Blues Saxophone Improvisation

Blues are probably the simplest and most common genre to improvise on. There is enough structure to give you an easy framework to choose your notes, but not so much you get overwhelmed by theory and chord changes. Blues is also an ideal stepping-stone to jazz improvisation.


There are three things you need to know about improvising saxophone for the blues:


This tutorial is brought to you by Marvy Sax aka Fadipe Marvellous Ayooluwa. He is one of the finest saxophonist you can find in Nigeria.

1. Blues Chord Progressions

The most classic blues tracks follow a standard 12-bar blues progression , or a variation using the I, IV and V7 chords. The progression of those chords create the song’s musical journey and for your solo to sound good it’s got to follow those chords. Learn how to recognise a 3-chord song and
play by ear using chord tones and you’ll be off to a good start. See how this connects with the circle of fifths and arpeggio exercises we were working on before?

2. Blues Scales

Your solo is going to sound fairly bluesy if you just use the basic major scale for the key and follow the chord tones of the 1-4-5 progression. But to really nail it you’ll want to use the right kind of scale.
Explore the minor pentatonic and blues scales and then use the notes of these scales along with the chord progression when choosing what notes to play in your blues sax solo.

Experiment with your scales over some blues in your background. Learn about seventh chords and play around with adding that seventh note to your arpeggio-based improvisation.

3. Blues Bends

If you’ve been playing sax for a while then you’ll know that one of the best ways to add expression to your playing is with slight pitch bends on your notes. You do this by adjusting your embouchure to loosen and tighten slightly.

This fits right in with the blues and especially if you combine it with the idea of “blue notes” : notes which are slight pitch variants of the notes of the scale, thrown in for the sake of expression.

Use these three tips and you’ll be playing blues-y sounding solos in no time. If you need more help check out this great list of saxophone blues transcriptions from tamingthesaxophone.com.
You’re ready to start your saxophone improvisation career!

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