Key Signatures: Scale Theory

Jazz Guitar Blues

Basic Progressions in Common Keys

Here’s just what you need to play jazz guitar blues: a set of five 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.

Please feel free to print + use the PDFs (click on the pictures below with the big red letters to get the PDFs), but please memorize the blues form quickly. I mean: use the PDF, but discard the paper ASAP.

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

The PDFs for Download

Jazz Guitar Blues: Progressions in CJazz Guitar Blues: Progressions in FJazz Guitar Blues: Progressions in Bb


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

Jazz Guitar Blues

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

Jazz Guitar Blues

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)

Jazz Guitar Blues

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)

Jazz Guitar Blues

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)

Jazz Guitar 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 to continue onto your jazz guitar blues journey.

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