Variation Exercises

It is best to become acquainted with melodic motifs through three-note motifs. Click on the F blues progression button in Example 44 and play brief improvised phrases (shorter than a bar) using only F, Eb, and C. Pause every second bar so that you will have time to think about the next phrase.

Next, you can add three melody notes or all the blues scale notes to these rhythm exercises. Apply one rhythmic motif for the first eight bars, changing the motif for the last four bars.

In the following exercise, you will hear 2-bar phrases from the tape. During the two empty bars following the phrase, practise improvisation using the methods described above. First use the exercise as a transcription exercise: try to imitate the phrases without seeing the notes.

Example 40

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

In the following sample, part B of the composition consists of two motifs. Find them and analyse the variation methods applied.

Example 41 (excerpt Hide the Jack, part B)

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

It is important to begin and end phrases on varying beats of a bar. Ending a phrase is especially important; the ending is what usually sticks in the listener’s mind. Practise phrase endings; pay attention to the anchor note.

Example 42
example 42

In connection with blues improvisation, we mentioned the question-answer structure. The answer phrase can be quite different from the question phrase and consist of different elements. If the question progresses stepwise, the answer can include leaps; if the question consists of quavers, the answer can include triplets, minims, and so on.

Example 43
example 43

Now practise answers to Example 40.

Also practise blues improvisation with the help of motifs according to the figure below.

Example 44
example 44

Printer-friendly version of the examples on this page

Playalong 1: Blues in F

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Playalong 2: Blues in G

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Playalong 3: Blues in C minor

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

You can work with different motifs in the following choruses and then go back to the first one. You can plan ahead for different structures. Draft a structure with several choruses, paying attention to the span of the solo. Solos usually begin in a peaceful mode, applying more rests and the middle register. Little by little, the soloist adds intensity leading to a climax toward the end of the solo.

After the climax, a few bars of cooling down are necessary; the first motif will be a welcome element here. Intensity can be added by playing longer phrases, applying a higher register and shorter note values, and so on.

The structure for a good melody is also recommended for a longer solo. Usually, a balanced melody has one top note, played toward the end somewhere around the golden ratio.

Study the Following Compositions:

Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser, Blue Monk, Well You Needn’t,
Charlie Parker: Blues For Alice
Sony Rollins: Oleo

Listen to Blues Guitar Solos by Albert King

The set of phrases and motifs applied by Albert King in his solos is not huge, but he applies enough variation so as not to sound boring in any of even the longer solos.

Apply the Blues Scale

Like the pentatonic scale, the blues scale is appropriate for different chord progressions. It allows you to combine blues and jazz-based improvisation. In practice, you will be playing the minor pentatonic scale with a flattened fifth (a blue note) every now and then. You can apply the blues scale in all contexts suitable for a minor pentatonic scale. Now improvise on the blues scale in A over the chord progression in Example 7 (Jazz Style > Minor Chord Progressions). In E7, beware of playing an A on an accented beat. Also be wary of playing blue notes; they are a spice, not the main course.