A lot of jazz is heavily improvised, and I know that many musicians typically rely on fake books and their progressions to build improvisation on top of. My question is, why aren't there fake books for blues? It would seem to be a pretty great tool to have for an aspiring blues improviser. Is it because most blues music sticks to much simpler progressions than jazz?

  • Yes, I think you gave the answer already: blues is usually much less diverse than jazz. In jazz there are a few standard progressions, but there are also many songs with pretty unique changes. In blues if you know the standard 12-bar blues, the minor blues, and the few basic variations you can play along with almost any blues song. Of course, you can view blues as a quite well-defined subset of jazz, so a blues fake book would be pretty thin. – Matt L. Apr 29 '15 at 20:10
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  • @BruceFields: Good find! But the slight difference between such a blues fake book and the real book or other jazz fake books is that the latter are actually used by practicing musicians. – Matt L. Apr 30 '15 at 9:26
  • Keep in mind that the existence of The Real Book and its descendents is based on copyright infringement, so that is is a special case that only applies to Jazz. Come to think of it, a better question might be "Why is Jazz the only genre of music where fake books are routinely used?" – Todd Wilcox Apr 30 '15 at 12:43
  • Hi - terminology/language barrier .. I've heard the term before but not sure what it means. Could you explain what's meant by a "fake book" ? – user2808054 May 1 '15 at 8:20

In addition to traditional Blues being simpler and less diverse than Jazz, historically Blues is played in smaller groups, or even solo, and more often by musicians who learn and play by ear. In that sense (and in others) it feels a lot closer to Rock 'n Roll than to Jazz. I would say Blues is more of an oral tradition, and Jazz is more composed in a similar fashion to Classical music.

As others have pointed out, if you can play a pentatonic minor scale in every key (you might survive quite well just knowing five or so keys), and you pick up or invent a few other good licks, you can improvise over most Blues progressions.

Furthermore, from a certain point of view, there are fake books for Blues, at least a little bit. There is an excellent transcription of one version each of every song Robert Johnson recorded. A few quick web searches confirm that there are song books for all of the most famous names in Blues I could think of in thirty seconds or so. So if you want to get super cerebral about your Blues, the material is out there.

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Blues songs, by definition, basically, follow the blues progression as found in 12 bar blues. Whilst there are lots of variants of the 12 bar blues, they are basically the same format. The fake (or real) book would be rather thin due to this. Yes, there are other songs which come under the auspices of 'blues', but in comparison to jazz standards, they are few and far between. If one can find one's way round basic blues, there's probably no need to refer to a compendium of blues songs.

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  • There a few standard forms besides the 12 bar I-IV-V - you often run across 8 bar forms, and sometimes 'one offs' with 9 or 13 or 7, and sometimes they won't even use the IV. But end the end there are only a handful, at least of the traditional 'standard' blues forms, and if you know the 12 bar I-IV-V it's very easy to pick up the others. I think this answer suffices. – Stinkfoot Apr 30 '15 at 19:48

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