Jazz Guitar Blues

Basic Progressions
in Common Keys

Here's just what you need to play jazz guitar blues: a set of 5 distinct, progressively more difficult, chord progressions in the key of C, F and Bb.

The article on this page also includes explanations as to why certain chords are being used / substituted for one another. All the theory is given in the key of C with added roman numeral for analysis.

Print + use the PDFs, but please memorize the blues form quickly (save some trees!!!)

For comping with those progressions, refer to this "Jazz Guitar BLUES COMPING" page (w/ video and pdf).

1 - Most Basic Rock / Pop 12-bar Blues (using I7 - IV7 - V7)

This is the foundation, the simplest jazz guitar blues there is!

Commonly used in traditional blues, blues-rock, pop, rock & roll, funk ... and seldom used in jazz since the bebop era (late 1940's).

2 - Simple 12-bar blues with II-V-I cadence

Not quite the jazziest blues yet, but has many element of it (especially the IIm7-V7-I cadence at the end). This is a great preparation step for the "real" jazz blues with many more chords (see below)

Please Note :

  • bars 9-10-11 are a II-V-I cadence
  • first two bars have I - IV in alternation (instead same chord for 4 bars)

3 - Most Common "Jazz Guitar Blues" (w/ sec. dominants and turnaround)

Previous elements are kept here but the "VI" chord is added in bar 8.

Remember this : VI is the dominant of II. Here's why : In the key of C, A7(b9) in bar 8 is the dominant of Dm in the next bar! We call this a secondary dominant. (You should read about this when you can; it should clear up a lot of the "mysteries" within chord progressions for you...)

Same applies to bar 4 going to bar 5 : We have the "flat 9" on the C7 (the I) to raise the tension level and then resolve back to F7 (the IV).

A C7(b9) chord is refered to as an altered dominant. . (see also the altered dominant chords chart...)

4 - Jazz Guitar Blues with more "meat" (w/ Passing Dim. and interpolation)

Business as usual here except for :

These elements are often used by seasoned improvisers and accompanists. It creates nice textures, especially at slower tempos. Note that is possible to using passing diminished in other spots, like bar 2 for instance.

5 - "Bebop" Blues (aka New York Changes or Bird Blues or Parker Blues)

This is a great blues form to improvise over. I like it in the keys F and Ab the most. Listen to the tunes : "Blues for Alice", "Chi Chi" and "Freight Trane".

The last 4 bars are pretty straight forward as the "juice" is really happening in bars 1 through 8 :

  • Right away, harmony goes to VIm (the relative minor key) in bar 3
  • We have back cycling in bars 2-3-4 (towards IV in bar 5.)
  • Then a series of II-V cells that do not resolve in some sort of side-slipping fashion in bars 6-7-8.
  • The end is a good old II-V-I (+ turnaround) to settle back the harmony and go back to the top again.

Wrapping up

I hope those 5 jazz guitar blues progressions helped you. Feel free to come back here and re-read the theory, it will make more sense after a few weeks. ;-)

Please, consult the other pages/videos in the blues section of this website. If you are looking for genuine jazz blues improvisation book of reference, I highly recommended this great book / CD set by Dan Greenblatt. It contains tons of neat blues lines, the "right" scales to use and timeless licks for jazz legends: