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LJS 216: By the End of This Episode You’ll Have Learned a Jazz Blues Solo

Welcome to episode 216 of the LJS Podcast where today I go walk you through a 12 jazz blues etude I’ve composed, and help you learn it by ear. Learning jazz solos by ear is important, so instead of talking about it and giving strategies, we actually do it on the episode.

Listen to episode 216

What if I told you that by the time this episode is over, you are going to be able to play a 12 bar jazz blues solo by ear by memory? 

Would you believe me?

Well, that’s exactly what we are going to do today in this episode. I’m going to walk you through 12 bars of a jazz blues solo, a little etude that I’ve composed, and I want you to learn it, and we are going to do it on the podcast. 

So, even if you are new to learning music by ear and you’ve heard people talk about doing it and how important it is, and how it’s going to help you become a better jazz improviser, and you are feeling a little bit nervous or anxious right now, don’t worry.

We are going to go slow and I think that you are going to surprise yourself by the time this episode over. And if you are a veteran of this stuff, you are going to know some great new jazz language and this is going to be well worth it for all parties involved. 

In this episode:

1. Why learning solos by ear is important

2. I teach you the 12 bar jazz blues solo

Important Links

1. Boost Your Jazz Blues free Masterclass

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,
    This was a fun challenge and I did it in three sessions. After mastering it all by ear and playing along on my tenor sax, I wrote it down. I really needed to do this to understand the timing. Having done that I came up with a missing measure and wonder if you could straighten me out where I went wrong. My assumptions and understandings from your comments to fit the chords:
    1) The first pair of notes is a grace note and count 4 BEFORE measure 1.
    2) The etude ends with a single note on ct 1 of bar 12.
    3) Measure 9 starts/carries over the 3rd of the concert G7.
    To make all of those work, I have to not have a measure 8 at all. Where am I going wrong?
    Bob Cohen

    • Resolution: I had the Jazz Blues progression incorrect. I had a second I-chord in measure 8 and the VI-chord in measure 9. Eliminating that second I-chord moving the VI-chord to measure 8 solved it (with I-chords in meas. 11 and 12).

  2. Learning by ear is hard. This is a really practical and helpful podcast. More working through tunes, progressions and solos like this would be great. We need to focus deeply on just a few areas and learning by ear is one of them.

  3. I listened to the podcast 3 times before grabbing my guitar. Interesting to see the differences on how I internalized it and then getting it under my fingers. Emphasizing the first note of a line is very helpful.

  4. Another great exercise for an episode would be to trade fours with you on a blues. What do you think?

    Thanks again for to this, I’ve learned the entire solo at 3 distinct places on my doublebass. Took me a couple of hours.

  5. Brent,
    I loved the episode. Pacing was great and it was helpful to have the starting notes highlighted and phrases slowed down. Those are often hard to catch when transcribing. I learned a lot and felt successful doing so. Thanks for another great episode.

  6. Helpful. Maybe a rhythm track would be helpful in keeping the rhythms clear. Now I had to figure out the motes and get the rhythm later. The tenor madness quote made things easier.
    For slowdowner I use the VLC media player built in slowdown. The good thing about it is: it has a very irritating delay before the slowdown starts, so that motivates me to get as much as possible in real time and only slow down when I need it. I just did the Lester Young solo on I cant get started with Billie Holiday. Very melodic, and pretty close to the theme (which I had to get from Sinatra like you recommend, because Holiday takes huge freedoms with melodies).

  7. Long time LGS member, this up there for me with one of the top episodes. I actually learned the entire etude by ear a great confidence boost for learning things by ear , which I have trouble with, this helped a lot. Definitely want get a slow down app now, any suggestions? That’s what helped me , you slowing down each phrase with out losing pitch.
    Thanks Brent

  8. Bravo!!!
    Exactly what I’ve needed to begin training my ear. I can’t wait to get started with my clarinet. I really appreciate the fact that you broke the solo down into separate parts and then took the time to repeat each part slowly, scaffolding the exercise and making it less intimidating for a novice musician.
    Thanks so much for your work.

  9. Hi, Lovely little blues that I’ll try to learn tomorrow but …… your guitar playing drowned out your voice, and I can’t hear the chords…. and the chords I can hear don’t seem to match any of the other B flat blues changes I can find on your web site.
    Any chance you can put the chords up somewhere on the site?
    Best wishes

  10. Fabulous idea Brent which forced me to learn something by ear. I seriously think you should do more of these, as a fairly regular feature. Maybe shorter like turnarounds and ii V I’s either your own or excerpts from the greats. You could do some serious ear training this way. How to think of scale degrees and transposing tips for working through all keys. I’ve just started to get into this so very please with this episode.


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