In a nutshell. The following ideas create a gradually 'increasing in complexity' succession of choruses of the 12 bar blues in 'C' major. We're just 'jazzing it up' for the most part, building a solo really, and correlating an 'advancing complexity' as a creative tool for 'building up excitement' in an improvised solo.

The first few choruses are common enough, but as the harmony becomes more involved through chord substitution, creating blues lines 'through' the changes becomes the challenge; hearing the changes in the melody line is our goal.

Play the bass line. In all of these choruses that follow, consider playing just the roots of the suggested chords to get a sense of the bass story line that evolves in each successive chorus. This bass story line lives in all of our musics, and is a connector, a central thread of our Americana story line weaves.

Arpeggios win the day, everyday :) In the following choruses of 12 bar blues, there's some rather involved harmony and motions. The interval motions between the roots of the chords are mostly a perfect 4th leap, or chromatically, so by half step. In figuring out a way to create melody lines, simply spell out the pitches of the chord on your instrument as a place to start.

These 'spelled out' chords are their arpeggios. Arpeggios will always tell us what chord is in play, win the day, at any given moment, everyday. Cool with spelling out the letter name pitches that create our chords? Total game changer once this ability is solid. Total game changer. These spelled out pitches in themselves are and can be creative melody lines, just add some fancy rhythm, swing, 'even 1/8'ths', sequences and permutations. All good :)

Goes like this. When we play blues songs, we string choruses together. The styronger the players throwin down, the longer a soing lasts in performance. Heard my pal Galanti one time take like 15 straight, on a medium tempo three chord blues in'G.' Brought the house down. So while three chords is cool always , if we ever lean towards jazz, to jazz it up, there's tons of ways to fit in additional chords. Once a new chord is even hinted at, it's arpeggio pitches enter into the mix of melody notes. So pure blues elevator notes meet the chromatic wonderland of the 12 pitches.

Stylewise this spans

suggest other chord withing the 12 bar, or actually play them in the form.


The modern pentatonic option :) As all part of our Americana evolutions, we get to cycle on back to the start and paint the pentatonic colors over the changes. This gives us the two basic options. We can 'parent' scale any blues with the blue notes. And a blues scale octave to octave is often a pentatonic minor with an octave 'splitter' tritone. Second we can apply a pentatonic group to every chord. And while this might sound crazy, especially when there's like 23 different chords in one 12 bar chorus, it is a 'modern' way to improvise over changes in the Americana way and has been for near 60 years now, and now with a couple of generations of variations of course.

Thinking in 'C' blues ... ah shucks ... here we go :)

First chorus. Nothing too fancy here really, just your basic 1, 4, 5 / 12 bar, feed the bulldog blues, at least until the last chord, which is a bit altered. The # 9 and # 5 of the chord are the blue notes of the parent scale we're using for creating the chords. Wow, it looks so stark and empty. Not for long ... :) Do play the bass notes first.

C 7 C 7 C 7 C 7
F 7 F 7 C 7 C 7
G 7 F 7 C 7 G 7#9#5

Second chorus. The substitution of the Four chord for the tonic chord in bar two is the added substitution. This is a very common substitution in various styles of blues and jazz music. New tonic color using the ninth. Do play the bass notes first.

C 9 F 7 C 9 C 9
F 7 F 7 C 9 C 9
G 7 F 7 C 9 G 7#9

Third chorus. Simply expanding on the color tones of the changes. Tonic 'C'13 chord in bar 11. Do play the bass notes first.

C 7 F 9 C 7 C 7
F 9 F 9 C 7 C 7
G 9 F 9 C 13 G 7#9

Fourth chorus. First appearance of substituting the Two / Five One harmonic motion into the turnaround. In the following choruses we'll use this chordal cell to help set up a smoother motion to various destinations within the 12 bar blues.

The Two / Five One chord progression and cadential motion can become a very important component on the jazz artist's artistic palette, as it plays such a large roll in the composing of jazz 'standard' songs from the 20's right on through to the present. Aspiring jazz artists should explore the literature for this essential harmonic motion. Do play the bass notes first.

C 13 F 9 C 13 C 13
F 9 F 9 C 13 C 13
D min 7 G 9 C 13 G 7#9#5

Fifth chorus. Subbing out with Two / Five for the tonic in bar 4, creates a cadential motion to the subdominant Four chord in bar 5. Chromatic motion of dominants downward From One to Six in bars 7 and 8. Six setting up a nice and super common depending, cadential motion to Two. Longer measured Two / Five sets up the turnaround of One, then by leap of a minor 3rd, then a similar chromatic motion to close the chorus and return us to the top for the next chorus by a half step lead in to our tonic pitch, 'Db' to 'C.' Do play the bass notes first.

C 13 F 9 C 13 G min 9 / C 13
F 9 F 9 C 13 / B 13 Bb 13 / A 13
D min 9 G 13 C 9 / Eb 9 D 9 / Db 9

Sixth chorus. Subbing out with the tritone sub, so bebop leaning ... :) for the Two / Five into Four in the 5th bar. Four becomes minor in bar 6, and paired with its Five, we approach the tonic in bar 7 from a whole step below. Stepwise in bars 7 and 8, bring some 'gospel' to the changes, then diatonic Two / Five for the turnaround in bar 9, to tonic One to flat Seven / b7 vamp in bars 11 and 12, to set up the return to the top for the next chorus, so cool. Do play the bass notes first.

C 13 F 9 C 13 G min 9 / Gb 9
F 9 F min 9 / Bb 9 C 13 / D min 7 E min 7 / A 13
D min 9 G 9 C 13 / Bb 13 C 13 / Bb 13

Seventh chorus. Reconfiguring the Two / Five cell going into Four in bar 5. Using chromatic motion downward from the Four chord. Minor Four chord in bar 6 followed by the Three and Six chord, which combined together create a Two / Five motion into bar 10. Two / Five again in the last phrase followed by subbing Three / Six / Two / Five for tonic / Flat seven from the last chorus sets up the return to the top for the next. Dominant 'sus' lights the fuse :) Do play the bass notes first.

C 13 F 9 C 13 Db min 7 / Gb 9
F 9 F min 9 E min 9 A 7+5
D min 9 G 13 sus4 E - 7 / A - 7 D- 9 / G 13 sus4

Eighth chorus. Subbing out flat Two for the 'fast Four' in bar 2, quite common in jazz blues, this half step motion away from wherever we're going to. Again the major to minor shift, then the chromatic motion downward from Four with minor 7th chords, very common, leading to a 3 6 2 5 cycling of sorts to close the chorus ? Yes and no. That's Coltrane's magical 'half step double Two / Five' of "Moment's Notice" fame. His first stop in '57 on the way to sheets of sound :) Do play the bass notes first.

wiki ~ sheets of sound
C 13 Db 13 C 13 Db min 7 / Gb 13
F 9 F min 9 E min 7 Eb min 7
D min 7 G 9 Db - 7 / Gb 13 D - 7 / G 9

Ninth chorus. Pretty straight ahead until bar 5 where the diminished color rears it's gorgeous head in bar 6 setting up the motion to One. Chromatic constant structure motion towards the Two chord which arrive in bar 9. The Three / Six / Two / Five turnaround now includes the flat nine on the Six and Five dominant chords. Such an handy color is the diminished chord, which by the way is also in the upper part of the dominant seventh flat nine chord ...? Ya hip? Explore it here if need be. Do play the bass notes first. 

C 13 F 9 C 13 C 13
F 9 F# dim 7 C 13  B 13 Bb 13  A 13
D min 7 G 9 E - 7 / A 7b9 D - 7 / G 7b9
Tenth chorus. Coltrane would love this one. A real non-resolving Two / Five extravaganza. Using the previous turnaround to start this chorus, we Two / Five cycle our way to Four in bar 5 and do the same towards Two in bar 9. This kind of playing is probably more Bop than blues. The key here is the basic 12 bar blues form to keep it all together. For safety sakes, do play the bass notes first. :)
E min 7 / A 7b9 D - 7 / G 7b9 A - 7 / D 7b9 G - 7 / C 7b9
F 9 F - 9 / Bb 13 E - 7 / A 13 Bb - 7 / Eb 9
D min 7 G 9 / G 7#9 E - 7 / A 7b9 D - 7 / G 7b9

Eleventh chorus. This chorus opens up on the dominant pedal setting up the motion to Four in bar 5 via the quick downward passing chord by half step. The 'half step lead in' is very cool and very common. Again the #Four diminished color in bar 6 helps energize and accelerate the harmonic motion of bars 7 and 8. New turnaround changes sub out for the above Three / Six / Two / Five with a 'minor 3rd / perfect 4th motion. Playing the bass notes first?

G 9sus4 G 9 G 9sus4 G 9 / Gb 13
F 9 F# dim 7 C 13 C# dim 7
D min 7 G 9 / G 7#9 C 9 / Eb 9 Ab 9 / Db 9

Twelfth chorus. In this next chorus, right out of the gate we sub a Two / Five cell / cycle moving down in whole steps setting up the resolution to the Four chord in bar 5. The Two chord in bar 9 takes on the suspended quality of the opening of the last chorus and then descends by half step to the tritone sub with a new chord color, the dominant seventh flat five in bar 11, which sets up the next chorus nice by resolving by half step, 'Db / C.' Do play these bass notes first.

C# min 7 / F# 9 B min 7  / E 9 A min 9 / D 13 G min 7 / C 13
F 9 F# dim 7 E min 7 A 7b9
D min 7sus4 D min 7sus4 Db 7b5 Db 7b5

Thirteenth chorus. Finally back to the tonic at the top of the chorus, now colored with the flat fifth carried over from last chorus. Again the diminished color in the second phrase followed by suspended chords then tonic / flat Seven for the turnaround. Always play the bass notes first

C 7b5 / C 7/Gb C 7b5 / C 9/Gb C 9 / C7 / Gb C 7 / Gb
F 9 F# dim 7 C 9 C# dim 7
D min 7sus4 G 9sus4 C 13 / Bb 13 C 13 / Bb 13

Fourteenth chorus. Picking up the whole step motion from the above turnaround, we simply move from tonic downward to Four by whole steps, using a constant structure voicing. And again, the diminished motion in the second phrase on sharp # Four, which we've seen a few times, and now new, the sharp # One, accelerating our forward motion to Two in bar 9, to begin the turnaround, bring some gospel with the ascending stepwise through the third phrase with a big triad close :) ... setting up to begin the climax of this solo. For safety sakes, do play the bass notes first.

C 13 Bb 13 Ab 13 Gb 13
F 9 F# dim 7 C 9 C# dim 7
D min 7 E min 7 F major triad G major triad

Fifteenth chorus. Returning to a more straight ahead blues color for the entire chorus. Looking to honk a bit on just a blue note or two. Again the diminished color appears in the second phrase giving jazz leaning players an opportunity to blaze. Bar 9 subs the diatonic minor third for the major third from the preceding chorus, so 'D-7' to 'D7' etc., then to ascend again :) Do play these bass notes first, get a feel of this story.

C 13 F 9 C 13 C 13
F 9 F# dim 7 C 9 C# dim 7
D 7 Eb 7 F 7 G 7

Sixteenth chorus. Here we continue to simplify things, although exclusive use of the dominant seventh sharp nine color, V7#9, really drives the darker side of the blues color. This could very well be a 'one blue note honk da samba' chorus. Find a nice 'something' and repeat the idea, repeat the idea, repeat the idea.

Play these bass notes first and get us back to where we started off on this solo yes?

C 7#9 C 7#9 C 7#9 C 7#9
F 7#9 F 7#9 C 7#9 C 7#9
G 7#9 G 7#9 C 7#9 C 7#9

Seventeenth chorus. The darker indigo blues color from above is now balanced a bit, brightened up by the tonic six / nine color. The second inversion subdominant chord of the second phrase keeps the tonic pedal underneath it all, driving the groove nicely. The severely altered Five chord is a sort of last crash as the original theme returns to begin closing out the solo. Do play the bass notes first. Measures 193 through 204.

C 6/9 C 6/9 C 6/9 C 6/9
F 13 / C F 13 / C C 6/9 C 6/9
G 7#9#5 G 7#9#5 C 9 G 7#9#5

Eighteenth chorus. Settle this all right on back down to nearly the original realization of the 12 bars. Remember these bass notes ? :)

C 9 F 7 C 9 C 9
F 7 F 7 C 9 C 9
G 7 F 7 C 7 G 7#9

Nineteenth chorus / tag. Here we use the vanilla changes to close out our solo to make an easy transition for the next solo to begin. Note that we can play right into the 5th bar or so, giving the next cat a chance to set things right for beginning their ride, coming at the top of the next chorus. Playing a cliche phrase at this point is one way to create a 'thread' for the next soloist to catch on to and begin their story.

C 9 F 7 C 9 C 9
F 7 . . .
. . . .

Review. Pert near took 20 choruses to get all those changes squeezed in there somewhere ! See any new ones to add into yours? Once past the basics, it's jazz leaning so be careful. When rock and blues players get one diminished chord in a song ... lookout :) So rare a chance is not to be missed, but at volume 11 it'll unbalance the vibe toot sweet ... :) And if it's in every chorus ... ? Look out !

The coolness is that after doing this a while, 'stronger' players can superimpose anything on anything, whether the bass goes there, or there's a chord. Looking ahead in the chorus and pointing lines to the downbeat of the next phrase, combine to create the coolness of a jazz influenced, blues solo. Cool? Cool :)

Ideas for practicing. Work with your metronome and play through the root pitches of the chords your working on. Then arpeggiate each chord through its triad and 7th. The just find a cool substitution ya dig and try to fit it in. When you can hear the change in the melody line, ya got it. We know that 'right pitched' arpeggios will always tell the tale :) Then onto the next, then the next and then the next ... easy :) Doing the chemistry, there's really only a couple of thousand chords.

"I don't know if Charlie Parker was the first to use chromatic ideas in his blues lines ... but he sure was the King of doing it!"

wiki ~ Herb Ellis

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

References academia Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's own and finest resident maestros !

'I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.'

J. S. Bach 1685-1750

'Invest yourself in everything you do. There's fun in being serious.'

John Coltrane 1926-1967