3 Exercises To Master Blues Piano
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Are you looking for a simple way to practice improvising over the blues? These 3 blues piano exercises are a great way to start getting more comfortable using the blues scale with a variety of rhythms:
- Eighth notes
- Patterns starting on each scale degree
There are so many ways to utilize the blues scale while improvising! Narrowing it down to a few rhythmic exercises will help you hone your playing and take your blues solos to the next level! Let’s dive in.
The Blues Scale
All of the following exercises we will look at are based on the blues scale. For this lesson we will be in the key of C, but keep in mind there’s a blues scale for all 12 keys. The formula is:
1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 1
Each of these numbers corresponds to a scale degree. Scale degrees refer to the numbered note within a scale: for example, scale degree 1 is C. Scale degree 2 is D, scale degree 3 is E, etc. Here’s the C blues scale written on the staff:
Make sure you feel comfortable playing this scale up and down before moving on to the practice exercises; they get harder as we move forward! Next, let’s look at blues piano exercise #1.
Blues Piano Exercises: Eighth Notes
The rhythmic foundation for all great improvised solos is eighth notes. Mastering scales and exercises in eighth notes at a variety of tempos is key to becoming a great improviser! Before we look at the exercise, let’s find something to do with the left hand.
Since these exercises are meant for the right hand, we can keep the left hand simple. I recommend just playing each chord of the blues in root position underneath your right hand as you work through each exercise, but feel free to add some blues bass patterns if you’d like:
You can follow along with each of these exercises using our Smartsheet! Now, let’s look at the eighth note exercise:
Make sure you follow the form of the 12 bar blues as you play through these exercises. This will keep you from getting lost and help you get more comfortable navigating the changes as you vary your rhythm and starting point.
Once you can play this exercise starting on C (scale degree 1), do it again but start on the next scale degree in the scale (in this case scale degree 3, Eb):
Follow the form and keep the rhythm consistent! By practicing this exercise on each scale degree, you will become comfortable starting and ending your blues ideas anywhere in the scale. Good improvisers never start their ideas in the same place, and practicing this way will give you so many more tools to use when improvising! Next, let’s look at the next of our 3 blues piano exercises.
You may have noticed that in the previous exercise, we played the scale over the span of two octaves. With triplets, we will be going up and down three octaves since the beat is now divided into three notes instead of two. By spanning three octaves with triplets, we will still be able to keep the rhythm consistent throughout the exercise.
Just like before, once you have it down starting on C, practice this exercise starting on each scale degree of the blues scale. If you find triplets to be too hard, practice slower! When practicing, it’s always a good idea to take things slow and make sure you are playing all the notes and rhythms correctly. This will help to eliminate bad habits and mistakes and make playing faster easier and more fun!
If you want to take a deeper dive into blues improvising, check out our 10-Lesson Blues Challenge 1 and 10-Lesson Blues Challenge 2 courses.
Next, let’s look at the last of our three blues piano exercises.
Patterns are one of the best things to practice if you want to improve your improvising! This one is for intermediate and advanced students, as it requires a lot of thinking and a certain level of technical proficiency to pull off. Don’t be discouraged if you’re more of a beginner though- you’ll get there with a little bit of practice! The previous triplet exercise is great practice to help you work up to this next exercise:
The pattern of this exercise is: start on a scale degree, go up three notes, go down one scale degree, up three notes, etc. This one can be a little tricky to sync up with your left hand if you’re doing a shuffle or boogie woogie pattern. Remember with these left hand patterns that the second note of the left hand should line up with the third note of your right hand. Swing, blues shuffle, and boogie woogie are all based on the triplet subdivision of the beat. This is what gives these styles their distinctive, infectious feeling.
Just like with the other exercises, make sure to practice this pattern starting on each scale degree. This will give you command with changing directions within a line or idea and increase your facility on the instrument. It takes discipline and some practice, but you will absolutely love the results! Take it slow at first and slowly increase the tempo. Make sure to always play the right notes and rhythms.
If you want to continue digging in to more blues improvisation ideas, check out our How to Create a Blues Solo, Rockin Blues Bass Lines 1 and Rockin Blues Bass Lines 2, Bible of Blues Riffs 1 and Bible of Blues Riffs 2 courses.
Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!
Blog written by Austin Byrd / Quick Tip by Jonny May
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