Simple Jazz Piano Blues

Get started with the chords and scales you need to play jazz blues.

This lesson covers a the basic jazz style of blues and includes the pentatonic and blues scale, chord voicings, the 12 bar blues form, and a couple examples of playing the entire form, including some bluesy improvisation.

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The roots of jazz and most other popular music are deep within the blues tradition. When Africans and others were kidnapped and brought to the U.S. to be sold as slaves in the 1700's and 1800's, they were accompanied by a deep heritage of music and rhythm that was fundamental to life in their society. They brought with them a simple five note scale that didn't even fit into western tonality but eventually found itself as the seed of almost everything we hear in music today.

  1. The Blues Scale
  2. Blues Chords
  3. The Basic 12 Bar Blues Form
  4. Simple Blues Song

The Blues Scale

The blues scale, shown here in the key of F, is a simple five note scale.


Some people might add what is often referred to as the "blues" note. In the key of F, it would be the B natural in the following example.


This "blues" note is our attempt at playing a note that doesn't exactly fit into western tonality. It lies somewhere between the 4th and the flat 5th.

Blues Chords

We're going to get to a simple blues form in a moment, but first take a look at these chords so you know what to do when you see a chord symbol. Try to learn these chords in all the keys. It may take a while, but learning in all the keys is important.

Chord voicings are not set in stone. If you come up with something on your own that you like better, learn it in all the keys and then use it! For this lesson we will be in the key of F blues.

Chord voicings are not set in stone. If you discover one you like, learn it in 12 keys and use it!


Play the root in your left hand as you play the chords. Now, as we look at the basic 12 bar blues form below, you can play the chords above wherever they are called for in the following form.


Blues Song

Now let's play a simple blues song. The tune below shows the usage of the blues scale as well as another very important aspect of the blues - call and response.

You will notice that for the first four bars, a melody is played. In the second four bars, the melody is repeated. In the last four bars, there is something else, a response. For more information on this style, you need to listen to some of the old blues guitar masters from the early part of the century.

Take a listen to:

  • Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter
  • Charley Patton
  • Son House
  • Robert Johnson
  • Muddy Waters

One other thing that you will notice when you listen to the midi file is that the notes are played with a swing feel. That means that eighth notes are not played as literally as they are written. If you want to think about swing as being notated, the closest you can come is by writing triplets and then tying the first two (which is how I notated the music to get the illusion of "swing" for the midi file). But, it's better just to "feel" swing rather than trying to think logically about it. We'll get into swing more later on.

A trick to "feeling" swing is to play the notes even, but accent the "up" beats, every other note when you're playing eight notes.


Try to learn this blues song, and then maybe learn it in C and Bb. Ultimately you'd want to know how to play it in all the keys. In the next lesson we'll explore more blues including a more jazzy sounding blues form with some different chord changes.

The Blues in 12 Keys

The blues is something you should know in all twelve keys because the blues is the cornerstone of jazz. Knowing the blues in 12 keys is such a universal jazz law that it's something you should tackle immediately. As in, before you go to bed or eat dinner or play another note on the piano. Get a play-along from Aebersold or Hal Leonard, or the I-Real book, and get comfortable with the blues in 12 keys.

If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

by Scot Ranney on 09/16/2014, 22:24
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Jazz Piano Notebook Series
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