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Jazz Blues-How to Apply the Modes?

Question by Michael
(Fargo, North Dakota US)

I would like to know how to apply the Modes to Jazz Blues. I began playing guitar several years ago and concentrated exclusively on playing Blues.

Now, I want to expand my horizons and play more Jazz Blues and really learn to play Jazz as my ultimate goal. So, if I know the key of the Jazz Blues piece, could I use the Aeolian Mode as my reference point and base the rest of the Modes on this minor key? Is my thinking correct?

I truly appreciate your help and appreciate your excellent instruction contained within your website.

M-A’s Answer:

Oh, good question! (and sorry about the delay in answering).

In fact, there’s already lots and lots of material about this on JazzGuitarLessons.net (and on the WWW in general).

Let me start with this though: do not adopt shortcuts early on and refer everything back to them as you learn to add more layers of chords, modes, guide-tones, etc. (that is, as your improvisations become more refined, melodically, rhythmically and harmonically).

For instance, relating exclusively to the Aeolian Mode is a “bad” idea. See things for what they are right from the start, it’s much easier. 🙂

Now, what we want (in Jazz) is to be as free as possible melodically, all the while staying respectful of the chord changes. We get to a point where it becomes a priority to outline which notes change (and which notes stay the same) when going from chord to chord … but we want to do that within improvised line. Quite the challenge, eh?!

The thing with the blues progression, even in a jazzier context, is that we can always pull-off a huge, raunchy, pentatonic blues lick and it still works. Every jazzmen (virtually) play like that, to some extent. And experience can do that blues thing and get back on their feet playing “on the change” more conservatively.

Suggestions for you:

-Start by learning what Mixolydian is. Think of a simple I-IV-V blues in terms of that, at first. Can you play just on those three scales for one full chorus of blues?

-See the “master” page with all the blues stuff here…

-Of course, check out the videos here. Don’t forget to look at the PDFs while watching! 🙂

-The video discussing the VI chord on the blues seems like something you’d like to check out soon. Wink wink.

-You can use the scale outlines described on this page for inspiration.

-And here’s Tenor Madness , a great tune to immediately say “I can play a real jazz-blues tune now!”

In fact, to tell you the truth, my introduction to such “playing on the modes” for blues type of stuff was through Barry Harris. See The Barry Harris Workshop Video (Part 1)

If you can afford it, and have time to sit through all the DVD’s, it’s worth it. It’s setup like a masterclass with students, so you can play along and follow with the booklet. Very rewarding.

Last but not least, take small bites! Since you can already play blues well, what is important now is incorporating the new information piece by piece, slowly. Grab one concept, understand it, then apply it to death. Rinse and repeat!

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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