This lesson on the basic blues scale for piano blues will cover how to find the right “blue notes” that are added to the major scale and will give some suggestions on how to use this new scale to improvise on the 12 bar blues progression. The basic formula for the blues scale can be used in any key but some keys will lend themselves easier to play on the piano.
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So you've got a portable keyboard, learned a handful of useful chords, and packed up all your gear to go to your first jam session with your friend the drummer and some guys he knows who play guitar and bass.
Then comes the question, What do you want to play?.
Everyone looks at each other and finally some one says Blues in C, or G, or A, or E. Guitarists seem to love the keys of A and E.
The guitarist plays his favorite B.B.King licks for a couple of choruses of the 12 bar blues progression, somebody sings "Nobody loves me but my Mother and she could be jivein' too." and then everyone looks at you!
Time to pull out the Blues Scale you learned online.
And just what is a that scale?
I like to look at it as a major scale with a few added "blue" notes, namely a flatted third, a flatted fifth and a flatted 7th.
My experience taught me that knowing that little piece of theory did little to help me actually play the blues.
The graphic below show the blues scale in the key of C which is one of my favorites keys both for teaching and playing. More on the favorite key thing to come.
For a pianist, Blues happens between the cracks in the keys
Let me explain.
The blues was originally a vocal styling. It was about lost love and heartache. Hard work and pain.
The people who sang the blues sang from the depths of emotion and the voice, being a most versatile instrument is able to bend notes and actually sing between the cracks on the piano.
While its true that we can't bend notes on a traditional piano (at least not without breaking something) we can get a similar effect by combining the flatted third with the major third in a chord or sliding a finger quickly from the flatted note to the natural note.
In the scale pictured above I would add the natural notes E and G as well,(except in minor blues where playing the natural third will get a quick icy stare from the lead guitarist.)
If you have never improvised before it's a little like musical finger painting in that you get to play what you want. This can feel uncomfortable at first if you are used to only reading written music.
In your right hand...
I suggest just picking a few notes to start with. Keep it simple to start. Try RH thumb on G, 3rd finger on Bb, 4th finger on C.
Or RH thumb on C, 3rd finger Eb, 4th finger, G.
The notes I chose are taken from the C blues scale but will function even when played on top of the F7 and G7 or (IV7 and V7} chords.
IMPORTANT IMPROVISATION RULE!
If something you play sounds good to you, REPEAT IT!
If something you play sounds bad to you DON'T REPEAT IT.
Make lots of mistakes!! Just don't repeat them.
In your Left hand....
The music below is a simple suggested left hand basic "boogie" pattern you can use to begin to get the feel of playing the blues.
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