Getting Started with the Blues

First Steps for Teachers as Well as Students

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If you’ve never played or taught improvised blues before (i.e. not using written-out notes) this is an easy way to get started!

The term “The Blues” refers to both a genre and a specific form. Sometimes music is called blues because it is sung by blues musicians, even if it isn’t in the blues form. But even someone named Muffy who lives off of Daddy’s trust fund can sing or play a song in the blues form, so yes, Virginia, Muffy can indeed sing the blues.

If you are a piano teacher, or a player who has never done this before, you can play the “3rds and 7ths” voicings with your left hand. I play the entire pattern using fingers 1 and 3. (see the attached PDF).

If you or your student are brand new to this, I suggest breaking up the blues scale into three segments at first. It’s actually much easier to improvise if you only have a few notes to work with.

Step #1 is to improvise on the notes C and Eb. Play through the entire 12 bars and enjoy making up patterns using only those two notes. There are really no wrong answers, just play and have fun.

Step #2 is to improvise on the notes F, F#, and G. Once again, play through the entire 12 bars at least once using only those three notes. It’s fine to use only finger 2 (the pointer finger, for any non-pianists out there). Don’t forget to K.I.S.S. as well as to H.A.V.E.F.U.N.

Step #3 is to improvise on the notes Bb and C. Again, improvise over the entire form a few times.

After that, you might feel comfortable improvising using the notes of any two, or even all three, segments. The important thing is to not worry about sounding amazing, it’s about just throwing notes out there and listening. Try playing a short pattern of notes, pausing for a few beats, and playing the same pattern again. Experiment with playing different rhythms, but only playing one note. Try putting in lots of silence and only a few notes.

If you’re a teacher accompanying a student, play the bass clef part as is, or play it with your right hand, and play the root of the chord in the left hand an octave or two lower in whole notes. Show your student the first segment and accompany him as he improvises. Move on to the second and third segments at whatever pace seems best. If you’re a piano teacher or more experienced player but you’ve never improvised before, practice the left-hand voicings until you’re familiar with the form, and then experiment with improvising with the right hand.

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