Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Improvising using the American blues scale and jazz quavers

The American blues scale is introduced and the way in which jazz quavers are written and played is discussed.
So now we’re going to improvise on the blues structure in C. And to do so, we’re going to simplify things by making use of something called the American blues scale. The advantage of the American blues scale is it’s just one scale. We can use the notes from that scale in any order, any intervals we want,
but with just that one scale throughout the whole of the blues structure, even though the underlying chords change. So it simplifies things a great deal. OK, what does the American blues scale consist of? It consists of the root, which in the case of the blues in C, consists of C, the flattened third, E flat, the fourth, F, the flattened fifth, G flat, the fifth itself, G, the flattened seventh, B flat, and the root an octave higher, C again.
That is: the root, the flattened third, the fourth, the flattened fifth, the fifth, the flattened seventh, the octave. Going down the other way–
As I say, that one scale – or the notes from that one scale – we’re going to use only and we can use it throughout the whole of the blues. Right, what about the rhythmic pattern? Well, the rhythmic pattern that we’re going to use is called a jazz quaver, or sometimes a jazz-inflected quaver. Supposing I were to play a slow blues, improvise on a slow blues. One, two, three, four …
You’ll hear that a lot of the time I’m going ting ting ting, ting ting ting, ting ting ting. I’m splitting the beat up into triplets, into three equal parts. Indeed, if I’m playing with a drummer, the drummer will often articulate those triplets. So what’s a jazz quaver? Well, a jazz quaver consists of the beat being split into three equal parts – ting ting ting, ting ting ting, ting ting ting, ting ting ting – where the first two (beats) tings are tied together. So you get ting ting, ting ting, ting ting, ting ting. Using the American blues scale …
That’s a jazz quaver. Now in jazz we’re a little bit lazy because often, if we write out music, we write out quavers with the understanding that, generally speaking, they will be jazz-inflected quavers. So it’s not written out in 12/8. It’s written out in 4/4 with ordinary-looking quavers. But they’re usually meant to be jazz-inflected unless you’re told otherwise. So what we’re going to do now is to play our tune, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” with the left hand playing four to the bar with our seventh chords in root position. The right hand will play the tune. Then we’ll improvise, using only notes from the American blues scale and mostly, though not probably exclusively– jazz quavers.
And then we’ll play the tune again, and we’ll end it there.

In this video, I will introduce the American blues scale and the way in which jazz quavers are written and played.

You can download the American blues scale in C and the jazz quaver illustration in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

This article is from the free online

Learn Jazz Piano: Begin with the Blues

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education