I played a bit of piano when I was younger, and a little guitar, but I lost most of it. I can still read sheet music, and taught myself the pentatonic scale, and I'm working on learning to recognize every note on the fretboard (please advise if that is necessary).My end goal is to learn to play jazz and blues. I feel as if I'm going through mostly basics, but what should I be able to do before I start learning anything blues or jazz related?

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    Get a teacher, or failing that, a book.
    – slim
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 9:49
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    @Glenak1911 Hi - this question received a vote to close (not from me), because it's a bit too broad. I can see their point : could you be a bit more specific about what you're asking ? Eg what is it that makes you feel yoiu can't go ahead with learning blues/jazz right away ? Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 11:50
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    As far as the blues goes, it's very easy to get started. Learn the blues scale, learn the basic 12 bar blues pattern and just start playing. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


What should I be able to do before I start learning anything blues or jazz related?

You should be able to play the chords smoothly through the traditional I-IV-V blues progression in E,A,D,and G with a drum track. Then turn on your iPod and start playing along with simple blues music - Muddy Waters is a great blues artist to start with. His music is very listenable and enjoyable, well structured, generally well recorded (often a problem when listening to the old masters), played almost entirely in the above mentioned keys, and he covers pretty much all of the traditional blues forms and progressions at one point or another. Once you're mastered the above mentioned progressions, you'll be able to play along with him in no time, and you'll get a feel for playing the music and confidence to move forward.

Once you know those progressions well, the other thing is to get out there and play with others, in a context where you won't feel ashamed because you don't know that much, or you make a mistake. Play with recordings for a while until you feel you have enough chops and knowledge not to send people running out of the room, and you have enough confidence to mix in without worrying about making a total fool of yourself. Then just do it.

I think it's important to emphasize that the theory and approach behind jazz and blues is generally quite different than that of traditional classical or even "pop" music, except for the most basic aspects (and a lot of it can't even be expressed in terms of traditional theory) - so the sorts of study and practice regimens generally taught for such forms may be of limited use when dealing with jazz and blues: They are fundamentally improvisational and very flexible, personal forms of music. You will rarely hear a credible blues or jazz musician play the same piece the same way twice. This is true of all musical performances in varying degrees, but when it comes to blues and jazz it is much more noticeable and is arguably mandated by the genres themselves: They represent expressions of how the musician is feeling "in real time" - at the moment the music is being played. Charles Mingus writes (don't have a citation at the moment) about how the idea of a "jazz composer" is essentially an oxymoron. (He came up with a way to negotiate the problem.)

I'm not saying that you don't have to know theory or practice to play jazz and blues well - I'm just saying that it might be a different sort of theory and practice than what you are accustomed to.

Keep studying theory related to blues and jazz - there is material out there - and practicing blues and jazz scales and chords and most importantly - LISTEN TO THE GREATS and PLAY WITH OTHERS. You'll get there.

I've found this book to be very helpful: The Jazz Language: A Theory Text for Jazz Composition and Improvisation


While teachers and self-study are excellent ways to learn anything, when it comes to learning the blues, I believe you can profit greatly by finding someone who is just a little bit better than you, and just sit down and play together.

While the form has evolved over time to embrace real sophistication, it started as a type of folk music. Playing three chord gut bucket with a person long on enthusiasm and with just the right amount of technique can be a great way for you to start. The road might lead you to Gershwin and Fats Waller eventually - I hope it does - but starting with some one, two or three chord Muddy Waters tunes, learned in what my pals and I like to call a "chart-free zone," could introduce you to the freedom and ease that I believe is essential to satisfying performances of this rich, seminal style of music.

Keep in mind that some of the greatest practitioners of the art form began by playing on something called a diddley bow - a piece of wire stretched between two nails, (pinning a bottle against a barn door as a resonance chamber,) played with a broken bottle neck, rather like a mountain dulcimer, but nastier sounding. The aforementioned Mr. Waters, B.B. King and many others started this way.

You need not go that far back in time, but starting with a guitar, the right pal and a hankering to learn could get you a good start.

Enjoy, whichever method of learning you choose - understanding they are not mutually exclusive.

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    Good advice. Except for the underlying theory, improvisation is hard to learn from books. Listen to great players, and try to play with others as soon as possible. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 10:55

Listen a lot of jazz/blues songs you like. This will get the sound in your ears. Not Just guitar or piano, but more instruments (miles Davis, trumpet-charlie parker, sax- wes montgomery,guitar etc.) Also get your theory right. A simple twelve bar blues Also has theory behind the three chords. Understanding This can be your first steps into a jazz blues. It Also helps if you learn to play some recorded songs incl. Solos. This way you can steal nice chord voicings and licks. And as mentioned above, a great teacher saves you a lot (!!!) of time!

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