This thing I like to call the “melody machine” is by no means a new technique for creating strong melodies. Singers, composers and improvisers have built melodies this way forever. In a nutshell, it’s a specific way of using the underlying chord progression as a “generator” of melodic material.
Sometimes this “melody generating” concept doesn’t get enough of a spotlight. By spotlight, I mean pointing it out and teaching it, in places where students can fully appreciate the power of the results.
So here’s a great place for that spotlight: the art and science of creating powerful blues licks!
When I was new to jazz, I spent years in the “discovery” phase. In the beginning, that was, for the most part, learning what scales go best with what chords, and also finding the “pretty notes,” as Charlie Parker once put it.
But I was so fixated on finding the coolest harmonies and scales, I forgot to practice playing what I already knew. In other words, I was skipping the “refinement” part.
Charlie Parker again, paraphrasing, “Play CLEAN and find the pretty notes.” So playing clean, that’s the refinement part.
The refinement part also – and maybe more importantly – means sticking with what you already know when you are coming up with your improvised lines. Which means you are saving the stretching out and the trying of new stuff for the discovery part. Both are obviously necessary for continuous growth.
WHY IS THIS A CIRCLE, NOT A STRAIGHT LINE,
FROM NEWBIE TO EXPERT?
The answer may already have occurred to you: We are forever learning, then refining, then learning, then refining, in an infinite cycle of growth. (Assuming we’re serious about things.)
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.
Helpful Course Documents
(Click document’s image below to download or view.)
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 a downloadable PDF file of sheet music for Blues PianoLick #2, for optional use with “A Study in Blues Piano.”
This is entirely optional material, as far as completing the above course is concerned. As I said yesterday, this is a supplement I’m putting together, in response to recent requests that I’ve had from students who can read music.
Non-music readers: This course was designed to require ZERO reading of music. Fear not!
That course is video-based, and teaches from a chord-based improvisation point of view.
I sometimes resist providing notation for improvisation-focused courses, because it can almost promote blind imitation, rather than creative playing.
That said, I’ve had a couple of convincing requests lately from students who wanted to have sheet music to supplement this class. As a result, I’ve decided to provide notation for several of the licks, plus notation for a complete blues piano solo (featuring licks from the course).
Congratulations! After finishing this lesson, you will have completed the entire course, “A Study in Blues Piano – Focusing on 12 Licks!”
You will then have learned (1) a complete intro section, (2) lots of raw soloing material (specifically, those 12 licks and their endless possibilities), for you to copy, extend, alter, etc., (3) a solid structure for your soloing (that is, the 12-bar blues structure, with a supporting bass-line). Also (4), you now have a solid “turn-around” to use, which will keep that energy moving forward, into each new chorus, and finally, (5), that same turn-around can be used as an ending (and very effectively).
So, here we go, the final lesson: Lick Number 12, “Chromatic Sixths.” This pattern is way-cool, and also quite versatile. It has a traditional, honky-tonk sound you will probably recognize, a real staple of the “boogie/blues/rock/jazz” piano vocabulary.