Tag Archives: 12 Bar Blues Piano

12 Bar Blues Piano: Easy Left Hand Technique

12-Bar-Blues-PianoWe have already touched upon playing 12 bar blues piano as we focused on scale options for improvising. Here, we will acknowledge an easy way to accompany your right hand lines.

We are already familiar with the three essential chords in the basic blues which are the I7, IV7, and V7 chords. In the key of C, these are:




Let’s look at these chords spelled out:

C7 = C  E  G  Bb

F7 = F  A  C  Eb

G7 = G  B  D  F

Playing these chords in this fashion is certainly okay. However, we can actually play them in a way that is more conducive to a “bluesy”
kind of sound. Let’s see how this works as we have fun playing 12 bar blues piano in a manner that’s relatively simple and yet sounds good…

Let’s take a look at each of these chords above and, as we do, focus on the 3 and 7 of each of these chords…

For C7, the 3 and 7 are:

E and Bb

For F7, the 3 and 7 are:

A and Eb

For G7, the 3 and 7 are:

B and F

Now, let’s take a closer look at these combinations as they are played below middle C on the piano. Play the E and Bb (for C7) just below middle C (the E is below the Bb). Next, although the 3 and 7 of F7 are A and Eb, respectively, let’s invert those so that the Eb (the 7) is played lower than the A (the 3). Doing this keeps the 3 and 7 of C7 and the 7 and 3 of F7 one half step away from each other. This is smooth voice leading. Next, play the 7 and 3 of G7, respectively, so that they are only one whole step from the 7 and 3 of F7. This all looks like this on the staff:


So, you see, all three positions of these combinations are very close to each other. Again, it’s smooth voice leading and it sounds good!

Begin by practicing at a slow tempo through the 12 bar blues form as you move from one chord to another, playing only the 3 and 7 of each chord. Not only does this sound good but it’s also a great way to practice because your focus can be placed more on that right hand as you have fun creating some improvisations. The left hand is playing with minimal effort yet what it is playing is quite effective.

So, by playing less, we actually  attain more of the kind of sound we want with that left hand. The chord voicings are thin and tasteful. Once you gain confidence with playing these combinations for the I, IV, and V in the key or C, have fun exploring them in other keys as you make playing the blues a part of your daily routine!







12 Bar Blues Piano: The Mixolydian Scale

12-Bar-Blues-PianoAs a follow-up to our recent introduction to 12 bar blues piano, let’s take a look at another scale that you will want to be familiar with. We already mentioned one, which is the blues scale. The other scale that you will want to have a handle on when it comes to improvising over those dominant 7th chords is the Mixolydian scale.

Now, we acknowledged that when playing 12 bar blues piano that the key that you are in determines what blues scale you play. In other words, if you are playing the blues in the key of C, then the C blues scale will work well throughout the entire form. This means that the C blues scale will sound good over the C7, F7, and G7. That’s right. You don’t have to play the F blues scale for the F7 or the G blues scale for the G7. This is one of the interesting things about the blues scale. You see, each tone of the C blues scale has a different relationship with each of the other chords. For example, when you play the C, that tone is the 1 of the C7. However, when you play it over the the F7, it becomes the 5. Over the G7, it is the 4. Some of these relationships sound more consonant than others. Some sound dissonant. Since music really involves “tension and release,” this blues scale really serves us well! Explore the other tones of the C blues scale and see how they relate to each of these three chords. Of course, play and listen!

As mentioned above, another scale you will want to become confident playing is the Mixolydian scale. You’ll want to know this scale for each of the 7th chords you are playing, including the:

C Mixolydian scale C7

F Mixolydian scale for F7

G7 Mixolydian scale for G7

To arrive at any of these, simply play the major scale that corresponds to each root and then lower the 7th of the scale one half step. That gives you the Mixolydian scale for each of the 7th chords:

C7 = C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb  C

F7 = F  G  A  Bb  C  D  Eb  F

G7 = G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G

Using this scale in conjunction with that blues scale really adds lots of interest to your soloing. You are highly encouraged to explore your potential creating ideas using all four of these scales, and as you do so, remember…







12 Bar Blues Piano

12-Bar-Blues-PianoAs 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…