The blues is arguably the most influential style of music to be born in the past century. So, it’s not surprising that people still love learning to play the blues, regardless of the instrument they are playing. The musical vocabulary you learn within this style helps you speak the language of popular music as we know it.
In his course, The Language of the Blues, multi-GRAMMY-Award-nominated saxophonist, Bill Evans helps you adopt this language as your own, regardless of the instrument you play.
Here are 12 free Bill Evans lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Bill Evans’ The Language of the Blues on TrueFire!
Bill Evans Lesson – Blue Notes
Blue notes, to me, basically mean the flat 3 (also called the minor 3rd), flat 5, and flat 7 (minor 7). In the blues, these are the notes that make it sound “bluesy”. Take your time with these notes. Listen to blues artists and hear how they play these notes: Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, B.B. King, they all have an ingenious way of using the “blue notes” in their solos. These are the notes that an audience will identify with more than any other notes you will play!
Bill Evans Lesson – Tension & Release
You build a line, and then release it. What does that mean? OK, start repeating a 2 bar blues line you just invented. Keep playing that 2 bar phrase throughout the entire 12 bar or 16 bar blues. when you get to the last 4 bars of the blues, play something that is the ANSWER to that 2 bar phrase. Something that compliments that phrase.
That will RELEASE what you’ve been playing. Or, use dynamics to play softly until you explode at the end of your solo into something that is the answer to that soft blues phrase you were playing. There are many ways of doing it. Repeating a line in a low register, then playing that line in the upper register while using more volume or expression. Have fun experimenting with it. There is no one way to create tension and release.
Bill Evans Lesson – D7 Swing Shuffle: Performance
Let’s start things up with a blues shuffle, playing in the key of D. Follow along and listen for our techniques and concepts from the first section.
Bill Evans Lesson – D7 Swing Shuffle: Starting Simple
Here I’m trying to demonstrate laying back and swinging. I’m using some colorful notes outside the blues scale, but am always resolving them back to the key I’m in. I’m trying to overemphasize the “laying back into the time” and let it push YOU. Keep your solo simple and think about the time…DON’T RUSH!
Bill Evans Lesson – D7 Swing Shuffle: Resolving is Key
Learn the three diminished scales and know when to put them in. Where? Going to the V chord (4th bar of a 12 bar blues, or the 12th bar going back to the beginning), or while USING the V chord. I think of the diminished scale as a color scale – it’s there to add color to the blues. I try not to get too technical. Always think of the end result; what you want to sound like. It’s not how much you know, but what you sound like. But the more you know, the better you will sound in most cases. Haha!
Bill Evans Lesson – D7 Swing Shuffle: Using Expressions
You’re not a robot, so before you try to play everything you know in the first few bars, use some expression, keep it simple, lay back and say something that makes sense. Throughout this course, I’ll be repeating some of the same ideas, over and over again. Repetition is part of learning the language of the blues! Don’t be afraid to repeat repeat repeat until these practice techniques become automatic!
Key thoughts here: over exaggeration with expression – bend notes, use dynamics and keep it simple! You’ll get over more when your lines are SOLID. Learn as many of them as you can. Make them a part of you.
Bill Evans Lesson – Slow Blues in G7: Performance
Now we’re in the key of G, playing a slow blues. Follow along and listen for our techniques and concepts from the first section.
Bill Evans Lesson – Slow Blues in G7: Application
Again, start a simple phrase and make it more complex each chorus. I discuss in the video the different techniques on how to do that. Answer yourself with your lines.
Learn as many simple blues lines as you can. Jazz can teach you that as well! They’re both very similar (Language of Improvisation discusses this). Repeating phrases adds tension, dynamics, up an octave, etc. Try it!
Bill Evans Lesson – Slow Blues in G7: Blue Notes
You can always just repeat a bluesy line over the entire blues, even when the chord changes change! It creates tension…so that you can finally release it! BAM! Really cool. Every classic blues musician has mastered this technique and it’s not hard!
Bill Evans Lesson – Slow Blues in G7: Starting Simple
Create strong, simple melodies that make sense. Which means, when you listen to your line, it sounds good. On a slow blues you have time to build up your solo. Take your time. It never sounds professional when someone tries to play everything they know in the first chorus. It’s better to build a solo and have something to go. If you play everything you know in the first chorus, you may have nothing more to say. TAKE YOUR TIME. Learn as many patterns as you can to increase your vocabulary. Then, when you build a solo, you have lots of lines to choose when you’re learning how to get this stuff under your fingers. The final result is you having more fun and creating your own lines that sound great. I can’t tell you how much fun that is!
Bill Evans Lesson – Funky Blues Groove
Here’s another one where we’ll switch it up a bit, this time playing a funky blues.
Bill Evans Lesson – Slow Minor Blues Groove
Here’s a minor blues, again with a slower tempo.
Digging these free Bill Evans lessons? Check out his full course, The Language of the Blues.