Blues Piano Crash Course #9: The Melody Machine

PREMIUM CONTENT (Lesson #3 is a free sample).

Lesson #9  (video) “The Melody Machine”

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!

Continue reading “Blues Piano Crash Course #9: The Melody Machine”

Jazz Soloing Tip #12

Hello friends!

Try this: Go to your instrument and play a C-major scale from top to bottom (C B A G F E D C). Play these as evenly spaced eighth notes in 4/4 time.

You will notice that the final note, the lower C, does not land on a solid beat (in this case, that would be beat one). Instead, it lands on the last eighth note of the previous measure.

Assuming that we want our C to land on beat one, as a solid “target note,” here’s a common and jazzy sounding solution.

C, B, A, G  || F, E, D-flat, B || C

We now have the required eight notes to fill one measure, and the final C lands on beat one of the next measure – voila!

Continue reading “Jazz Soloing Tip #12”

A Study in Blues Piano – Lick #1: “Energy”

Welcome to Lesson One

Lick number one, which I’m calling “Energy,”  uses the first five notes of the blues scale, with the right hand in a fixed position.  The repeating triplet figures build a sense of excitement!

Like all the lessons in this collection, there are tips for transposing this lick into the key of your choice.



Continue reading “A Study in Blues Piano – Lick #1: “Energy””

Jazz Improvisation: The Shortest Path from Novice to Expert

Discovery <—> Refinement

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.


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.)

And each activity feeds the other!


Getting All Lydian on the IV Chord

Hello from Kent!

Here’s a scale-related concept that works very well for dressing up the ‘IV’ chord of a major key.

In the key of C major, the IV chord is F; it’s called the ‘IV’ because its root note is the fourth step of the scale.

You might also experiment with this approach over any major chord, such as the ‘I’ (that would be C Major, in the key of C) — depending on the type of sound you’re after.

The scale being used today is called Lydian, which is very closely related to the major scale: only one tone (specifically, the fourth step) is different. My video lesson below goes into depth regarding this intriguing aspect of the Lydian scale (vis-a-vis the Major), and shows you various ways to take advantage of its unique sound.


There is a transcription of this lecture, including video timestamps, just below the video itself (edited for easier reading).





Hi this is Kent, I wanted to give you some raw material for playing some nice fills, when playing the IV chord, such as the F chord in the key of C.

And in this lesson. The fills that I’m going to be talking about will be based on a scale called the Lydian scale.


We’ll be talking about the Lydian scale as we go along. And the context of this using this Lydian scale in this lesson would be when you go to the IV chord in a song.


The I chord in C is C major (the chord).

The IV chord would be F.


Okay, so if I’m going from C…to F… (piano playing).
That’s an extremely common progression, but you don’t necessarily have to be going back and forth between F and C. In this case, in this particular imaginary tune, the sound we’re going to go for is to sort of spice up the IV chord.
Using the Lydian scale and the Lydian scale fits in this case if I go from F.2:10
Since I’m in the key of C, I can keep this B-natural, and stay consistent with the C major scale.2:22
Accordingly, a scale starting on the note F, which has the fourth step of the standard F major scale raised by 1/2 step, has the sound of Lydian mode. Again, F major has B flat, F Lydian has a raised fourth step…in this case it’s a B here.
And that B note fits right in the C major scale.
That means that “F Lydian”is one of the “MODES” of C Major.3:36
We can take advantage of that raised fourth in order get some interesting “motion” inside our F4:10
Notice, if I take a G major chord, which is actually the five chord of C, and I superimpose it over the F chord…
4:20 (wow man)
…kind of wants to move back down to F.
However, if I did, let’s say an F chord in some other context…
That’s also a nice spacey jazzy or sounding chord by itself, in many other contexts…..
And let’s say I covered the F chord down here on my left hand.
All right, thanks for listening. Have fun with that, and I’ll see you next time!

PREMIUM CONTENT “The Blues Piano Crash Course” Main Page





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”


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)

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.

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”


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)

Blues Lick #6: “Locked up”


Welcome Back to a Study in Blues Piano!

Blues Study Lick #6, “Locked Up”

This is a really exciting technique for what I like to call the “Big Blues” sound.  By “Big Blues,” I mean dramatic, exciting, full, like you might hear from a jazz big band.  This kind of lick also works great for building to a climax in your “blues story” (a good solo usually tells a story).
The name of this lick, “Locked Up,” ain’t necessarily because what you’re saying with your fingers might be a story about going to jail. In this video, “Locked up” actually refers to the core idea of the lesson, something called “locked rhythm.”

Continue reading “Blues Lick #6: “Locked up””

Sheet Music: Lick #2 from “A Study in Blues Piano”


Here’s a downloadable PDF file of sheet music for Blues Piano Lick #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!

Sheet Music: Lick #1 from A Study in Blues Piano


Blues/Improv Students:

How’s yo blues?

I’ve had requests for piano notation covering the blues licks in my course, A Study in Blues Piano.

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).

Here’s a downloadable PDF file for Lick #1, “Energy.”