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The Standard Blues Sequence

The Standard Blues Sequence
The course started with looking at the blues and we looked at the skeletal blues and we talked about improvisation, although not in the depth which we’ve discussed it in this session.
Let’s return to the blues now and make some use of our hot licks. To do so I want to now develop our chord sequence for the blues. I want to show you what the standard sequence is, that is if you were to go and play in a jam session - typically with other modern jazz players - then this would be closer to the blues sequence that they would use. Although you can get away with playing on a skeletal blues - as we’ve seen, we’ve been using playalongs and the playalongs have not necessarily been on the chord sequence that we’ve been working on of the skeletal blues - but we’ve seen that mostly you can get away with it.
It’s one of the most amazing things about the blues is that this ambiguity of tonality - whether it’s major or minor - means that you can get away with all sorts of things as we shall see, because what we are going to do now is to extend our sequence by marrying it with a turnaround. Let’s think about, first of all, a sequence in C. Let’s think about a turnaround in C. So you know a turnaround in C is I (C major7), VI (A minor7), II (D minor7), V (G7) (and I). It’s a simplifying device because we know that over that chord sequence we can just improvise on C major - on all the white notes, if you like.
It’s true that the actual chord (scale) that goes with A minor7 has an F sharp in it - because it’s G major rooted on A - but we can get away with not playing the F sharp because it’s not chords we are playing over, we’re playing over a chord sequence. The sequence is moving and eventually - even if there are some tensions - we’ll get release when eventually we get back to the home key. It’s the same sort of thing that happens here, If you take a standard blues sequence it goes C7, F7, C7, C7 (in the second bar we could leave the C7 in if we wanted to), then 2 bars of F7, then 2 bars of C7.
This is where the difference comes because what we’re going to do is we’re going to essentially kinda stick in a turnaround. In bar 8 instead of C7 we’re going to stick in A minor7 - in other words a chord rooted on the sixth - in bar 9 D minor 7 - a chord rooted on the second note of the scale - in bar 10 G7 and then the final 2 bars of C7 and C7. However, even there - do you remember what a turnaround - where it gets its name from - it’s something that turns a piece round.
If in a standard blues - in a skeletal blues - the last two bars are C7 and the first bar is C7 - that’s a lot of C7s. We use a turnaround to get us back to the top
and a turnaround are the same chords we just met: C7, A minor7, D minor7, G7 but they’re compressed into 2 bars so that each chord lasts for 2 beats. Let’s just have a look at this. Thinking in terms of the roots, which I’ve given Roman numerals for - the reason for Roman numerals is that the same numbering applies in any key - so what I’m saying in C applies to all the other keys as well.
First bar C7, so that’s a I (that’s the home chord), second bar F7 (on our enhanced skeletal blues) that’s a IV, third bar C7, fourth bar C7 - so I,I - fifth bar F7, IV, sixth bar F7 (of the standard skeletal blues), seventh bar C7, then the eighth bar A minor 7 (minor so that it agrees with the home chord of C), then ninth bar D minor7, which is a II chord - II minor7 technically - then tenth bar G7, then we get to the eleventh and twelfth bar, which is the same thing, but two beats on each, so first 2 beats C7, next 2 beats A minor7, next 2 beats D minor7, G7.
So in time you get this sound.
The difference that we’re going to use now is that we’re going - instead of when we have our turnaround using C major 7 - we’re going to use the full blues scale. The full blues scale includes the scale of C major7, so when you get to D minor7, A minor7, G7 you can play over C major if you want to, but you can also play over the home scale that goes with the home chord, the home chord is C7, the home scale that goes with it is the full blues scale.
In some sense it’s quite remarkable because if you think of the full blues scale it’s got, for example, the flattened third, the flattened fifth and the flattened seventh and you’re playing those notes in a bar with A minor 7 in it where none of those notes belong to the scale that goes with A minor7. But, because of this ambiguity of tonality, because it’s a chord sequence, because the tension will be released, it works. See if I can persuade you of that.
I’m going to try and suggest to you that what you need to do is to really use 2 scales to play on a standard blues sequence, namely the full blues scale for C and the full blues scale for F. So our first bar … that’s using the full blues scale for C7, second bar … F7, then home again … F7 … and then home … now I can stay on this full blues scale for the rest …
There is one other thing that we have looked at which is bar 6 where we have used the diminished when we were looking at “Blue Monk”, for example. You can do the same thing, namely take exactly the same sequence as this (but in B flat) and just make that sixth bar a diminished. For example, if I use this chord sequence for “Blue Monk”.
… diminished … minor …
OK, not played all that well, but I hope you get the idea that we are using a standard blues sequence to play “Blue Monk”. So let’s have a go now with a playalong.

We introduce the chords underlying the Standard Blues Sequence, the one most frequently utilised in modern jazz.

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