Learning to play on the blues is a lot of fun and is a wonderful gateway into jazz improvisation. The term “blues” refers to a style of music, a kind of song form, a scale and a feeling. The style of music called the blues is a style of African American music that came into popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some important figures are Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker as well as Buddy Guy and B. B. King. In this tutorial you will learn how to play a blues in record time.
Singing and playing the blues is very expressive, as the style was created to express sad and frustrating feelings in music. The blues shows up heavily in jazz, and is widely known to have been the precursor to rock and roll and R&B. Understanding the blues not only gives you a snapshot into this important musical style, but it also provides a structure for deeply satisfying improvisations. I have written a ton of blog posts about jazz. Check them out HERE.
Learn the form of the Blues
The Blues is usually a 12-bar form, although there are some blues songs that are longer or shorter. The Basic 12 bar blues contains 3 chords and they are generally arranged as below.
To get started, play through the blues with the LH playing the root of the chord (bass note) and the RH playing the chord. Practice playing in steady time and use the metronome to work on that. Look at the music below to learn to play the blues.
Learn to walk a bass line on the blues
Once you are secure, we are going to add a walking bass line. To walk a simple bass line, just outline each chord, 1-3-5-3.
Next, we are going to add a “comping” rhythm to the right hand. “Comping” refers to the rhythms that a pianist or guitarist play behind a soloist. The comping figure we are going to use is a very popular pattern called “The Charleston Figure”.
Get ready to improvise on the Blues
When improvising as a solo pianist on the blues, your LH will take on the responsibility of playing the harmony while the RH improvises the solo. While the LH could play the entire chord, it can be quite fatiguing to the play the entire chord. Instead, I suggest that you play only the root and the 7th of each chord. I call these the “Solo Piano Shell Voicings”, and it is an efficient way to outline the harmony without playing all 4 notes.
HW: Play through the Blues form using these “Solo Piano Shell Voicings” in the LH. Practice them using the metronome so that you can work on staying in steady time. Make sure to get them nice and secure under your fingers, as we will be using these voicings for all the improvisation exercises.
Learn to improvise on the Blues
One great way to get started improvising on the Blues is to use a simple four note pattern that I like to call the “Mini Blues Scale”. This mini scale consists of only 4 notes and it has a definite “bluesy” sound. To get started, practice playing the pattern over the entire blues. Then, use those notes to improvise over the Blues.
Step #1: Start out by improvising using only quarter notes
Step #2: Improvise using only eighth notes. Make sure to “swing” your eighth notes!
Step #3: Improvise using a variety of rhythms. Don’t forget to use leave some space.
Some great jazz blues recordings:
Easy to understand and addictively fun to play – and you learned it in under 15 minutes! Check out the video! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below)
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