12 Bar Blues Improvisation

12-Bar Blues Improvisation

Jane M. Kuehne, TI:ME Instructor
[email protected]
Auburn University

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments
Music Production

Level:

Middle School

Class:

General Music

Equipment:

MIDI workstations (enough for students to have at most 4 to a computer)
Cakewalk Sonar or other MIDI sequencing software

Duration:

Four full class periods (at a minimum)

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

This lesson assumes that students

  1. Have a basic knowledge of musical form (AABA, etc.) and that they are familiar with listening to basic chord changes in music (I, V, I, IV, I).
  2. Have played or will be able to play basic triad chords in right hand and root bass in left hand in at least one key.
  3. Have basic knowledge of MIDI, creating and recording tracks.

NAfME standard of 1994 Addressed:

NAfME standard of 1994: Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
NAfME standard of 1994: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

NAfME 2014: Performing 

NAfME standard of 1994: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.

NAfME 2014: Creating 

NAfME standard of 1994: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.

NAfME 2014: Responding 

Materials:

  • Several blues recordings from different time periods
  • Two instructor-composed (basic) 12-bar blues songs — both should be 12 measures
    in length using the basic chord progression (below) where chord changes are
    easily recognizable.
  • One or both songs should be in F blues.
  • MIDI workstations — enough for students to have at most 4 to a computer.
  • Cakewalk Sonar or other MIDI sequencing software

Objectives:

The Objectives of this lesson are:

1. Further students’ knowledge and use of the basic 12-bar Blues chord
progression (I-IV-I-V-I) by learning to play a basic root position progression
(see below)
2. Define or Review the meaning of improvisation with regard to 12-bar Blues
3. Begin to develop improvisation skills on both keyboard and voice using the
basic12-bar Blues chord progression.
4. Incorporate the use of technology including Cakewalk Sonar and MIDI stations
to facilitate both of these.

Students will be able to:

1. Play a basic Blues Chord progression in F Major using root position chords in
the right hand and root bass notes in the left hand on MIDI keyboards.
F F F F
Bb Bb F F
C C F F
2. Record the above 12-bar Blues progression.
3. Improvise over the recorded Blues progression using the MIDI keyboard
4. Record several new improvisations over the blues progression, each on a new track
5. Experiment with vocal improvisation using digital audio component of Cakewalk
Sonar (or other program).

MENC

6. Content Standard: Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
7. Content Standard: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied
repertoire of music
a. perform on at least one instrument 1 accurately and independently, alone and
in small and large ensembles, with good posture, good playing position, and good
breath, bow, or stick control
8. Content Standard: Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments
a. improvise simple harmonic accompaniments
b. improvise melodic embellishments and simple rhythmic and melodic variations
on given pentatonic melodies and melodies in major keys
c. improvise short melodies, unaccompanied and over given rhythmic
accompaniments, each in a consistent style, meter, and tonality
9. Content Standard: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
a. describe specific music events 3 in a given aural example, using appropriate
terminology
b. analyze the uses of elements of music in aural examples representing diverse
genres and cultures

NETS

1. Basic operations and concepts
a. Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of
technology systems.
b. Students are proficient in the use of technology.
2. Technology productivity tools
a. Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and
promote creativity.
4. Technology communications tools
b. Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and
ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

Procedures:

Introduction:

  1. Play an excerpt from standard blues song (or part of one) found on the
    Smithsonian Jazz collection.
  2. Play one or more blues excerpt(s) that includes improvisation. Ideally at
    least one recording should be instrumental and one should be vocal.
  3. Ask questions of students to facilitate their thinking about what they heard.
    These questions might include:
    a. Who do you think is singing/playing this piece of music?
    b. Describe what you are hearing in this music.
    c. Do you think all of this music was written down on paper?
    d. Etc.
  4. Inform the students that they will be learning more about the blues and will
    be creating their own blues songs using MIDI sequencing.

Procedures – Part I

  1. Play first instructor-composed 12-bar Blues song on the piano or MIDI
    keyboard so students can hear it.
    I I I I
    IV IV I I
    V V I I
  2. Ask students to identify first when they hear a change in the chord
    progression (for example, raise your hand to indicate when you hear a change in
    the chords)
  3. Have students identify the chords (I, IV, and V) – this will take several
    minutes. Have them first identify the I chord then counting up (or down) to the
    root of the IV chord; same for V chord.
  4. Provide a 12 measure piece of blank staff paper for students to use to mark
    in the chord progressions they hear.
  5. Play the second composed song and have students mark below each measure where
    the chords change.
  6. Ask them if they think the where the chords change is the same or different
    than the previous song played (should be the same)
  7. Ask them if they think the chords were the same. Review if necessary.
  8. Ask them to write in the correct chord symbols under the staff for each chord
    (I, IV, or V).
  9. Have students equate the chord symbols to actual chord names (I = F, IV = Bb,
    V = C) by giving them the first chord and asking them to find what IV and V equal.
  10. Have student write these chord names under the symbols on their paper.
    Their papers should have the following by measure:

    I I I I
    FFFF

    IV IV I I
    Bb BbFF

    V V I I
    C C FF

Evaluation – I
Check each student’s paper to ensure they all have the correct information.

Procedures – Part II

  1. Demonstrate for students how to play the I (F) , IV (Bb) and V (C) chords on
    the MIDI keyboards
    Have students:
  2. Practice playing each of these chords using quarter note beat patterns (four
    chords per measure in 4/4 time).
  3. Practice changing from I (F) to IV (Bb) and I (F) to V (C) in time with two
    measures for each chord. (I for 8 counts, IV for 8 counts, I for 8 counts, V for
    8 counts, etc.)
  4. Play the 12-bar blues chord progression in time.
  5. Record the blues progression (see above).
  6. Students save this file as “Blues Progression.”

Evaluation – II
Listen to each student’s or each group’s recorded progression.

Procedures – Part III

  1. 1. Remind students about the first pieces they heard that included improvisation
    (in the introduction).
  2. Introduce a basic blues scale in F by playing it on a piano or MIDI keyboard.
    F Ab Bb B C Eb F
  3. Demonstrate a basic improvisation over the 12-bar F blues.
    Have students:
  4. Practice playing the scale up and down.
  5. Make up 2-4 bar melodies using only the notes in the F blues scale.
  6. Improvise using the F blues scale over the chord progression they recorded
    (do this several times).
  7. Record an improvisation on a new track. They may wish to have several
    improvisation tracks and choose the one they like the most to share for the
    evaluation. Make sure they are recording a new improvisation each time, not just
    perfecting a melody.
  8. Save this as a new file titled “Blues Keyboard Improvisation”

Evaluation – III
Each student plays his/her recorded blues progressions with their selected
recorded improvisation.

Procedures – Part IV
Instructor may wish to incorporate lyric writing during this section.
Have students:

  1. Talk about other ways in which improvisation can be done – other instruments,
    voice, different situations, etc.
  2. Sing the F blues scale on “doo-bee” several times. Sing both up and down and
    then listen and echo various melodic patterns on the blues scale (instructor
    makes these up).
    F Ab Bb B C Eb F
  3. Sing a vocal improvisation together (each does his/her own thing) while the
    instructor plays the 12-bar blues progress on piano or MIDI keyboard.
  4. Create a new track in the sequencer for digital audio (or import their 12-bar
    blues progression and keyboard improvisation file to a digital audio program)
    and record a vocal “doo-bee” improvisation using the F blues scale (above). They
    may wish to create several different improvisations and then choose the one they
    want to share with the class for Evaluation IV.
  5. Save this as a new file titled “Blues Vocal Improvisation”

Evaluation – IV
Each student plays his/her own vocal improvisation over the 12-bar blues with
MIDI improvisation for the class.
(You may opt instead to listen to these individually rather than in front of the
entire class)

Evaluation:

Evaluation – I
Check each student’s paper to ensure they all have the correct information.

Evaluation – II
Listen to each student’s or each group’s recorded progression.

Evaluation – III
Each student plays his/her recorded blues progressions with their selected
recorded improvisation.

Evaluation – IV
Each student plays his/her own vocal improvisation over the 12-bar blues with
MIDI improvisation for the class.
(You may opt instead to listen to these individually rather than in front of the
entire class)

Overall Assessment:

Each student should have a product for each of the four evaluations above
(EVALUATIONS I – IV) including:

1. Staff paper with blues progression in chords written below the staff.
2. A file titled Blues Progression
3. A file titled Blues Keyboard Improvisation
4. A file titled Blues Vocal Improvisation

Ask students to write a reflection about what they did, the skills it took to
complete I-IV above, how they felt about improvisation, etc.
Instructors may wish to have a more formal assessment where students:

1. Write the basic 12-bar blues progression
2. Write the notes of the blues scale (in F)
3. Demonstrate keyboard improvisation over an instructor-played 12-bar blues progression.
4. Demonstrate vocal improvisation over an instructor-played 12-bar blues
progression..

Closure:

1. Play the first songs and/or additional blues songs for the class.
2. Ask students to define the blues progression you gave them (above)
3. Ask students to define the F blues scale
4. Ask for volunteers to play the progression and to play the F blues scale
5. Ask for volunteers to improvise with the progression on keyboard
6. Ask for volunteers to improvise with voice.
7. Introduce the idea of a jazz combo and explain that in the next lessons you will bring recordings of jazz combos so that students can learn more about jazz and begin to learn more jazz skills.

Follow Up:

Possible lesson on Jazz Combos.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top