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Rock'n Roll Saxophone


PT ystore

By Pete Thomas

 Part Three - The Rules of Blues Scales

In the same way that the “vertical” riff transposes along with the root of the chord, a similar “rule” can apply to the use of blues scales when soloing. I’m often a bit wary of using blues scales as very often a more melodic approach is better, but they can be very useful as a means towards learning to solo melodically.

The same minor blues scale can be used over an entire 12 bar progression. E.g. in the key of C the minor (flattened) 3rd (Eb) is fine over the major 3rd (E) of chord I – the C chord. The same Eb also fits over the IV chord as it is the b7 of the F7.


However a major blues scale is best used when the root of the scale follows the root of the chord:<

Although the major 3rd of the C major blues scale is fine along with the major 3rd of the C chord, if the same scale was used over the F7, the E natural would sound very bad against the Eb of the F7 chord


b3rd, b5th and b7th (“blue notes”) sound fine against the unflattened 3rd, 5th and 7th, but not vice versa.

How To Play Rock and Roll Saxophone Solos

If you’ve read Joey The Saint’s excellent article, you’ll be aware of the jazz musician who calls blues “the wheelchair ramp of jazz”. This attitude is all too common among some jazz musicians who consider rock & roll or blues as beneath them, i.e. too “easy to play.”

In a way, it is easy to just play some jazz style solo over simple changes, but unless you have a feel for rock & roll, it won’t be very good rock & roll. That’s not to say jazz musicians can’t play rock or blues – a lot of early rock & roll definitely had quite a jazz or swing feel -it just needs a slightly different approach.

When I first started to learn rock & roll playing seriously, what struck me most was how players like Rudy Pompilli and Lee Allen could play just one note and somehow make it mean more than a thousand notes I could string together in a jazz solo. I can’t say what it is exactly – maybe a combination of rhythmic placement and subtle changes of tone and pitch. This is something you have to feel; it can’t be defined, let alone taught.

Analyzing a Rock & Roll Solo.

I’m now going to look at a classic solo by Lee Allen from the 50s and see how it can be analyzed using the techniques we have looked at so far. This is from the Little Richard’s song Slippin’ and Slidin’ soundclip, from the album, Here's Little Richard, Specialty label. (N.B: concert pitch).

Bar 1

Long note flat 3rd

Bar 2

Part of a major blues scale, but with a 4th at the end (the F) which is from the minor blues scale, but here it acts to give some tension as it resolves down to the flat 3rd on bar 3. (This is often called a "suspension"). Another nice thing about this is that it starts as if it will be an ascending chromatic scale (all 12 semitones), but then surprises you by coming down onto the flat 3rd.

Bar 3

A small riffy phrase that is either from the minor blues scale with a 6th, or from a major blues scale but with a flattened 3rd.

Bar 4-5

Another long note that repeats the opening, but a 3rd higher and starting earlier (it anticipates the second 4-bar prase at bar 5 by 3 beats)

Bar 6

Minor blues scale without the b5th. (i.e. a simple minor pentatonic)

Bar 7-8

Major blues scale. Note the change from minor to major 3rd as the chord changes from IV back to I. The second half of bar 7 is a nice development of the phrase at bar 3.

Bar 9-10

Two phrases based in a minor blues scale (the A in bar 9 is an embellishment). The two phrases are rhythmically similar but add interest as the notes and overall shape (contour) of the phrases are different.

Bar 11-12

Blues scale but with the major 7 suddenly appearing after the minor 7 to add a surprise and resolve nicely onto the C at bar 12. This then leads into a minor blues scale which is similar to the opening of the first chorus but with a descending line (bar 14) into the same phrase he played at bar 3 (at bar 15)

Bar 13-15

Again the first phrase of the second 12 bar chorus starts with a long note, this time "kicked" in with a two-note pickup at the end of bar 12


A development of the pickup he did at bar 12. This is an extended version leading to another long note at the beginning of the second 4-bar phrase (bar 17)

Bar 18-19

Minor blues scale (pentatonic) phrase

Bar 20-25

Same last 4 bars as he used in the first chorus, but the pick up (bar 20) is an extended version of the pickup he used at bar 8 the first time around

As you can see this solo is constructed very logically with repeats and developments, melodic phrases and surprises - almost as if it is composed. (This was take 7 so he may have gradually honed the improvisation from take 1 into this very articulate and interesting solo). Of course Lee would not have been thinking about it the way it is analyzed here, it would just be a natural and almost subconscious process that comes naturally to a skilled and talented rock and roll soloist. But analyzing solos like this will help you to develop this talent. If you are a "natural" it may come quicker without so much theory, but for most of us learning this little bit of theory along with careful listening, transcription, and analysis is the best way to end up with a great rocking feel to your solos.

prev Part Two: The Rules of Riffing

nextSTYLES: The Billboard Top 40 hits of the 1950s/60s
Pete Thomas is a leading UK music producer, saxophone recording musician and composer of film & television music. His comprehensive website provides many online saxophone lessons and jazz theory tutorials, with links at the top of each page to audio clips, videos, biography, tutorials and resources for any musician, saxophone player or producer of modern music. His latest, multi-format, CD is "Mr. Lucky".

Pete is an active member of the Sax of the Web Forum.
Created: November 17, 2006.
Update: July 8, 2012.
© 2006-12, Pete Thomas