Adult Learners

How to Play Blues on Piano for Beginners

By Jesse Preis

Are you interested in learning how to play the blues? Piano players can have fun learning the basics, which will open up new possibilities of songs/pieces that you can learn to play. Blues developed in the Deep South during the 1860s and has its roots in spirituals and other Afro-American music styles. Many jazz elements, such as the wide use of seventh chords and the Blues scale, came from the blues! 

Maybe you’ve heard of the 12-Bar Blues on our site before! This is a music form that lets the performer experiment and improvise – something that became one of jazz’s defining elements. Today, you might recognize blues progressions within jazz and popular music, such as rock-and-roll and gospel. In this article, you’ll find some great piano playing tips for blues chords, progressions, and more! 

How do you identify blues music?

If you listen to popular music or jazz, you might be familiar with the blues already! Songs that use the 12-bar blues progression include “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, “I Feel Good” by James Brown, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2, and “Something Like Olivia” by John Mayer. 

Blues can be identified by its walking bass line. A walking bass line is created by keeping a steady quarter note beat while playing an ascending and descending blues scale one note at a time. In the following paragraphs, we will learn the steps to creating a walking bass line.

Is blues piano hard to learn?

Beginners can learn how to play the blues on piano through consistent study and practice. When you begin learning blues chord progressions, it’s important to learn the different chords that you will encounter when playing the blues. Ready to get groovy with the blues? Let’s jam!

How to play blues chords on piano

The most common chords that you’ll encounter in the blues are called dominant sevenths. Dominant sevenths are built off of the dominant (5th) degree of the scale. For example, G is the fifth note of C major and D is the fifth note of G major. Try playing these blue piano chords on your own piano. To find the fifth note of C major, point at C and say “one”, then count to “five” using the white keys and moving to your right. Did you end on G? There’s your fifth scale degree! Do the same thing with G major. Did you end on D? That’s the fifth scale degree of G major.

Now, to build the entire dominant seventh chord, you must make a major triad first. For example: G-B-D, makes a G major chord. Now add a minor third interval on top so that you have G-B-D-F. This makes a G7 chord!

Next, we can apply these types of blues piano chords to the 12-bar blues! To create a basic 12-bar blues progression, we will need a I7 chord, a IV7 chord, and a V7 chord. Let’s imagine that we are playing in C major, so using the tools above, we already know how to build a V7 (G7) chord! 

Remember, to build the I7 (C7 in the key of C) chord, you must make a major triad first. Did you come up with C-E-G? This creates a C major chord. Now add a minor third interval on top so that you have C-E-G-Bb and you have a C7 chord.

Use the same steps to create a IV7 (F7) chord. Did you end up with the notes F-A-C-Eb? If so, you are correct! 

In a basic 12-bar blues progression in C major, you will first play four measures of the I7 (C7) chord, followed by two measures of IV7 (F7), two measures of I7 (C7), one measure of V7 (G7), one measure of IV7 (F7), and two more measures of I7 (C7) before repeating the pattern from the beginning! The pattern may repeat as many times as you’d like.

What is the formula for a blues scale on piano?

While playing the blues chord progression in the left hand, you can improvise and explore melodic ideas with the right hand. There are two major blues scales that you can use while improvising. 

The first is the minor blues scale, which consists of these scale degrees: 1,♭3, 4,♭5, 5, and♭7. In C, these notes would be C, Eb, F, Gb, G, and Bb. In F, these would be F, Ab, Bb, B, C, and Eb, and in G, they would be G, Bb, C, Db, D, and F!

The second scale is the major blues scale, which is built with these scale degrees: 1, 2,♭3, 3, 5, and 6. In C, these notes would be C, D, Eb, E, G, and A. In F, they would be F, G, Ab, A, C, D, and in G, they would be G, A, Bb, B, D, and E. 

Use these blues scales on piano to improvise over the chord progression that you learned above. When you are playing the C7 chord, try the C minor blues scale or the C major blues scale. When you are playing the F7 chord, try the F minor or blues scales. Same with the G7 chord and G blues scales. 

Another way to experience the blues on piano is to create a walking bass line with your left hand. Simply play a steady quarter note beat while “walking” up and down the minor blues scale for each chord, one note at a time. You can improvise over this by playing a melody or chords with your right hand as well!

Do you feel more confident with how to play blues on piano for beginners? Remember, be bold, come up with some groovy melodies and rhythms, and have fun! 


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