50 Jazz Blues Licks is an exclusive series of video guitar lessons by David Hamburger covering the jazz blues styles of historically great guitarists like George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, and many others. A new lick will be released each week, so be sure to subscribe and check back often!

It may seem like jazz musicians are continually trying to pull the rug out from underneath you with their tricky chord changes – why can’t they just play V IV and I, like everyone else? – but a little level-headed observation tends to reveal that, at least when it comes to the blues, there are really just a handful of paths through those twelve bars. Case in point: on a minor blues, jazzers reach for either the minor iv chord or the bVI chord in bars 5 and 6. It’s pretty much one or the other, and with a little practice you’ll hear it just as quickly as you can hear whether Albert Collins is going to the quick IV in measure 2 or not on a Texas shuffle. Likewise, the turnaround in the last four bars of a minor blues usually only goes in one of a couple of pretty recognizable directions. The default is arguably bVI to V to i, which in the key of, say, G minor, means going from Eb7 to D7 to G minor (if you played it in the same key, “The Thrill is Gone” would have a turnaround from Ebmaj7 to D7 to Gmin, which is pretty similar). What’s good to know is that most deviations from this one turnaround tend to just be elaborations on a framework: swapping in Eb9 for Eb7, adding b9, #9 and/or b13 alterations to the V chord, and sneaking in a iimin7b5 chord between bVI and V. Do all of those at once in the key of G minor and you get: Eb9 to Amin7b5 to D7alt. to Gmin. Cool? Now all you gotta do is play over it…

Video Guitar Lesson

If you like these guitar lessons, be sure to also check out Frank Vignola’s Jazz Up Your Blues, which showcases essential jazz blues vocabulary and techniques, Mark Stefani’s Jazzed Blues Assembly Lines, which takes you on a sonic learning tour through the funky rhythm and blues stylings and fretboard concepts of top jazz blues players, and of course all of David Hamburger’s courses.