Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Intermediate
14:50

Learning Focus
  • Groove
  • Reading
Music Style
  • Blues
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You’ve probably heard the classic blues shuffle sound many times on the piano. But how can you play it yourself? Whether you’re playing with other people or by yourself, this is a must-know sound for any pianist. Its patterns and techniques are also versatile to many other related styles such as boogie-woogie and rock and roll. That’s why in this tutorial, we’re going to focus on getting that blues shuffle sound for beginner piano.

Check out the sound of the blues shuffle in this video by  Otis Spann – Nobody Knows My Trouble. Otis Spann was known for his incredible blues piano playing and singing.

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

  • 12 bar blues chords and form
  • The signature left-hand blues shuffle on each chord
  • Right-hand block chords and slide pattern
  • Other tips and insights on how this style works
  • Downloadable sheet music PDF for reference

Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Know Your Blues Chords and Form

Before we learn the shuffle, we should learn the chords of the blues so we can get a sense of our foundation. That way we know how the patterns we use will work over the chords.

We will be playing in the key of G, one of the most important keys to know the blues in. We will use 3 common blues chords: G7, C7, and D7. These are all called dominant 7th chords. Here’s how they look in their most basic form, root position:

The 3 dominant 7th chords in root position used in our beginner blues shuffle for piano tutorial
The 3 dominant 7th chords in root position used in our beginner blues shuffle for piano tutorial

In this lesson for the blues shuffle for beginner piano, we’ll follow the most common blues form out there: the 12-bar blues. Notice the order it uses the chords above and how many measures each one lasts for:

The 12 bar blues chord order and form in G major
The 12 bar blues chord order and form in G major

As you can see the form is structured as followed: 1 bar G7, 1 bar of C7, 2 bars of G7, 2 bars of C7, 2 bars of G7, 1 bar of D7, 1 bar of C7, 1 bar of G7, and 1 bar of D7. This completes a total of 12 bars that usually repeats over and over in the song creating what we call the 12-bar blues.

This is absolutely essential to playing the blues as these chords and form are the bare bones that the blues is built on. Be sure to play the chords by themselves to get familiar with them and the order they come in the form.

If you haven’t learned all your dominant 7th chords, then check out our Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application. If you want to learn more about 12-bar blues then check out G Blues Improvisation (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 2: Learn The Blues Shuffle Pattern Bass Line For Left Hand

Let’s take a look at the primary component to getting the blues shuffle sound: the bass line.

The left hand for the beginner blues shuffle for piano over the full 12-bar blues form
The left hand for the beginner blues shuffle for piano over the full 12-bar blues form

Be sure to practice this many times at a solid and slow tempo. You really need to have this left-hand pattern down solid. A metronome is useful too. Be sure to pay attention to the feel of the groove above (see below for more detail). Remember, it doesn’t matter how many cool things our right hand is doing if the left hand isn’t really laying down the groove.

How The Blues Shuffle Pattern Works: Rhythm

As you can see you have a constant stream of 8th notes that creates the groove. Be sure to realize though, that these 8th notes are swung, or shuffled. This means that we want to insert a bit of delay on every second note (every other note). This delay will give the feeling that we are “falling” into every beat of the music. That’s the blues shuffle sound!

That’s why we usually include the following symbol above the sheet music:

The sheet music marking indicating swing rhythm, where 2 8th notes equal a triplet with the middle triplet removed
The sheet music marking indicating swing rhythm, where 2 8th notes equal a triplet with the middle triplet removed

This is because while it is written as 8th notes, it actually tends to sound like 8th note triplets, except without the middle triplet. See the following illustration in generic rhythmic notation. The video demonstrates the rhythm using the beginning of the G7 bassline:

In swing or blues shuffle rhythm, 8th notes are created from a triplet on every beat and playing on the first and last triplets
In swing or blues shuffle rhythm, 8th notes are created from a triplet on every beat and playing on the first and last triplets

How The Blues Shuffle Pattern Works: Open 5th-6ths.

Notice that the notes follow a pattern of an open 5th of the current chord, and raises the top note to a 6th interval. After that, we return to a fifth and repeat again.

The left hand bassline accompaniment for blues piano is created by starting on a 5th interval moving the top note to a neighbor tone to create a 6th interval
The left-hand bassline accompaniment for blues piano is created by starting on a 5th interval moving the top note to a neighbor tone to create a 6th interval

This is was creates the general sound of the blues shuffle. First, we are starting with strong chord tones and proceeding to a neighbor tone in the top voice to create more movement and motion in the groove.

If you want to know more about blues shuffle patterns for the left hand then check out Rockin Blues Bass Lines (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 3: The Right-Hand Riff Pattern

Now that we’ve got the left-hand foundation down, let’s learn the right-hand pattern for this blues shuffle for beginner piano lesson. The small notes (first one circled) are the classic blues slides that quickly run from the first note (small) to the second note (large main note).  Check it out below:

The right rand riffs and licks for beginner blues piano over the entire 12-bar blues form
The right rand riffs and licks for beginner blues piano over the entire 12-bar blues form

Sounds pretty cool, right? As you can see it’s a pretty simple repeating pattern. However, it changes slightly to conform to each chord so it doesn’t clash too much. Check out a chord tone analysis of each one below:

Analysis of the blues riff over G dominant 7th, use of G6 and neighboring tones
Analysis of the blues riff over G dominant 7th, use of G6 and neighboring tones

Blues riff over C dominant 7th contains no slides and all notes including the neighbors are chord tones
Blues riff over C dominant 7th contains no slides and all notes including the neighbors are chord tones

Analysis of the blues riff over D dominant 7th, uses a slide on the 9th and moves entirely to neighbor tones in parallel motion
Analysis of the blues riff over D dominant 7th uses a slide on the 9th and moves entirely to neighbor tones in parallel motion

What’s particularly cool is the use of the G6 chord over the first chord G7. This isn’t commonly emphasized by many blues teachers, but it actually is a nice color and creates a nice crunch over the G dominant 7th chord.

Tip: For those of you who are “theory nerds,” the 6th actually creates the sound of a 13th over the dominant 7th chord. It is a particularly popular jazz chord that creates a nice intensity!

If you want to know blues riffs to play in this style then be sure to check out The Bible of Blues Riffs (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 4: Putting The Hands Together

Once you’ve practiced the parts of both hands separately and have it down to tempo, you are ready to combine the hands! This is how it should look and sound like:

Both hands of the blues shuffle for beginner piano arrangement
Both hands of the blues shuffle for beginner piano arrangement

Be sure to practice it slowly again and when combining the hands. You have a new “learning curb” to adjust to. Our goal tempo to aim for is around 90-100 BPM. If you play much faster than this it won’t really be the blues style anymore, but closer to rock and roll or boogie-woogie tempo.

Summing It All Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on the blues shuffle for beginner piano. It’s essential for just about anyone serious about learning piano, plus it’s a lot of fun to play! You should be able to please just about any crowd playing a good blues shuffle.

Don’t forget to download the sheet music PDF at the bottom of the page to reference what we’ve talked about in this lesson. Be sure to jam out with the backing track as well. If you’re a member, you can also download our smart sheet music to transpose the music into any key!

If you want an even deeper dive into this and related topics, then check out some of the following courses here at Piano With Jonny:

That’s it for this bluesy Quick Tip. Happy piano practice and I’ll see you in the next one!

Blow written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

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