The Blues Progression in Jazz - Basic Progressions in Common Keys
Jazz blues progressions are much like traditional blues progressions, except that they have added chords used to add spice and connect the main chords in the progression. On this page, you'll find five distinct blues progressions that go from easy to difficult. All of the theory provided here is in the key of C.
Jazz Blues Progressions: PDFs in Different Keys
Choose your key:
**Note** You'll want to memorize the blues form as soon as possible. Any serious jazz guitarist should be able to play the blues without reading from a chart.
1. Basic 12 Bar Blues
We will begin with a standard 12-bar blues. This will serve as the foundation for everything else covered here.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard this progression used in thousands of tunes over the years. Players in blues, rock, pop, funk, and any genre you can think of have used this form.
2. Simple 12 Bar Blues with II-V-I Cadence
Not quite the jazziest blues yet, but this one has many elements of it. In particular, the II-V-I cadence at the end of the form.
This is a good step in preparation for a "real" jazz blues, which will include several more chords.
Things to Note:
- Bars 9-11 are a II-V-I cadence
- We go to the IV chord in bar 2 just to create a little bit of harmonic interest over the static I chord.
3. Jazz Blues with Secondary Dominants and Turnaround
Once again, we are building on what we have developed so far. Here, we're going to add a VI chord as a secondary dominant to the II chord in bar 9. Check out the guide below if you have any questions about this.
**Read up on secondary dominants here**
It would help to remember that the VI chord is the dominant of the II chord. In this case, A7 is the dominant of Dm. Make sense?
The same thing will apply in bars 4 to 5. Here, the C7 is already the dominant of the IV chord (F), but the b9 gives an added bit of tension which will resolve down to the 5 of F (C).
And if you're interested in what these shapes might look like on the guitar, click here.
4. Jazz Blues with Passing Diminished Chord and Interpolation
Next, we'll add even more harmonic interest with a few more fun little devices:
- Passing diminished chord in bar 6 (very common bass line)
- The II-V interpolation in bars 4 and 8 (see article)
These elements are often used by seasoned improvisers and accompanists. They are particularly useful for creating nice textures, especially at slower tempos.
It is also possible to use passing diminished in other spots. For example, you can try it in bar 2 of the form.
5. Bird Blues (AKA Bebop or Parker Blues)
The "bird blues" form is loads of fun to play over. I personally enjoy it in the keys of F and Ab.
For a more in-depth explanation, see our Introduction to Bird Blues for Jazz Guitar.
Check out the following tunes for examples of this blues variation:
- Blues for Alice
- Chi Chi
- Freight Trane
The last 4 bars are pretty straight forward as the "juice" is really happening in bars 1 through 8:
- Right away, the harmony goes to VIm (the relative minor key) in bar 3
- We have back-cycling in bars 2,3 and 4 (towards the IV in bar 5).
- Then, we have a series of II-V cells that do not resolve but descend chromatically.
- Lastly, the end is a good old II-V-I + turnaround to settle the harmony and go back to the top again.
For a comping lesson with all of these progressions, refer to the jazz guitar blues comping page (w/ video and pdf).
I hope you've found these 5 jazz blues progressions helpful. Feel free to come back as often as you need and re-read the theory. Trust me, it will make more sense after a few weeks. ;)
For more guides on the infamous jazz blues, consult our blues master index.
Good luck and feel free to comment or ask questions below!
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**Note from the editor** This post was updated on 1/22/2019 to improve quality and readability.
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, mastermind and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.
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