatic run to bring the melody back in line with the underlying harmony. Check out this lesson for more information:

  • Repeat simple motifs - repeating an idea or motif, and leaving space in between can be very effective. For example, here here is a short section of a Red Garland solo i transcribed. It’s over C Jam Blues but I transposed the lines to F and I’m playing it here over the F Blues Progression:

This short clip demonstrates many the points I mention above above.

  • From 0:02 to 0:16s it’s pretty much the same motif which is an F6 arpeggio using the b3 as the approach note. The line is b3, 3, 5, Root, root and octave down, then grace note of the b3 into the 3 with the 5th on top.

  • 0:16 to 0:22 is again mainly based around the F6 arpeggio shape, again with the b3 which adds some colour and tension.

  • 0:26 - 0:29 outlines a F7 arpeggio shape also adding in the passing tones #5, #9, and b9, and he used the guide tone Eb falling into D, the 3rd of Bb7 which is the next chord.

  • 0:32 - 0:34 is just walking down the F Blues scale (this works well over Bb7) and then again resolving into the 3rd of F7 with an enclosure (Bb, Ab, enclosing A). The blues scale can be great when used in moderation and by incorporating other principles such as enclosures and targeting chord tones.

  • 0:34 - 0:36 demonstrates some interesting passing tones (b9 and #5)

  • His use of repeated notes is nice throughout.

Here’s the original by the way:

  • Swing Feel - I can hear from your recording @Guillaume that you are now seeing and visualising those primary chord tones which is brilliant. Listening and transcribing from players like Wynton Kelly and Red Garland will really help with your swing feel. My swing feel is something I’ve been working on for the last couple of years and I find the is most effective exercise for this is to transcribe and play along with my favourite records

I’ve moved our posts into a new thread where we can share recordings of us playing over blues changes. As mentioned I’ve been working on Charlie Parker’s “Billies Bounce” which I’ll post when the transcription is finished.

Cheers :sunglasses:

Thank you @Hayden for your really complete answers to my endless interrogations! I’ve watched the lesson on swing feel and im gonna work on it (i think working on my scales with the Jazz Foundation Plan #1 slot 1 and 2 with a swing feel and triplets can be good)

Cheers :smile:


Good evening, im working on enclosures on the 12 bar blues, but im sure that my practice is effective, what i do is i pick up for exemple the 2 first mesures with iRealPro, and i target different chord tones of Bb with enclosure, but should i instead:

  • run through all the form and target a different chord tone of Bb each time i go back to the beginning of the form

  • and should i play like a real solo, with longer and shorter notes, silences, etc… or playing only with semi-quavers ?

  • should i also sort of mix the enclosure practice and the chromatic approach practice ?


Hi Guillaume :wave:

Good questions!

My best recommendation is to listen, transcribe, and apply the material to your exercises.

Not only will you get the answers to your questions above, but you will also be developing your swing feel, your sense of phrasing, and your listening/transcription skills … all in the process.

Let me try to answer your questions with a short example:

Listen to how Red Garland starts his solo at 4:12:

I’m currently on the road without a piano in front of me, but this is what my ears are picking up on:

Let’s analyse how he approaches that Bb7:

  • He plays a double enclosure targeting the 9th of Bb7

  • I have coloured the enclosure notes in red, and the target note is in green

  • He then ends his phrase on the b7th of Bb7 and leaves some space

Now I really like the sound of that line:

Here’s what I would do with it

  • I’d take that exact rhythmic phrase and experiment by enclosing other tones of Bb7 such as the 3rd and 7th, and see how it sounds.

  • Next I’d apply the same phrase to the other chords in the blues progression, again targeting different chord tones, extensions, even alterations.

  • I’d keep cycling around and around using iRealPro to find new ways to apply it

  • I’d take that phrase around all 12 keys so that I can use it over any 251 progression in any tune.

  • To take things a step further I could alter the rhythmic placement of the notes to make the line my own.

The reason why this is so important…

  • by following a process like the above, we are selecting a small piece of jazz vocabulary that we personally like the sound of and engraining it in our playing.

  • we are analysing it to figure out exactly why it sounds good, and transcribing it to absorb the phrasing and articulation.

  • in my opinion there is no better process to follow to learn improvisation.

That was just the first 5 seconds of his solo - 4:12 to 4:18 in the recording. Listen to how he approaches the Bb7 in every chorus, transcribe it, and follow the above process. That will answer all of your questions and more!

Hope this helps and have fun figuring this stuff out! :sunglasses:

1 Like

I’ve tought about a method of practising and i came with the idea of trying to pick a rythm, or a fragment of a phrase (from a record or from what’s in my head), different every time i sit at the piano, and build something on this, trying to apply lessons like double enclosures.
Also i’ve “discovered” the sound of the 6th in the 12 bar blues, its AWESOME !! :grin:

Really loving Jazz, and loving practising more and more everyday, thanks PianoGroove Team !