Bright Blues Scale Improv

In a previous post, I discussed the pentatonic scale as a collection of “fallback” notes for improvisation that will sound good in almost any style or chord progression that stays in one key.


Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

You can also think of it as a major scale minus the 4th and 7th notes.

C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

C Major Pentatonic Scale = C  D  E      G  A      C (major scale minus 4 and 7)

Like a painter preparing his or her palette for a new still life, a great way to bring a bit of jazzy color to this “pitch palette” is to add the flat 3rd “blue” note to the pentatonic scale.  The result is a note collection that I like to call the bright blues scale.

C Bright Blues Scale = C  D  Eb E A G C (pentatonic plus flat 3rd)

Note that the bright blues scale is apt to be confused with the darker “blues scale” (C Eb F F#G Bb C) that is often taught to first time improvisers. They are two different beasts.You can hear the intuitive use of the bright blues scale in the often cheerful style of singer Ella Fitzgerald or the happy-go-lucky sound of trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

Just as pianists regularly practice major and minor scales (or ought to) to prepare for their use in literature, running jazz scales such as the bright blues gets these notes “under the fingers” so they can be used in improvisation.

Here’s an exercise I use to drill my students on the bright blues scale.


And here’s a sample improvisation using these same notes.


Now you try it. Use the bright blues scale in any octave to improvise.

You try it

If desired, play these chords to accompany your student improvising: 

| C    C7  | F    G7  |

Want a closer look? Here’s a printable: Bright Blues

*Pentatonic Scale
More information about the pentatonic scale and “Swing Out,” the tune upon which the improvisation is based can be found in That’s Jazz, Book 1 available here:
*Bright Blues Scale 
More information about the bright blues scale and “Repeat After Me,” the tune upon which the improvisation is based can be found in That’s Jazz, Book 2 available here:

Until next time, enjoy your creative musical journey!



Bradley Sowash

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