10 Reasons You Should Learn Blues Before Jazz Piano

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
10:03

Learning Focus
  • Practice Tips
Music Style
  • Blues
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
  • Latin Jazz

Do you want to learn blues or jazz piano, but haven’t figured out where to start? Then this lesson is made just for you!

First off, many who are just starting out might confuse the difference between jazz and blues.

Blues is a soulful style developed around the start of the 20th century and is a predecessor to jazz. Jazz is a broad style that later evolved from blues and other styles that includes jazz ballads, swing, latin jazz, and more.

Learning to play some of these styles can be quite complex. So naturally, we ask the question: where do we start? In this lesson, you’ll learn 10 reasons why learning blues before jazz is a good idea. When you do, you’ll not only learn the amazing sound of blues but you will also pave the road for any jazz style you want to learn afterward.

There will also be great tips on getting started and learning blues piano. This is perfect for piano players at any level, no matter whether your main goal is to learn jazz or blues piano, or both.

Let’s dive in!

1. Blues Uses Simpler Chords Than Jazz

In jazz, you’re generally going to have much more complex and bigger sounding chords. Check out the difference below how of how the same chord, C7, might be played in Jazz (left) versus the Blues (right).

Jazz voicing of C dominant 7 chord versus Blues voicing of C dominant 7 for piano
Jazz voicing of C dominant 7 chord versus blues voicing of C dominant 7 chord for piano

As the music went on in the 20th century, colors got added to the chords and complexity went up and up.

Since blues was made earlier on, it doesn’t take a whole lot to get that sound associated with it. So these chords are much easier to learn!

2. Blues Uses Fewer Chords

If you pull open many jazz tunes, you’ll get swarmed with many types of chords. From 13ths to #11’s and more, over any number of different root notes. For example, the tune Lush Life contains over 30 different chords!

In blues, we can keep it simple and stick with just dominant 7th chords. And we only need 3 at that. Check out the sheet music below, showing the only 3 chords we need to know in order to play Blues in C: C7, F7, and G7.

Blues piano uses mainly 3 dominant 7 chords, C7, F7, and G7 while jazz piano uses much more
Blues piano uses mainly 3 dominant 7 chords, C7, F7, and G7 while jazz piano uses much more

If you want to learn all your dominant 7th chords and how to use them, then check out Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application.

3. Blues Uses A Predictable Chord Progression: The 12-Bar Blues Form.

While jazz uses any number of chords and chord progressions, blues uses a predictable sequence of 3 chords called the 12-bar blues:

The chord progression and form used in almost every blues song, the 12-bar blues
The chord progression and form used in almost every blues song, the 12-bar blues

What’s great about the 12-bar blues is that once you get it down, just about any blues song you play will follow it. St Louis Blues, C Jam Blues, Blue Monk, Route 66, and many more blues tunes all follow the 12-bar blues form!

If you want to learn more about the 12-bar blues check out The 10-Lesson Blues Challenge (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced)

4. Simpler, Often Repetitive Melody

Sometimes blues melodies can consist of just 2 to 3 notes:

Blues often uses a simpler repetitive melody like this as opposed to jazz
Blues often uses a simpler repetitive melody like this as opposed to jazz

What’s even better is that many blues tunes can reuse the same phrase of 2 to 3 notes over the other chords as well in the 12-bar blues.

 Compare that to the meandering jazz melody weaving intricately in and out from chord to chord.

5. Blues Is Mostly Written In Only 3 Keys

C Blues, F Blues, or G blues are the keys that blues usually resides in:

Blues is mainly written in 3 keys, C Blues, F Blues, and G blues
Blues is mainly written in 3 keys, C Blues, F Blues, and G blues

This is in stark contrast to jazz which can be written in virtually any key.

6. You Only Need 1 Scale to Improvise Blues

If you have a dominant 7th chord in jazz, you might use many different scales to improvise. This includes mixolydian, dominant bebop, diminished, altered, and other possible scales.

While in blues, you only need to know 1 scale: the blues scale.

The C blues scale is all you need for blues improvisation over any blues chord in C for piano
The C blues scale is all you need for blues improvisation over any blues chord in C for piano

Using this one blues scale you can freely improvise over any of the chords in the 12-bar blues as long as you stick with the notes within this scale! The blues scale is one of the most important scales whether you want to learn jazz or blues piano.

If you want to learn more about the blues scale, blues improv, or how to solo over the blues, check out The 10-Lesson Blues Challenge (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced) and How to Create a Blues Solo.

7. Easy Left Hand Blues Shuffle

Jazz styles generally have many options for left-hand accompaniment, including walking bass lines, stride, latin style basslines, and more.

These left-hand patterns can be complex and confusing. Not so with blues. If we just stick to this easy left-hand pattern called the blues shuffle, it’ll sound great over any blues song:

Easy blues left hand shuffle for piano in C will sound good on any blues tune
Easy blues left-hand shuffle for piano in C will sound good on any blues tune

If you want an even deeper dive into the blues shuffle, check out Ultimate Beginner Blues Shuffle, Ultimate Advanced Blues Shuffle, and Rockin Blues Bass Lines (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced)

8. Blues Licks

Blues is great to learn first because of the blues licks you can learn. Licks are short repeatable phrases that in blues you can use over any of the chords. You can use these licks in your improvisations.

As opposed to jazz licks, there are many more blues licks that are standard and easy to grasp. You can then connect these licks to make a longer unique lick. Check out some examples of blues licks in the sheet music below:

Examples of blues licks for piano in C
Examples of blues licks for piano in C

If you want to learn all the blues licks you’ll ever need for improvisation, check out The Bible of Blues Riffs (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

9. Blues is the Foundation of Rock Music

If you didn’t realize it, rock music takes its roots from the blues. So whether you’re interested in learning how to play the rock and roll music of the 1950s like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, or any of the rock genres that followed, you’ll want to get a firm handle on the blues.

Check out this common rock and roll pattern and notice its similarities  to the blues shuffle than came before:

Rock and roll groove for piano in C came from the blues shuffle
Rock and roll groove for piano in C came from the blues shuffle

If you want to learn more about rock and roll piano, check out 1950’s Rock and Roll.

10. Blues Doesn’t Need to Sound Polished!

Blues was born out of the expression of heavy human emotions. This means it’s ok it’s sound human, gritty, and rough around the edges. In fact, it’s even more authentic to the style!

In other styles, as in classical or jazz, we may expect a bit more clean and polished sound. So if you’re just starting out, you’ll have a much easier time achieving the blues sound than the jazz sound.

Summing It All Up

There you have it, I hope these 10 reasons are enough to show you why to start with the blues if you’re deciding to learn jazz or blues piano.

I recommend that you dive right in and start learning some blues! We have so many great blues courses available here at Piano With Jonny. Here are just a few of them:

If you want to see all our blues lessons and tutorials, then check out the Blues Piano Learning Track (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Of course, if you’re interested in tackling jazz piano, then there’s plenty of great material on here for that too!

Thanks for checking out this Quick Tip, see you in the next one!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May.

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