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How to Play Blues Piano

How to Play Blues Piano

Learn How To Play Blues PianoLearning how to play blues piano can be a fun way to expand your repertoire, and start building your improvisational skills. When musicians think about the blues, they think of it as a basic chord progression over twelve measures in four-four time along with a related set of scales and sounds that are used for improvisation. Now the blues has been around for a long time, and over its history it has developed many variations. But at its core is the following chord progression:

I7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 |

IV7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 |

V7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 ||

You should learn this progression and its accompanying scales in as many keys as possible. Start with the keys of C, F, G, B-flat and E-flat. Those keys will get you through many different playing scenarios as well as help you build a solid understanding of the blues. Generally, I practice the chords with two, three, and four note voicings in one hand and improvising using the scales described below in the other hand.

We are going to present three different scales you can use for improvising solos on the blues. We start with a simple blues scale based on the tonic key. If our blues is in G, the chords are G7, C7 and D7 for I7, IV7, and V7 respectively. The G blues scale is:

G, B-flat, C, C-sharp, D, F, G

You will probably tire of this scale quickly if you are only using it in your solos, but learn to recognize its all important sound. The minor third above the root, here B-flat, played against the major third of the I7 chord, here the B-natural of G7, is a big part of that sound.

Your next step in improvising on the blues is to chase the dominant seventh chords with mixolydian scales. Remember the mixolydian mode, relative to a major scale is:

1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

The following presents the three mixolydian scales that we can use for our G blues:

G7: G A B C D E F

C7: C D E F G A B-flat

D7: D E F-sharp G A B C

Start by simply playing each scale with its matching chord, and then use these scales for improvisation.

Once you are confident chasing the chords with the mixolydian scales, you may find the sound to be a little less bluesy than you would like. Lets borrow the flattened third of the blues scales to add some color to our scales:

G7: G A (B-flat) B C D E F

C7: C D (E-flat) E F G A B-flat

D7: D E (F ) F-sharp G A B C

Now you have something to work with! You are learning how to play blues piano by the sound you are making. Experiment with the blues progression by creating solo lines using the above three scale types: blues, mixolydian and the mixolydian with the flattened third.

The basic blues progression we have been using so far, is really the basis for several possible variations. This first variation is known as the jazz blues. It employes two basic chord substitutions. The V7-IV7 progression of measures 9-10 are replaced with a II7 – V7 jazz progression. The same II7-V7 progression is used in the final bar as a turn-around to lead into any subsequent choruses. The last chorus is usually played with just a I7 chord:

||: I7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 |

IV7 | IV7 | I7 | I7 |

II7 | V7 | I7 | II7 -V7 : ||

| I7 || ← last chorus

The principle of substitution being used here is that any I chord can be prefaced by its II7-V7. The II7 chord is a minor 7th at this first level of substitution. In our G blues, the II7 chord would be an Am7 chord.

The so-called New York Blues, takes the idea of chord substitution to an extreme level. This blues progression was made famous by Charlie Parker in the composition Blues for Alice. At its essence is still a twelve-bar blues. Here it is in F:

||: F7 | Em7 A7 | Dm7 G7 | Cm7 F7 |

| Bb7 | Bbm7 Eb7 | Am7 | Abm7 Db7 |

| Gm7 | C7 | F7 | Gm7 C7 : ||

| F || ← last chorus

I hope this introduction on how to play blues piano is helpful in your studies. More importantly, have fun!

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