Blue Bossa Guitar Study

Blue Bossa was written by Kenny Dorham and is the one of the first standards you should learn. The reason for this is that it has only 2 keys, Eb major and Db major. We can get more complex over time but this is the easiest way to get started.

The diagram below shows the chord progression and below the staff, I show the extent of each key. If you play using a tonal center (key) approach make sure you switch keys at the right time.

You might have noticed that the B in G7 is not in the Eb major scale. And you’d be right! But the Eb major scale has a Bb and that is considered to be the #9 of the G7 chord. And the Bb is even played in the melody itself over the G7! Dominant chords are usually the place where many liberties are taken by playing altered tones.

If you are not familiar with these scales you might want to practice playing each scale in various positions on the neck. Then practice transitioning back and forth between the Eb and Db major scale, while staying in the same area of the fretboard. You can use the 5 CAGED scale patterns or any other scale patterns that you know. I provided an example below.

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Using the CAGED system there are 5 major scale positions. I’ve only shown 2 of the possible 5 patterns above). There are many scale patterns out there on the Internet so I wouldn’t get to hung up on any one method.

Next we have arpeggios. The ways and fingerings to play arpeggios can vary quite a bit but one way is to use the arpeggios that fit with the 5 CAGED shapes I mentioned earlier. Arpeggios and scales tend to fit into a few patterns so we can pick a few we like and stick to those at first, and then add more variations over time. If you try to practice every permutation of scales and arpeggios you’d never get to actually playing a song!

Arpeggios can help us identify what the actual chord tones are – ie the notes that make up the current chord. These are usually the best notes to target in a solo since they are part of the chord.

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Here’s another post on minor 7 arpeggios across the entire fretboard.

Relating everything to a tonal center and major key is a good way to get started and is a slight over simplication of what’s happening. The areas that I identified containing the notes of Eb major are more correctly part of the relative minor key of C minor. But rest assured that these are the same notes (Eb major = C minor). And the Dm7b5-G-Cm7 is known as a minor ii-V-i, since ii-V-i’s are very prevalent in jazz.

I also like to play individual chord tones for the whole progression. So during the first chorus I just play roots, 2nd chorus I play 3rds and so on. Here’s a chart – if you don’t know your notes on the fretboard you will want to learn those as well. Think of these the same as the Eb and Db major scales but ordered in ascending 3rds (a chordal approach).

Here’s a list of intervals to play from root to 13. The first 4 notes are the notes of the chord (r,3,5,7 of some type) then the upper extensions 9,11,13 (of some type according to the key). Play the first note over the progression (roots), then the second (thirds), etc

Cm7- C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F, Ab
Fm7 – F, Ab, C, Eb, G, Bb, D
Dm7b5 – D, F, Ab, C, Eb, G, Bb
G7 – G, B, D, F, Ab, C, Eb
Ebm7 – Eb, Gb, Bb, Db, F, Ab, C
Ab7 – Ab, C, Eb, Gb, Bb, Db, F
Dbmaj7 – Db, F, Ab, C, Eb, Gb, Bb

Since we’re holding notes we want to be careful about dissonances (notes that don’t great sound if held and not resolved. Some of the dissonances are 11ths on major 7 and dominant 7 chords, b9 on minor 7 chords, and to a lesser extent b9 or natural 9 on m7b5 and b13 on minor 7 chords.

In other words treat b9, b13 and 11ths with a little care. If it sounds weird to you at your current level of ear training, try adjusting the notes. So we have a few rules that we will follow. For major 7 and dominant 7 chords we can try the #11 so for G7 try using C#, D over Ab7 and for Dbmajor7 use G.

Other ideas to make it even simpler – use the relative minor of Eb and Db major but since we are using the natural minor scale, we can simplify it with the pentatonic scale. So use C minor pentatonic where I show Eb major, and use Bb minor pentatonic over the area where I show Db major. It’s especially good if you know your pentatonic scales already (eg from rock playing).

Or try just using basic triads. Over Cm7 use the Cm triad. Over Fm7 use the Fm triad. And so on.

Don’t try to solo over the whole song at first. Try breaking up the song into smaller parts that cause you trouble. It might be the key change section so try working on transitioning from Cm7 to Ebm7 where the key change occurs. Work on each chord individually but also work on connecting 2 chords together before you move on to longer sections.

Other suggested scales:
Cm7 – natural minor, Aeolian (relative of Eb major) or C melodic minor
Fm7 – F dorian, F melodic minor
Dm7b5 – D locrian
G7 – G phrygian dominant, G augmented, G altered
Ebm7 – Eb dorian
Ab7 – Ab mixolydian, Ab altered (often just use b9/#9)
Dbmaj7 – Db major (Ionian)

For more check out my Blue Bossa guitar solo as well the page on Blue Bossa jazz standard for lead sheet, backing tracks, performances, transcriptions, chord melody and more.

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