Have you ever wondered how sax players get that great soul gospel blues sound in their improvisations?
So in this lesson, we’re going to look at 3 easy blues tactics for sax that’ll help you do just that. So let’s get into it.
Better Blues Solos
So if you’ve ever tried improvising over a kind of soul gospel blues, maybe you’ve just used the basic blues scale, then you may be a little bit disappointed in the results that you’ve got. And when you listen to other players doing it, there seems to be something else going on. So that’s what we’re going to look at today.
We’re going to look at 3 easy blues tactics for sax that are going to help you do this a bit better.
Cloudvocal Sax Jam
But every year they hold their Cloudvocal Sax Jam. And this year is no different.
So the guys at Cloudvocal put out a backing track for you to record yourself playing with. You submit your entries during November and you can win some great prizes.
So I thought today we could have a look at what they’ve put out there. We’re going to find easy blues tactics for sax to make your solo even better. And hopefully this will give you a chance of winning some great prizes while we’re at it.
Inside Sax School Online
By the way, if you want to learn more about the Blues, or maybe you want to learn more about how to set up your equipment, mics and headphones, then there are loads of lessons and resources available at Sax School Online. Just click the link below to get a 14 day free trial.
The C Blues Scale
Now the backing track that we’re going to be looking at is available here from the Cloud Vocal Sax Jam official page. And it’s got this great bluesy but gospel-y kind of vibe to it.
So first of all, you may expect to start off with a C blues scale. We’re going to look at it in the tenor key, which is the key of C today. And if you were going to do that kind of solo straight into a C blues scale, and that’s not a bad place to start.
However, there’s something quite dark in nature about the blues scale. It’s got lots of elements of the chord flattened.
And particularly when it goes to the brighter chords of the progression, like chord V (the G7), it can sound a bit nondescript and a little bit heavy.
So, there’s another blues scale that you can start off with that gives a much lighter sound. And it’s going to be the A blues scale, which may surprise you because we’re in the key of C.
The A Blues Scale
So if we take a C major pentatonic and an A minor pentatonic and compare the notes in them, you’ll notice they’re the same. They just have different starting notes.
Now, it’s exactly the same with the blues scale.
So, if I was to play an A minor blues scale, but then play that same blues scale from C to C, what I’d end up with is what’s generally called the major blues scale.
And you can see it’s got a different formation.
So the minor blues scale is 1, flat 3, 4, flat 5, natural 5, flat 7.
But the major blues scale starting on that C gives us 1, 2, flat 3, natural 3, 5 and 6, and it’s just got a much lighter sound.
It’s what you hear in a lot of pop solos.
The reason for this is it’s got more in common with the original tonality of the piece. Whereas, the minor blues scale has a lot of changes. It has flat 3, flat 5 and flat 7, even though it is already in the chord. But they can sound a bit dark and minor-y, and we don’t want that all the time.
Using the C Major Blues Scale
So let’s listen to what that sounds like applied to this progression.
Now, hopefully, you’ll agree that that’s got a sweet bluesy sound to it. It’s got that major vibe, and it sounds quite poppy and light, which is great. However, maybe it’s a bit too nice.
So we need to darken it up a little bit. We’re going to go back to where you might have originally started on a piece like this, with the actual C minor blues scale.
Using the C Minor Blues Scale
Now I’ll just do a quick solo using only this, so you can compare and contrast the lighter sound of the C major blues scale and the darker sound of the C minor blues scale.
Now you can hear that one is much more hard-hitting. It’s a typical blues, but it gets a bit too much after a while.
Combining C Major and C Minor Blues
So the secret here is to combine the two. Use a bit of one, use a bit of the other, and just let them interact with each other.
So depending on your mood, maybe you want a dark phrase. Now you want a lighter phrase. Or maybe you can combine them so you get somewhere in the middle.
So let’s see what that sounds like applied to this progression.
So I think that sounds much better now. We’ve got these different colours and interactions. And we’ve got these more diatonic sounds. We’ve got these classic blues flattenings, the flat 3’s and flat 5’s and flat 7’s becoming a bit more prominent when we need it. So, we’ve got contrast in that solo.
Interval of an Ascending 6th
So, for the our last of our easy blues tactics for sax today is we’re going to have a look at an interval. So, this isn’t a generic approach like the other two that we can play over the whole progression.
This is chord-specific. And the interval we’re going to look at is the interval of a 6th, and in particular an ascending 6th.
Now this is a common interval in the blues, and you hear guitarists and other instrumentalists that play blues using this interval all the time.
The most common on a dominant chord- which is the chord that makes up the majority of blues progressions – is the sound of the third going up to the root.
So on a C7 chord, for example, that would be the note E up to the note C. And that interval between E and C is a 6th, a flattened 6 in this case.
But it doesn’t matter what type of 6th it is. There’s just something intrinsically bluesy about the sound.
A step further
So if you want to take this a step further, you can continue moving in sixths through the related scale.
So, for example, C7 is basically related to an F major scale. And so we could start off, once again, from the third up to the root –E up to C.
We could then start to move that interval of a 6 down. So we could go E up to C, and then D up to Bb, and then C up to A, etc. And we could move in different directions with that. I’ll show you what that sounds like.
So basically this is a bit of blues language. I like to think of it more as a word because it’s quite short and it’s usable in lots of different ways.
I’m going to play through it now just following this idea of using a 6th so you can see what it sounds like.
Other Dominant Chords
The other benefit of this particular track is there are some other dominant chords. There’s the E7 dominant chord, and there’s an F7 and a D7 dominant chord.
And just playing, for example, the 3rd up to the root, getting that 6th in on those chord is a a great bluesy sound and it also helps to outline the chord changes.
So instead of our generic blues scale approaches, we’re getting some of the changes in there as well.
More to learn
So if you’re enjoying learning these easy blues tactics for sax, come along to Sax School and check out our other resources. There’s everything you can imagine, from blues to jazz, to classical. We’ve got thousands of lessons for you in there, and it’s just one click away. Just click here to get that 14-day free trial.
Your Blues Vocabulary
Now, I’d encourage you to look out for other blues words such as this, and just get them in your collection.
You can hear some in the backing track itself, you can hear it in the horn section lines. They’re great things to just steal, transcribe, and get into your playing.
And you can build up all these little words that just ultimately add more to your solo and make it sound even more bluesy.
Putting it together
So finally, let’s put the whole thing together. I’m going to use a bit of the C major blues scale mixed with a bit of the C minor blues scale. And then at times, I’m going to use this little blues word of the interval of a six. And let’s see what that mixture sounds like.
So don’t forget to enter the Cloud Vocal Sax Jam competition. It’s open all this month. I’m looking forward to listening to some of the entries and seeing if I can hear some of the techniques we’ve talked about today, in your solo.
And if you want more help to play better solos on your sax, head over to Sax School Online for that 14 day free trial.