I’ve had a close relationship with the blues scale for over 40 years (yikes!). I came to know it aurally before I came to know it intellectually. My early experiments in improvisation were conducted with a record player and a saxophone. One of my favorite tunes to play along with was “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” by the Rolling Stones. That kickass jam after they got all that singing stuff out of the way! Bobby Keys‘ solo showed me the way to blow over a single chord jam. I got a lot of great stuff from Keith’s Solo too. I discovered that they were playing a small collection of notes most of the time that repeated in each octave.
As I played along on the tenor sax, I heard Bobby’s solo was mostly around the notes E,G,A,B and D and that set of notes pretty much repeated in each octave of the instrument. Another great thing I ripped off from Bobby on this solo was the high G (F concert three ledger lines above the staff in the treble clef). That was my first foray into the altissimo range of the tenor. It wasn’t pretty but if I bit the mouthpiece just right and growled in my throat…OH BABY, that was THE SHIT! (sounded like &^% too, but what the heck, I was practicing my horn and having a blast!) I won’t get into the altissimo here, that’s for more articles down the road.
So, a small collection of notes most of the time, some great rhythms and repetitive ideas. Extra notes thrown in here and there to spice up the ideas and add excitement and some growling in the throat to get Bobby’s sound. I wasn’t familiar with the “blues scale” yet because I hadn’t got into buying any improv books or play along stuff yet. We’re talking the early 1970’s here. No computer. No internet. A RECORD PLAYER! The rock records weren’t even mine. They were probably my oldest sister’s. I played along with Hendrix and the Stones a lot.
As I got into improvising in Junior High School, I started to buy some jazz records. The first one was “We’re All Together Again for the First Time” a live album by Dave Brubeck. One of my favorite tunes to play along with on this record was “Unfinished Woman” by Gerry Mulligan. Again, a pretty static tune harmonically. A couple of chords to hang out on and stretch out! I was more drawn to Gerry’s playing at the time. He plays some beautiful, lyrical lines at the beginning of the solo but he builds it up to some great fast stuff that I loved at the time and spent a lot of time trying to figure out. I experimented a lot with the blues scale on this one too as I did with everything I played along with.
The other tune I loved playing along with on this record was “Take Five” which is totally blues scale based. To this day I still clam the middle of that tune but the beginning and ending melody are a blues scale exercise that everyone recognizes as “jazzzzzzzz”. So much fun to play along with that five four groove and blow on the blues scale or whatever else come to mind.
records in Downbeat Magazine and I ordered the first three records in the series; “How To Play Jazz and Improvise”, “Nothin’ But the Blues” and “The II, V, I Progression”. These records were incredible resources at the time, and still are. They came with a book loaded with scales and chords and tunes and ideas to practice. I spent hours with these records and learned a ton from them but the blues scale came to me through the ears before I saw it written in these books. The minor and major pentatonic scales that the blues scale are derived from, are everywhere in music and many melodies are based on them entirely. I enjoyed practicing the blues scale and pentatonic scales because they sounded melodic and I find students often feel the same way. I have written out the blues scales for Saxophone in all keys and made practice sheets for each which include single octave and full range versions as well as the minor and major pentatonic scales each blues scale is based on. I hope you find the material useful.