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What is jazz? / The blues structure

Jazz is characterised by the blues, improvisation and swing prior to introducing the twelve bar blues structure.
We’re concerned with jazz. What is it about jazz that distinguishes it from other musical forms? I would say there are three principal elements, namely Improvisation, the Blues, and Swing. We’ll be looking at these different aspects throughout the remainder of the course. And we will start with the blues. But before I say anything else, I just want to point out that there are two ways in which you can play jazz piano. On its own as a solo instrument– or “root” position as it’s sometimes called– and then in “voiced” position– that is with a rhythm section, usually bass and drums. We should principally be concerned with the voiced position, but we’ll make some reference to solo piano, as well.
And to help us in voiced position, we shall make use of playalong tracks. OK, the Blues. Now it’s a word that has different connotations, because it refers to both a sound and a feeling. The sound we will discuss in ensuing sessions.
The feeling: it has to be remembered that the music at the end of the 19th century came out of an era of slavery. And there’s always been associated with it a quest for freedom, in all it’s senses. Moreover, the blues has an idea of being a sad musical form. But in fact, it isn’t. It’s more ambiguous than that. It’s both sad and happy. And even sometimes exhibits a sense of humour. Now we’re going to be starting with the basic blues, something which I shall call the “skeletal” blues. It’s a 12 bar sequence consisting of three chords. The chords I shall make clear in a second are C7, F7, and G7.
And the 12 bars consist of four bars of C7, two bars of F7, two bars of C7, one bar of G7, one bar of F7, and then two bars of C7. Sometimes, rarely, the G7 and the F7 bars are reversed, for example, in a so-called guitar blues. But we will stick to this order in this course.

In this week you’ll learn about the three key characteristics of jazz: improvisation, the blues and swing. We then move on to the skeletal blues sequence in and talk about how to improvise on it using the American blues scale and jazz quavers.

You can download the skeletal blues sequence in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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Learn Jazz Piano: Begin with the Blues

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