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Taking the Blues Through All 12 Keys (How and Why to Do It)

Welcome to episode 173 of the LJS Podcast where today I talk about the importance of blues, and why you should take it into all 12 keys. Jazz is a music that emerged from the blues and therefore jazz language is steeped in it. If you can play the blues in any key your jazz improv skills will be miles ahead. In this episode, I demonstrate myself taking the blues through all 12 keys and how you can too!

Listen to episode 173

One of the most important song forms in jazz is the 12 bar blues.

And this is because jazz came out of the blues. It was birthed from it. And that’s why you hear so much blues language in jazz throughout the different eras, throughout the history of the music.

And the great thing about the blues is that it contains all of the most important harmonic elements of most jazz standards.

So, if you know the blues, forwards and backwards, and are versed in it, you are going to be able to improvise well over many other jazz standards.

It is important that we spend some time on these song forms, so in today’s episode, we are going to talk about how I take the blues through all 12 keys. I’m going to take you through all 12 keys so you can hear it and we are going to dig deeper into this stuff.

In this episode:

1. Why the blues form is important to know

2. The benefits of taking the blues into all 12 keys

3. I improvise over the blues in all 12 keys

4. My challenge for you: take the blues into 3 keys you aren’t as familiar with this week

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Learn Jazz Standards Podcast. If you aren’t already, make sure you are subscribed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I look forward to having you join me in the next episode!

Important Links

Video: Blues in all 12 Keys Challenge

LJS 146: 3 Strategies for Improvising Over the Blues

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Hi Brent, I am finally getting around to doing the blues in all 12 keys ( with the help of the Camden Hughes tabs on the website) . First step for me is becoming familiar with the irregular keys (other than the more common Bb, F, etc.). I understand that, in the interest of good voice leading we don’t want to be making the changes in huge leaps up and down the fretboard, so, are there any general guidelines with respect to whether it is better to ascend or descend in pitch at certain stages of a blues progression especially with those keys that have us significantly higher or lower on the fretboard if we are relying on 5th & 6th string root voicings?
    Also, I liked the more freestyle comping you used on the blues in C demo. Do you have any recommendations along these lines?
    Many thanks, Aidan.


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