Preservation Hall Lessons – B-Flat Blues Improvisation

B-Flat Blues Scale Improvisation

GRADE: 6-8, 9-12
GENRE: Blues
TOPIC: Improvisation
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will learn the 12-bar blues form and explore improvising over a Bb blues using the Bb blues scale.



  • Analyze an improvised performance.
  • Play the Bb blues scale.
  • Improvise over a 12-bar blues in Bb using the Bb blues scale.



National Core Arts Standards

Harmonizing Instruments Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

Harmonizing Instruments Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work. 

Harmonizing Instruments Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work.

Common Core State Standards

ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.



Teachers should familiarize themselves with the course materials prior to launching the lesson.





  1. Play Bb Blues Scale Improvisation. Ask students: What did you notice about the song? What did you infer by listening to the soloists in particular? Tell the students they just listened to a 12-bar blues featuring improvised solos that used only notes from the blues scale. Teachers should play the Bb blues scale for students to hear. When playing a 12-bar blues in Bb, the Bb blues scale can be used to create improvised melodies throughout the entire 12 bars. 


  1. Play the recording again, and ask students to listen for the Bb blues scale in each improvised solo. 


  1. Tell students that improvised solos can be wild combinations of those notes, but they can also be carefully crafted musical phrases. Musicians often use repetition and rhythm to make a solo sound like a single cohesive “story”.


  1. Show slide 3 of the Bb blues scale.



  1. Distribute the lead sheets: Bass Clef, Bb Instruments, C Instrument, Eb Instruments. Play through the roots of each chord as a class so students can internalize the sound of the blues form.


  1. Have students play the blues scale up and down in eighth notes (handout) with rhythm section backing through the form (either student rhythm section or provided backing recording). Have students take turns exploring the blues scale notes through the 12-bar blues form.


  1. Tell students that they can create more dimension in their improvised solos by using dynamics, articulations, and varied rhythm. Ask them to keep this in mind while improvising through the 12-bar blues using the Bb blues scale, but with additional parameters. Use limited portions of the scale (2-3 notes) and have the students improvise with only those notes. 


  1. Once the students have experimented with playing improvised solos within these parameters, allow the class to improvise with the parameters removed, using the entire blues scale.



  1. Have students play through 12 bars of the roots of the blues, then improvise 1-2 choruses of the blues; evaluation is based on following the form and utilizing notes from the blues scale.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Meghan Swartz, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
Mark Braud, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Editor and Content Producer



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