Playing the blues on the piano is not as hard as it may seem, and if you are fairly comfortable already with the piano, and you’d like to learn the blues, then here are a few simple tips to get you started!
First of all you need a bass rhythm to make those right hand melodies sound great. This will be played with the left hand, and you must practice this first. It might be tempting to want to jump straight into those nice right hand melodies, but a rock steady left hand rhythm is an absolute must.
For this tutorial, we shall play in the key of C. Now, a typical 12-bar blues will require you to switch between three chords. If you are playing in the key of C, then this is your first chord. The remaining two are F and G.
The meaning of a ‘12-bar blues’ is as simple as it sounds. You are basically going to play for 12-bars in total, which is how long your melody, verse, or chorus will last for. Of course, if you want to play for longer, then you just go around again for another 12-bars. A typical blues song for example may have as many as 96 bars in total, which means there are 8 sections of 12-bars. Our time signature is 4/4, which means 4 beats per bar.
Here you will see the left hand score, and I have written the notes underneath to help (the top letter relates to the top note, and the bottom letter to the bottom note). The C, which is the bottom note in the left hand, is located one octave below the middle C on your piano.
The ideal speed to play this is around 105 beats per minute:
This is the basis of our left hand rhythm. You need to play this four times in total before you move to the F chord. So this is how it will look for the first 4 bars:
Here’s how this sounds:
You will then progress to the next chord which is F. This will only last for two bars and will look like this:
The next part will go back to the C chord for 2 bars:
You are now two thirds of the way through, and you will have played 8 bars in total. The remaining 4 bars of your 12-bar blues will consistent of 1 bar in G, 1 bar on F, and 2 bars finishing back on C. So we will now introduce the G for the first time, and it will only be for 1 bar. Here it is followed by the F for 1 bar, and the remaining 2 bars in C:
And that’s it! You’ve just played a left hand rhythm, which is the foundation of a 12-bar blues. To see the full score, here are the full 12-bars of what you’ve just played. I’ve also included the chord at the top of the music, so you can see how it progresses through the chord changes:
Here’s how the full left hand sounds:
It’s important you practice this left hand over and over before you introduce the right. The hardest part of playing the blues is hand independence. You must practice the left hand until it becomes second nature. Only then can you start to introduce those right hand melodies.