The 10 Biggest Mistakes Blues Pianists Make
Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!
Have you ever wondered if your blues playing doesn’t sound quite right? If so, you might be making one of the 10 biggest mistakes blues pianists make! In this Quick Tip, we will go over these 10 mistakes and how to easily stop making them so you can take your blues playing to the next level.
Mistakes Blues Pianists Make #1: Using the Wrong Blues Scale
We all know that the blues scale is one of the best scales to use when improvising over the blues, but the #1 biggest mistake blues pianists make is using the wrong ones. If we are playing a blues in C, we only need to use the C blues scale (based on the I chord). Avoid changing blues scales when the chords change. For example, when we move to the IV chord (F7), don’t switch to using the F blues scale for that chord. Stick with the C blues scale for the entire form and you’ll immediately notice your blues playing sounds better! Next, let’s look at mistake #2.
#2: Playing the Blues Too Fast
As fun as it is to play fast, the Blues is not meant to be a fast style of music! The second of the biggest mistakes blues pianists make is playing too fast. Remember, the blues as a genre is meant to express pain, sadness, sorrow, and loss. Stick to slower tempos (less than 100bpm) to keep the somber feeling of the blues in your playing. Not only will this make your blues playing more authentic, but it will also be easier for you to come up with ideas while you’re improvising!
If you want to play blues inspired music faster, boogie woogie is a great style to get into. Invented in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s, boogie woogie is the fundamental style that influenced the great swing band of Count Basie.
Check out our Jonny’s Jumpin Boogie course to dig deeper into boogie woogie! Next, let’s look at mistake #3.
#3: Using the Same Riff
Repetition is important in music, but too much is boring and annoying! If you have a riff or two that you love to play, that’s great! Just don’t use it constantly every time you play the blues. Variety is the spice of life, and of music too. There are so many tools you can use to come up with great blues playing, including:
Eighth note and Triplet riffs
Mix and match these different riffs to come up with some amazing blues playing!
Next, let’s move on to mistake #4.
Mistakes Blues Pianists Make #4: Not Connecting Licks
One of the best ways to practice the blues is to learn individual licks one by one. This gives you the ideas you need to be a great blues player! However, one of the pitfalls this approach brings is the tendency to not connect the licks you’ve learned. Many blues pianists tend to play one lick after another, broken up by a few beats of rest (these players almost always start their licks on beat 1, rest, and start the next lick on beat 1 of the next measure). Eliminate the space between your licks to create longer, flowing blues ideas and really elevate your playing. To practice this, take two licks and practice playing them back to back slowly. Then do the same thing with other licks you’ve learned, and before you know it you’ll be sounding like a pro! Next, let’s look at mistake #5.
#5: Run-on Sentences
It’s fun to play nonstop licks with command and control, I won’t deny it! But more important is thinking about phrasing. Just like in speech, nobody likes to converse with someone that doesn’t give them a chance to say anything! Use rests and spaces between your ideas to give your playing structure, logic, and flow. Both you and your audience will appreciate this! Using gaps and spaces between your ideas has the added benefit of giving you a little more time to think about what you’re going to play next, as well as creating a more musical experience overall. Next, let’s check out mistake #6.
#6: Only Using One Scale
When we’re playing the blues, there’s on obvious scale to use when improvising: the blues scale! Of course, the blues scale sounds great and will always work when playing the blues. However, if you only use this one scale your playing will start to sound very repetitive and boring, and you’ll find you run out of ideas fairly quickly. There are several great scales you can use in addition to the blues scale to add more variety and interest to your playing. One of these is the pentatonic b3 scale:
This scale gives your blues playing a joyous lift because it has a very happy quality to it. You can also think of this scale as a regular blues scale starting on the 6th of the key (this is the A blues scale in a different form. A is the 6th of C, and this trick works with all 12 keys). Next, let’s look at mistake #7.
#7: Harmonizing From the Bottom
Harmonizing your ideas is a great technique to give your blues playing an authentic sound! But make sure that you are harmonizing above your melodic ideas:
This is the most authentic sounding way to harmonize your blues ideas, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you sound when you do this! Next, mistake #8.
#8: Not Using the Full Keyboard Range
The piano has the largest range of any instrument: 7 octaves plus a minor 3rd. Most pianists use a fairly narrow range when improvising: between middle C and the C about two octaves above. The most exciting and dramatic part of the piano are the octaves above that higher C. Don’t be afraid to play up there to generate excitement! Using more of the range of the piano will allow you to put together longer, more exciting lines as you move up and down the keyboard. Next, mistake #9.
#9: Using the Same Bass Line
Many blues students stick to the same blues shuffle bass line:
This is a great blues bass line! But using it exclusively throughout the blues gets too repetitive and eventually boring. Mix it up by using some of the following bass lines to add interest and excitement:
Slow blues pattern:
Next, the last common mistake blues pianists make.
Mistakes Blues Pianists Make #10: No Passing Chords
The last of the common mistakes blues pianists make is not using any passing chords. Passing chords serve as a cool musical bridge between chords, and can really add an interesting harmonic element to the blues progression. In a nutshell, passing chords are always a half-step above the chord you’re moving to. For example, when moving from C7 to F7, throw in a F#7 chord right before F7 to accentuate the change in harmony. This sounds really cool! You can use passing chords virtually anywhere in the chord progression to add an element of sophistication to your playing.
If you want to take your blues playing to the next level, we have many courses that cover the blues! Check out the 10-Lesson Blues Challenge 1 and 10-Lesson Blues Challenge 2, Burlesque Blues Footsie Woman, St Louis Blues, How to Create a Blues Solo, and 4-On-The-Floor 1 & 4-On-The-Floor 2 courses.
Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!
Blog written by Austin Byrd / Quick Tip by Jonny May
More Free Lessons
This contemporary jazz piano arrangement of the traditional holiday classic "The First Noel" sounds so beautiful that it's bound to strike a chord.
Learn a beautiful jazz piano arrangement of "O Come All Ye Faithful" ("Adeste Fideles") and jazz arranging tips for other holiday favorites!
In this complete guide on 7th chords, Jonny breaks down the 5 categories of 7th chords on piano that form the foundation for jazz harmony.
Looking for downloads?
Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!
Get instant access to this Quick Tip and other member features with a PWJ membership!
Guided Learning Tracks
View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels
Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress
Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks
Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums
Become a better piano player today. Join with the 14-Day Free Trial today!