Blues are probably the simplest and most
common genre to improvise on. There is
enough structure to give you an easy
framework to choose your notes, but not so
much you get overwhelmed by theory and
chord changes. Blues is also an ideal stepping-
stone to jazz improvisation.

There are three things you need to know about
improvising saxophone for the blues

1. Blues Chord Progressions

The most classic blues tracks follow a
standard 12-bar blues progression , or a
variation using the I, IV and V7 chords. The
progression of those chords create the song’s
musical journey and for your solo to sound
good it’s got to follow those chords. Learn how
to recognise a 3-chord song and
play by ear using chord tones and you’ll be off
to a good start.

2. Blues Scales

Your solo is going to sound fairly bluesy if you
just use the basic major scale for the key and
follow the chord tones of the 1-4-5
progression. But to really nail it you’ll want to
use the right kind of scale.

Explore the minor pentatonic and blues scales
and then use the notes of these scales along
with the chord progression when choosing
what notes to play in your blues sax solo.
Experiment with your scales over some blues
in your background. Learn about seventh
chords and play around with adding that
seventh note to your arpeggio-based

3. Blues Bends

If you’ve been playing sax for a while then
you’ll know that one of the best ways to add
expression to your playing is with slight pitch
bends on your notes. You do this by adjusting
your embouchure to loosen and tighten slightly.
This fits right in with the blues and especially if
you combine it with the idea of “blue notes” :
notes which are slight pitch variants of the
notes of the scale, thrown in for the sake of
Use these three tips and you’ll be playing
blues-y sounding solos in no time. If you need
more help check out this great list of
saxophone blues transcriptions from
You’re ready to start your saxophone
improvisation career!

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