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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    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
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    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
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    @user2808054 A "Fake Book" is like a cliff notes version of a book. It provides the melody and words to popular songs along with some chords that work. The musician then has a simple cheat sheet for working through the tune as opposed to a full score or arrangement. With a good ear a piano or guitar and bass can create a good rhythm accompaniment for a singer or other lead player using just these simple notes. – ggcg Nov 3 '20 at 13:48

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.


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.

  • 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
  • The same could be said for Jazz. It is all based on the circle progression, which is covered by the I-IV-V. There is just as great of a variety of Blues song structure and there is in Jazz. – ggcg Nov 3 '20 at 13:52

There are some blues fake books, and they may well be of use to the "aspiring blues improviser" described in the OP.

  • The Real Blues Book (Hal Leonard, 2011) (SONG LIST)
  • The Blues Fake Book (Hal Leonard, 1999) (SONG LIST)
  • The Blues Fakebook, ed. Woody Mann (Oak Publications, 1995) (SONG LIST)

All three books appear to be available only in "C instrument" editions.

  1. There are fake books for every type of music including Blues.

  2. Jazz progressions are not the elaborate when you understand basic music theory.

  3. What is in a Fake book is often show tunes that jazz players like to improv over whereas Blues is one of many cultural musical styles that is used in Jazz.

  4. One could argue that the chords are not valuable but the melody or head is what the player needs and that is not discernible from a chord chart. In fact, the "changes" in most fake books are meaningless, they do not follow the original score and are just some cut and paste job using the circle progression. In addition it is my experience that the really experienced players can support a tune given just the Key, and the basic architecture, AABA, 12 bar, etc. With this info and a good ear the rest follows.

  5. I disagree that blues is less diverse. This opinion probably comes from listening to only a small amount of Blues or not giving the same credit to how Blues has evolved over more than 100 years, but allowing Jazz to span multiple incarnations over a few decades.

Take, for example, the following list of tunes;

  1. Stormy Monday

  2. Boom Boom

  3. The thrill is gone

  4. Sweet Home Chicago

  5. Crossroads

All are "blues" standards yet you could not get away with faking one by playing the others on the list. They do not even have a similar structure. In fact the Real Book publishes Blues standards books. I think the very premise of this question is faulty. Rather than ask why they don't exists, look for them and see if they exist.

  • Not wanting to get into an argument! I've played all five very many (hundreds of) times in very many bands. Love most of them. Crossroads, Sweet Home Chicago are both pretty standard 12 bar blues, The Thrill is the same but in a minor key, Stormy Monday can work with basic 12 bar (although the Allman Bros do a splendid job), and Boom is a bit all over the place, but basically 12 bar again. So the structures are similar if not the same - 12 bar blues. True, the feel and tempo is quite different for each. Also true, we need the melody and words, (and sometimes the changes) so there's a place. – Tim Nov 3 '20 at 16:33
  • Two suggested edits: Point #4, not only is the melody important, but also the lyrics. All fake books listed in my post include lyrics. Also, in point #4, it's not true that fake books are hack jobs. Early fake books (notoriously, the original Real Book), true, but modern fake books are very careful to follow the published music, even including corrections by the original composer. For more on the latter (and a little self promotion), see Where did “The Real Book” originally come from?. – Aaron Nov 3 '20 at 16:53

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