Blues Piano Improv: The Burlesque Blues
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Do you want to learn how to play Burlesque Blues piano? Burlesque Blues is a style of blues piano that comes from the Vaudeville Era and Burlesque shows from the 1920s. It has a big, bold sound and is a ton of fun to play! With these 4 steps you will learn to play the blues with a big burlesque-style sound:
- Burlesque Blues Chords
- Groove Formula
- Big Right Hand Burlesque Blues Chords
- How to Accompany Burlesque Blues
This exciting groove is so much fun to play and will enable you to really fill out your blues playing! Let’s dig in.
Burlesque Blues Piano Chords
Before we can learn the Burlesque Blues chords, we should know the foundational chords the blues is made of! There are many variations of the blues that have evolved as musical styles changed over the decades, but the Burlesque Blues is based on the most simple version. One of the really cool things about this style of blues is that there are only three dominant 7th chords in the whole thing.
Dominant 7th Chords
We will be using the key of C for this Quick Tip, so the chords we need to know are C7, F7, and G7. In case you don’t know these chords, here they are:
If you want to dig deeper in to dominant 7th chords, check out our Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application course. Next, let’s review the blues form before we learn the Burlesque Blues chords.
Burlesque Blues Form
As you may already know, the 12-bar blues is a very popular song form:
Burlesque Blues is organized into three 4-bar phrases, with the chords happening in a specific order (there are only three chords: the 1, 4, and 5 chords. In the key of C, the 1 chord is C7, the 4 chord is F7, and the 5 chord is G7 (chords are typically shown in Roman numerals). The I chord is followed by the IV chord, then the I chord comes again for the third and fourth measure. The IV chord returns for measures 5-6, then the I chord comes again for measures 7-8. Then the V chord appears in measure 9, followed by the IV chord, the I chord, and the V chord in the last measure.
One of my favorite things about the Burlesque Blues form is that it never changes! Once you have the blues form down you can play any blues song in any key. Cool!
For some more in-depth look at the blues, head over to our 10-Lesson Blues Challenge Lesson or the Blues Piano Learning Track. Next, let’s learn how we can use Dominant 7th chords to play Burlesque Blues chords.
Burlesque Blues Piano Chords
The Burlesque Blues chords that we’ll be learning are inversions of the dominant 7th chords above. An inversion is a musical term that means a chord is played with the notes in a different order. Root position chords have the root at the bottom, first inversion has the 3rd at the bottom, and second inversion has the 5th at the bottom. Check it out:
As you can see, the bottom note of C7 is E – the third of the chord. That means that the Burlesque Blues version of C7 is in first inversion:
C is the bottom note of F7 and D is the bottom note of G7 – both of these notes are the 5th of their respective chords. That means that both F7 and G7 are in second inversion:
If you want to dig into more detail on inversions, check out our 2-5-1 7th Chord Exercises course and our Dominant 7th Chord Exercises course. Next, let’s learn the groove formula to start creating the Burlesque Blues sound!
Burlesque Groove Formula
One of the best things about the Burlesque Blues (and music in general) is the groove! Rhythm and groove are what you feel and what makes your toes tap, and with this groove formula you’ll be tapping your own toes along with your playing. This groove uses a similar pattern to stride piano, but using the Burlesque Blues chords we learned above:
The Burlesque Blues piano pattern is based on a stride piano style, where you play the root of the chord on beat 1, and the 5th on beat 3. Full chords are played on beats 2 and 4. This groove formula adds some extra notes on the “and” of each beat to give it a really cool, burlesque-sounding style! These extra notes follow the rhythm of boogie-woogie piano where the infectious groove is created by using every eighth note of each measure. You don’t have to use octaves on beats 1 and 3 if it’s too tricky: use single notes until you feel comfortable with it, then add octaves for a bigger sound!
The best way to get the Burlesque Blues groove really popping is to place an accent on all the downbeats, and play the “ands” lightly. This will give the groove a driving rhythmic feel, yet still feel bouncy and swinging. Practice slowly until you get it down, then have fun with it! Next, let’s apply it to the whole blues form.
Apply Groove Formula To Blues Form
When we’re looking at the Burlesque Blues groove formula applied to the blues form, you can see that the chords change. Another way to create a very swinging, driving groove is to anticipate a changing chord by playing the root of the new chord on the “and” of 4 the measure before it. Try to anticipate as many chords as you can! I have always found that anticipating chords really helps drive the groove along in a way that feels great. Next, let’s learn some big right hand chords.
Burlesque Blues Piano Right Hand Chords
Each of the three chords you’ll learn for your right hand are inversions as well! Here they are:
C7 is in first inversion, just like our left hand Burlesque Blues chord. F7 is in third inversion, and includes the 9 (G). This chord sounds great because it uses an extension, as does G7. Extensions add a lot of jazzy color to chords and sound great in pretty much any musical situation.
If you want to get into more detail about extensions, head over to our Piano Chord Extensions course.
For an even bigger, more full sound you can use these chords:
Here, C7 is more spread out while F7 and G7 add an extra note to really fill out the sound. They may be harder to play if your hands are on the smaller side, but most pianists should be able to reach all the notes. Improvise the rhythm, and have fun coming up with your own exciting Burlesque Blues arrangement!
For an even more in-depth look at the Burlesque Blues, check out our Cruella De Vil courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). You’ll learn how to arrange the classic Disney tune Cruella De Vil lead sheet in the Burlesque Blues style, including adding harmonies, fills, and slides.
You can also check out our Burlesque Blues Footsie Woman course where you’ll learn techniques like 5-Note Blocked Chords, the Burlesque Blues left hand, Fills, bass walkups, & improvisation techniques.
That’s all for today’s piano lesson. If you enjoyed this lesson, Jonny recommends subscribing to our weekly piano Quick Tips emails. This way, you’ll never miss a lesson.
See you in the next piano lesson.
Blog written by Austin Byrd / Quick Tip by Jonny May
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