Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Exercises
  • Improvisation
  • Riffs
Music Style
  • Blues
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Sometimes you are playing the blues and you want to throw a sweet blues piano run into your playing.  Well, what notes do you play?!? In today’s Quick Tip, I’m going to teach you how to play 3 amazing blues piano runs so that you can feel confident using this technique the next time you improvise blues at the piano.

There’a run for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students, so it doesn’t matter your playing level. Let’s dive in.

Blues Piano Run 1: Crunch Run (Beginner)

If you are more of a beginner blues player, then it is essential to start off with a simple run. A simple run is a run that uses 8th notes down the piano, and there are all kinds of very cool patterns that you can use.

Today, I want to to show you what I call a Crunch Run. This is a run that uses primarily 8th notes down the piano, except every few notes, you grab a 3-note “crunch chord”, where the notes are close together. Here is the crunch run for you to learn:

Blues Piano Run #1 - Crunch Run 8th note run for beginner pianists
Blues Piano Run #1 – Crunch Run 8th note run for beginner pianists

Isn’t that awesome?!? As you can see, where are “crunching” the first 3 notes of the C Blues Scale, the C, Bb, and the G. Then we play a gospel progression (Cm to F major) using a rocking motion between the top notes of these chords and the bottom notes. Then we come down the rest of the C Blues Scale (if you don’t know your C blues scale, you can learn in our 10-Lesson Blues Challenge).

Now, what makes this run very effective is that it ends where it starts down one octave. What this means is that when you are at the end of the run, you are down one octave and you are in a good position to repeat the crunch chord on beat one of the measure. Having a run that ends where it starts down the octave is a very important characteristic of runs because it allows you easily execute your run regardless of what chord you are on.

I highly recommend that you practice this run over the full 12-bar blues form.  Here is the first 4 measures of the run over the 12 bar blues:

Blues Piano Crunch Run over first 4 bars of the 12-bar blues
Blues Piano Crunch Run over first 4 bars of the 12-bar blues

I also encourage you to practice this with the backing track.

(You can download the lesson sheet and backing track for this Quick Tip on this page by logging into the membership)

Let’s say you were creating your own run…How do you figure out the right amount of notes in the run so that you end where you started? Well, it takes a little planning, but it’s not very easy to do on the fly. That’s why many blues pianists memorize their runs.  This way, they can easily sprinkle them into their blues improvisation with little effort. If you’d like 120 amazing riffs, licks, and runs you can easily memorize, checkout the Bible of Blues Riffs (Level 2, Level 3).

Blues Piano Run 2: Turn-Run (Intermediate)

If you have some blues piano experience, then I recommend you learn Blues Run #2, or what I call the Turn-Run. What is a Turn-Run? It is a run that uses a very cool blues improv device called a turn. Here is the full Turn-Run:

Blues Piano Run #2 - Turn Run for intermediate pianists
Blues Piano Run #2 – Turn Run for intermediate pianists

Isn’t that cool? As you can see, were have this very fast grouping of 3 sixteenth-note triplets at the beginning of the run. This gives the run a lighter, more energetic sound. If you want your runs to have this particular sound, it’s essential to use turns in your run (there are actually 3 separate turns I use in my run – you can learn them here).

What is extremely important about this run is that the third note of the sixteenth-note triplet lines up with the 2nd 8th note in the left hand blues shuffle. Many students struggle with the timing on this run and this is the exact problem spot.  Once you have this down, the run shouldn’t be a problem. I encourage you to start the blues run as high on the piano as you want, and don’t be afraid to play it several octaves!

Also, the runs from this lesson work over all 3 chords of the 12-bar blues, so you don’t need to adjust the run to match the chord. Before we move onto Run 3, I recommend that you practice the first 2 runs you learned in other common blues keys like F and G.

Once of the best ways to do this is with our smart sheet music here, which allows you to change the key with the click of one button.

Blues Piano Run 3: The Gospel-Slide Triplet Run (Intermediate)

It’s time to move onto our final and most epic run, the Gospel-Slide Triplet Run. What is the Gospel-Slide Run?  It is a run that uses triplets and slides with the Gospel Scale. So before you learn this run, make sure you know the Gospel Scale (or the Major Blues Scale).

What are the notes of the Gospel Scale? The notes of the Gospel Scale are C D Eb E G and A. Practice these notes in triplets up and down the piano. Now that you have the notes and rhythm, it’s important to know which notes to slide. You can slide 3 notes in this scale, but the one I slide for this run is the D, and I do a down-slide. I encourage you to practice down-sliding the D from the Eb.

Now that you have the primary elements, let’s learn the run:

Blues Piano Run #3 - Gospel-Slide Triplet Run for advanced pianists
Blues Piano Run #3 – Gospel-Slide Triplet Run for advanced pianists

Isn’t that a cool run?!? I LOVE this run. It’s definitely one of the more flashy runs and very impressive to listeners. Remember, this run, just like the first two, starts where it stops. This is a hallmark of good runs, and something for you to think about whenever you play blues.

How to Create Your Own Blues Piano Runs

Now that you have 3 amazing runs you can use in your blues improv, you might be thinking, Jonny how do I make up my own blues runs? If you’d like to learn how to make your own blues runs, you can in the 10-Lesson Blues Challenge (Level 2, Level 3). I show you how to use 8ths, triplets, turns, slides, rolls, and harmonized techniques to create riffs, licks, and runs.

Want to learn more left hand patterns to your runs over? An excellent resource is the Rockin Blues Bass Lines Course (Level 2, Level 3), where you learn 12 blues bass lines.

Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!

Your teacher,

Jonny May

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