Teaching improvisation can be a daunting task. How do I teach kids how to invent a solo from thin air? I am the lead instructor at the Great Basin Junior Jazz Camp this week (I am also on faculty for the big camp, which is held a different week), and I created this handout to do just that. I do a lot of call and response with the kids in two bar phrases (based on these licks and others) and I use numbers to help kids get the idea of using licks. This also helps explain it better rather than telling each kid what notes to play in their key. They know that the blues scale:

1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 1 translates to:

C Eb F F# G Bb C
D F G G# A C D
A C D D# E G A

for C, Bb, and Eb instruments, respectively. It’s much easier to explain the lick in terms of numbers you can point to on the whiteboard rather than tell each section what notes to play. Here is the handout. The kids can use it to write out the licks in Bb and Eb.

The .pdf Handout:

Great Licks for the Blues

30 Days to Better Jazz Playing
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Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at www.camdenhughesmusic.com.


  1. I am pretty impressed at what you are proposing. The do da, doo doo all sound like my instructor teaches me for rhythm study when learning a new song from the Real Book.

    Here I am at 59 trying to learn and be proficient with an Eb alto saxophone. It’s tuff but something I always wanted to do. Do you have any tapes, books or DVDs (or CDs) I can learn from? I’d love to sit down and talk and pick up a few tips from you!