“The Blues Piano Crash Course” Main Page

Course Description

Learn the essential elements of improvising blues piano, including the (minor) Blues Scale, the 12-bar Blues pattern, left-hand grooves, coordination exercises, and plenty of raw material for your own licks.

My goal is for you to start improvising great blues solos!

Although most of this course is in the key of C, there is a detailed lesson that covers transposing the blues scale, and the 12-bar blues progression, into other keys.

Is this what you’re looking for?

Students taking this course should be interested in learning blues improvisation.  Improvisation in blues usually has an underlying structure, a key center, and a chord progression that is being followed.  The rhythm and the chords give us that beautiful sense of a distinct groove, and the soloists do their thing “on top of” that.  In this course, you will learn the basic structural stuff, but you will also be given (taught) the popular raw materials for creating blues licks and melodies in general.  It will be your job to turn those raw materials into original licks.  I can give you expert guidance, hints and tips and raw material, which I do, but in the end, it’s your solo! That’s the beauty of studying improvisation. You get to own it.

Blues-inspired improvisation is at the core of, and will always have an influence on, countless musical genres. The blues scales, blues chord progressions, the “Blue Notes”…these are staples of so much great rock, hip-hop, jazz, country, gospel, and so on. That’s just to name a few of the mega-genres that have “blue blood” in their veins!

We can either forget about, or fail to recognize, the blues roots in so much contemporary music, but it’s everywhere.

So, back to the question, “Is this what you’re looking for,” I would suggest “yes,” because you read this far, still hanging in, after reading what’s what, so therefore you might like the class. That may be an odd conclusion.

Preview: To help you get an idea of how these videos might work for you, Lesson #4 (link below) is currently watchable as a full lesson preview.

Recommended knowledge or experience

  • You will need NO ability to read music (true for this particular course, and for most lessons on this site).
  • Knowing the names of the notes on your keyboard (like E, F#, G) is helpful in this class, but is not absolutely required.
  • We do start out hoping you already play “a bit of piano.”
  • Musicians who are already experienced with another instrument, including blues guitar, can benefit from this course as well. That is, you could potentially (1) pick up some keyboard skills and/or (2) learn new theory stuff and/or (3) get new ideas.

To receive updates of all new posts on this site (including new blues lessons), you can provide your email address here (we never share your address with anyone, period!)

Helpful Course Documents

(Click document’s image below to download or view.)

Catalog of Chords and Scales
Catalog of Chords and Scales (for Blues Piano Crash Course)

 

Recommended Listening
Recommended Listening (Blues)

The Complete Course (video pages w/ text intros)

Lesson One – “The Blues Scale”

Supplemental (optional) from “A Study in Blues Piano” – Licks #1 and #2

Lesson Two – “A Left-hand Groove”

Lesson Three – “Five Must-know Riffing Devices”

Lesson Four – “The Classic 12-bar Blues Progression”

  • Attention visitors: Lesson #4 is available as a full lesson preview.

Lesson Five – “Put Your Hands Together”

Lesson Six – More tips and practice for the Two Fisted Jammer

Lesson Seven – A Walking Bass Line & More Coordination

Lesson Eight – Blue Notes and pitch-bending

Lesson Nine – The Melody Machine

Lesson Ten – Turn-arounds and Endings

Lesson Eleven – Playing Blues in Any Key

end of list (all core lessons)

 

Do you need to read music to learn jazz or blues piano?

Wassup! Today I’m sharing my reply to a question from a student at Udemy.

STUDENT QUESTION:

Hi, Kent!

This is a two part question; first off, is there anything you recommend (videos, specific techniques, etc) to improve my sight-reading that won’t make me want to shout profanities?

I’ve Googled it obviously, but I’m curious about your opinion, as I enjoy your method of teaching.

Secondly, do you find skilled sight-reading necessary for jazz and blues? In other words, in your professional opinion, can I learn to be a proficient jazz and blues pianist without tackling my fear/hatred of sight-reading?

Continue reading “Do you need to read music to learn jazz or blues piano?”

Tetrachords, Scales, and Modes: Answer to a Student Question

Hey there folks, I got some more theory for you today.  Yipee!

The following is a question and answer thread from my YouTube channel, regarding my video about how to quickly visualize any major scale on your keyboard, by using something called the major tetrachord.  First, the original video, and then the Q&A.

Student: Is there something that is just as easier to use to identify minor scales?
Me: Thanks for your question! I will answer in terms of the “natural minor,” although this answer applies to the harmonic and melodic minor scales as well. First of all, the standard minor scales, as well as each of the “modes” of the major scale (dorian, mixolydian, etc), can all be broken up into tetrachords. The bad news is, the lower tetrachord of a minor scale has a different whole-step/half-step pattern than the upper tetrachord. (The cool thing about the major scale, on the other hand, as I describe in this video, is that the lower and upper tetrachords have the same pattern.) You may still find it helpful to break any scale type into two tetrachords. I hope this helps!
Student: Thank you for your reply. Do you have any videos going through each modes (Lydian, Mixolydian etc) and the easiest way to identify them using the tetrachords? Different modes have different patterns.
Me: I don’t have any videos on that yet. When I get a chance I will make a blog post (soon) on pianowithkent.com, which will give a description of my own approach to memorizing the modes. Meantime, try using C-major as your master reference. Starting there, realize that the modes of C Major all share the same pitches as C-major (the white keys of the piano). That is, Dorian mode of C Major starts on D. Phrygian starts on E. Lydian, on F. Mixolydian, on G. Aolian (aka the natural minor scale) starts on A. And finally, Locrian, which starts on B. Since these are all the modes of C major, they all use just the white keys of the piano. Use these modes as your master reference to building any given mode starting on any note. It helps to attack the problem from several angles. One angle is to break up each mode’s unique pattern into two successive tetrachords. Another is to be able to find the major scale (the parent scale) associated with the mode you want. For example, E-flat Dorian is the “Dorian mode of D-flat Major.” (By definition, they share the same pitches). Yet another angle is to become a master of every major scale and every natural minor. Then learn the modes as distinct variations of either the major or the minor. For example, Mixolydian is simply a major scale with a flatted seventh. This last approach is the one that I find easiest But in different contexts I use all these approaches. As far as the modes go, focus on Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian. These are by far the most commonly used modes.

 

How to improvise in modal jazz: Understanding “So What” by Miles Davis

Hi Jazz Fans!

I wanted to give you a brief introduction to the idea of "modal jazz."  We're going to look at probably the most famous example of modal jazz, a tune called "So What," by Miles Davis and Bill Evans.

We're looking at this piece because (1) it was part of a ground-breaking approach to jazz improvisation and composition when it came out, and it's still definitive of the modal jazz genre (maybe the definitive  recording?) (2) because "So What" is the best-known track on one of top-selling jazz albums of all time, "Kind of Blue."

It seems to me that contemporary modal improv, which had its jazz  birth in the late 1950's, was a huge influence on the increasingly improvisational rock of the 1960's, (even when players might not have consciously realized it!), and has never stopped being at the heart of so many great pop/rock/jazz solos until this very day.

My goal here is to show you enough about modal improvisation for you to start jamming along with these guys, as they improvise on this classic tune.  The way to "jam along" here is to play your own improvised lines along with each soloist in the recording.  In that sense, you and the soloists will be improvising simultaneously. This kind of interwoven "conversation" is not unheard of in jazz, so don't feel like you're interrupting the masters LOL.

There are three links below to YouTube videos of "Kinda Blue," as taken from the original recording.

In a nutshell, modal jazz is more concerned with exploring scales and modes than with creating melodies based on chord progressions.  I've included a link to an excellent Wikipedia article on modal jazz, in case you want to know more.  For now, this article is sufficient in terms of experiencing and practicing the modal approach.

(1) "So What" explores improvised melodies using the "Dorian" mode.  (The terms "scale" and "mode" are sometimes used interchangeably, and the distinction is somewhat academic, depending on the context ).

(2)  If you start on "D" and play every white key on the piano, going up or down one white key at a time (as in D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D.), you have just played a Dorian scale.

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Video: Ray Charles “What I’d Say” — Practice your blues licks with this one!

 

What’s up, Blues Cats and 12-bar Chicks?

If you want to get better at your blues piano playing, who better to learn from than Ray Charles? Try playing this video while throwing in your own blues licks on top.  Also try to imitate or paraphrase some of Brother Ray’s.

Here’s some insight to help you:

(1) The key is E.  You can start joining in by using the E-minor blues scale, throughout the whole jam, right hand only.  The E-minor blues scale is E, G, A, Bb, B, D, (E). Even if that’s all you practice here — which is quite valuable — it still helps to realize the following things about the chords involved . (If you’re especially ambitious,  you can try playing these chords in your left hand, while riffing with the right.)

(2) The chords are E7, A7 (added ninth, optional), and B7.

(3) The chord progression is a classic 12-bar blues, in its most basic form, outlined here:

E7 — 4 measures (bars)

A9 (or just A7) —  2 measures (bars)

E7 — 2 measures (bars) 

B7 — 1 measure (bar)

A9 (or A7) — 1 measure (bar)

AND THE TURN-AROUND:

E7 — 1 measure (bar)

B7 — 1 measure (bar) 

Now go back to the top.

(4) Repeat the above progression over and over, as you would in any 12-bar blues.  EXCEPTION: You may notice that the B7 in the turn-around does not happen in the 12-bar introduction, where Ray is playing the left-hand bass line and nothing else.  Here, E7 is implied throughout the last two bars.

(5) In the sections where the band stops, but the singing or soloing continues (called a break, or “stop-time”), the prevailing harmony is four bars of E7, as usual. Each time this break happens, we are sitting at the top of the 12-bar cycle. Therefore, each break leads us right into the A7 at measure 5.

So here’s the video, and have fun!

Blues lick #12 from “A Study in Blues Piano”

Hey man.

Below is a sample lesson from my course “A Study in Blues Piano — Focusing on Twelve Licks.”

This one covers the ins and outs, the backs and forths, and the ups and downs of what we call a “turn-around.”  This is when we come to the end of a repeating (cyclic) chord progression, and we do stuff (chords) that bring us musically back to the top.  You’ll see.

 

Enjoy, and don’t forget to comment or ask questions!  Let’s have a community goin on up in here, man!

UPDATE Sept. 13, 2018:  There’s a newer version of this video coming to the site as part of our uploading the whole course here, which is a cleaner version with less “ums” and “ahs” and some other improvements. We’re uploading these better versions as I write this update.