A Better Blues Rhythm via Tritone Substitution

Author: Tommaso Zillio

Aren’t you tired of playing always the same old 12-bar Blues chord progression? I mean, how many songs with the same progression can you listen to, one after another? In this article I will show you how to spice up your Blues progression with a few tricks so simple that you can actually improvise them on the spot.

You may have heard about Jazz Chord Substitutions. The basic idea is to take a chord progression, then change a few of the chords in order to make it more interesting, usually following some complicate-looking rules. Most chord progressions are created using substitutions on shorter and simpler progressions so once you master the substitutions you can create new good chord progression (and it’s easier to understand the existing ones).

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The problem is due to these complicate-looking rules. They are not as complicated at they seem, but most teachers (or books) tend to just give them out without really explaining them in detail. This is NOT helped by the fact that said teachers or books start their explanation with phrases like: “obviously C9/b5 = Gb7/#5/b5”. Obviously? (and yes, this is an actual quote from a book that I will leave unnamed…)

Good news everyone: it does not need to be that way. All these Jazz players who discovered these substitution “rules” did not have to get a PhD in math in order to understand them. Which makes you think that the problem is not the rules per se, but the way that they are explained. And in fact, substitution rules are quite natural if you sit down a moment and try to understand WHY they work.

In the video below I will show you how to use one of these “scary” substitutions to make a standard Blues progression sound like a complicated Jazz. Best of all? It’s easy, so easy that once you see what I’m doing you can IMPROVISE the chord shapes rather than using chord shapes that you committed by hart.

Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean.

What should be your next step? Well, the first thing to do is definitely to pick up your guitar and play all this! This few shapes will be under your fingers in no time.

The beauty of this approach is that you can apply the substitution straight on the fretboard. This is how great Jazz guitar players do it: they don’t “calculate” the chords and then find them on the fretboard: they know how a substitution look on the fretboard so that they can apply it immediately.

About the Author

Tommaso Zillio is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher. Visit Tommaso’s site to know more about music theory for guitar

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