As a cocktail piano player, you’ve just got to have a bit of a handle on playing some 12 bar blues piano. It’s a nice way to interrupt your routine with some tasteful variation. In addition, as you become more and more acquainted with playing blues piano, you’re sure to use some of that “bluesy” playing in your favorite standard songs, too.
Okay, let’s get started. If you’re going to play 12 bar blues piano, then you will, of course, want to get a handle on the basic form of the blues.
Here is the basic 12 bar blues form:
/ C7 / C7 / C7 / C7 /
/ F7 / F7 / C7 / C7 /
/ G7 / F7 / C7 / C7 /
Above, we are illustrating the blues form in the key of C. However, you’ll want to get to know it in other keys as well. Okay, so let’s take a look at what we have there…
You’ll notice that we have three dominant 7th chords. They are:
C7, F7, and G7
This chord progression is commonly referred to as the I, IV, V progression since, based on the C Major scale, the C is the I, the F is the IV, and the G is the V. For other keys, use the same approach to coming up with the correct chords.
You’ll want to be able to play through the 12 bar blues at a nice slow tempo using some nice sounding blues piano chord voicings for these chords. Sure, you can use the basic form of these chords for now but you’ll soon want to know some great sounding voicings because, after a while, those straight 7th chords can sound a bit plain.
For now, go ahead and play through this chord progression with those chords using the left hand as you keep a nice slow, steady tempo. Once you are feeling comfortable doing this, let’s have some fun with that right hand as you start implementing the blues scale.
Now, an interesting thing about the blues scale is that, even though there is a corresponding blues scale for each root, when you are in the key of C, the C Blues scale works over the entire form.
Here is the C Blues scale:
C Eb F Gb G Bb C
Although you will feel compelled to play up and down that scale for a while, which you are encouraged to do, make it a point to stay musical with your ideas by using only bits and pieces of the blues scale and playing them in a rhythmical fashion. Start with just two notes, playing them back and forth. Then add another… then another… etc. Whatever you play, listen to your results and appreciate each step of the way.
Here is a nice application of some nice blues piano improvisation ideas and voicings by two jazz piano icons who have made their mark in the worlds of piano and jazz (They are playing the blues in the key of C… see if you can pick out those blues scale notes!):
As you have fun with the blues, remember…
PLAY WITH PASSION!