With it’s roots in the lamentations of slaves, the lyrics and tone of American blues genre is often deliberately grim, “Woke up this morning, blues was fallin’ all around…” However the degree of “bluesiness” can be regulated by the number of “blue” notes the improvising musician chooses to employ.
In previous posts, I discussed the pentatonic and bright blues scales as collections of “fallback” notes for improvisation. Here are the formulas for review:
Pentatonic Scale Formula:
Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.
Bright Blues Formula:
Scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 3, 5 and 6
Here’s how they work out in the key of G:
G Major Pentatonic Scale = G A B D E G (G major scale minus C and F#)
G Bright Blues Scale = G A Bb B D E G (pentatonic plus flat 3rd)
A stock boogie bass line on the blues progression makes a perfect accompaniment for exploring the bright blues scale. Ask the student to play either of the boogie bass lines suggested below or even simple block triads depending on their ability level. At the same time, they will improvise with their right hand using the bright blues scale.
Note: It is not necessary to changes scales when the chords change. The bright blue scale works throughout this chord progression.
Watch the video as I and an adult student use the bright blues scale to take turns improvising with right-hand parts in four-measure segments or “trading 4’s.” Her left hand plays the bass line written above throughout as I play block chord “jabs” on a nearby piano. (This can easily be reversed for lower level students.)
This kind of call-and-response teaching is fun and you don’t have to be an expert to do it. The student in the video is also a traditional piano teacher learning to play and teach improvisation who has been studying with me less than a year. If she can do it, you can do it! Just drop the traditional teacher-knows-all model, swallow your pride and enjoy exchanging ideas with your students. You may be thinking, “But what if my student sounds better than me?” That’s a good thing. You’ve opened a creative door that your teachers may have kept closed to you. Some would call that pedagogical evolution. I call it courage.
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