Easy Blues Piano Chords: Play Them Now

Zoomin' The Blues!Are you a beginner pianist with a passion for the blues? Delving into the world of blues music can be incredibly rewarding and playing it yourself adds a whole new layer of enjoyment to the experience.  If the thought of playing blues music feels daunting due to your limited experience on the keys, you’re not alone. Doubt may creep in, but let’s set that aside for now and explore some simple concepts together. Let’s get a handle on some easy blues piano chords…

Easy Blues Piano Chords: The Basics

At the core of blues music are three fundamental chords, all of which are 7th chords. In the key of C Blues, these chords are:

  • C7
  • F7
  • G7

That’s all there is to it!

Now, let’s not get bogged down in theory just yet. The goal here isn’t to overwhelm you with technical explanations but to get you playing. Think back to when you first learned to speak; you didn’t start with grammar rules, did you? You simply made sounds, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do with the piano.

Let’s Turn These Chords into Voicings

The chords we’ve mentioned may not sound particularly captivating when played in a basic manner. That’s where chord voicings come in – they add depth and richness to your playing. But don’t worry about the terminology for now; let’s focus on action.

Take a look at the three positions below and place your left-hand fingers accordingly:

Position #1

C9 chord voicing

Position #2

F13 chord voicing

Position #3

G13 chord voicing

Your task is to become comfortable playing these structures with your left hand. Start by playing Position #1, then #2, then #3.

Once you feel at ease, practice playing them in the following sequence:

  1. Position #1
  2. Position #2
  3. Position #1 again
  4. Position #3
  5. Position #2 again
  6. Position #1 again

Repeat this sequence until it becomes second nature. Don’t worry about theory – just mimic the illustrations and play them on your piano or keyboard.

Check Out this Quick Demo:

When you’ve mastered these structures, you’ve already made significant progress! You’re ready to play these chord voicings through the entire 12 bar blues form:

C7  /  C7  /  C7  /  C7  /
F7  /  F7  /  C7  /  C7  /
G7  /  F7  /  C7  /  C7  /

I’d love to hear about your experience. Are these chords sounding familiar to you? Are you encountering any challenges? Drop me an email with your thoughts, using “Blues Piano Lesson” in the subject line.

Ready to take your blues piano skills to the next level? Let’s dive in – it will be you and me, one-on-one.

12 Bar Blues Chord Progression Explained

The Essence of the 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression

Blues pianist in night clubThe 12 bar blues chord progression serves as the backbone of blues music, deeply rooted in African American history and culture. Understanding its origins, evolution, and intricacies is paramount for any aspiring blues pianist. Let’s delve into the history of the blues, the role of the piano in blues music, highlight notable blues pianists, explore the influence of blues on jazz pianists, and dissect the 12 bar blues chord progression.

The Origins and Evolution of the Blues

The blues originated in the Deep South of the United States during the late 19th century, emerging from African American spirituals, work songs, and field hollers. It provided a voice for the struggles and joys of everyday life, particularly during times of oppression and hardship. As the blues evolved, it migrated from rural areas to urban centers like Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans, undergoing electrification and modernization along the way.

The Role of Piano in Blues Music

While the guitar often takes center stage in blues performances, the piano has played a crucial role in shaping the genre’s sound and character. Pianos were common in juke joints, speakeasies, and barrelhouses, providing a rhythmic and harmonic foundation for singers and instrumentalists. Blues piano is characterized by its rhythmic drive, expressive phrasing, and inventive improvisation, employing techniques such as walking bass lines, boogie-woogie patterns, and soulful chord voicings.

Notable Blues Pianists

Several legendary pianists have left an indelible mark on the blues genre with their virtuosity, innovation, and emotional depth:

  1. Otis Spann: Known as the “King of Chicago Blues Piano,” Spann’s soulful playing and impeccable timing influenced countless musicians and helped define the Chicago blues sound.
  2. Pinetop Perkins: A master of boogie-woogie piano, Perkins’ energetic style and infectious grooves made him a sought-after sideman and band leader in the blues world.
  3. Professor Longhair: Hailing from New Orleans, Professor Longhair’s blend of blues, boogie-woogie, and Caribbean rhythms earned him the title of “Father of New Orleans Piano.”
  4. Memphis Slim: With his smooth vocals and bluesy piano playing, Memphis Slim was a key figure in the development of post-war urban blues.

Blues Influence on Jazz Pianists

The blues has had a profound influence on the development of jazz piano, shaping the improvisational language, harmonic vocabulary, and expressive techniques of countless pianists. Here are some jazz pianists who have drawn inspiration from the blues:

  1. Art Tatum: A virtuoso pianist known for his lightning-fast technique and innovative harmonic approach, Tatum’s playing was deeply rooted in the blues tradition. His dazzling runs, rich chord voicings, and soulful interpretations of blues standards continue to inspire pianists to this day.
  2. Bill Evans: Revered for his introspective style and lyrical improvisations, Evans’ playing was deeply informed by the blues. His use of subtle phrasing, harmonic substitutions, and melodic development drew heavily from the blues tradition, adding depth and emotion to his performances.
  3. Wynton Kelly: A versatile pianist with a soulful touch, Kelly was a master of the blues. His swinging rhythms, bluesy licks, and soulful grooves were hallmarks of his playing, making him a sought-after sideman for jazz legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
  4. Horace Silver: As a pianist and composer, Silver was a pivotal figure in the development of hard bop jazz. His catchy melodies, funky rhythms, and blues-inflected harmonies were a driving force behind the “Blue Note sound,” influencing generations of jazz musicians.
  5. Red Garland: Best known for his work with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1950s, Garland’s bluesy piano playing provided the perfect foil for Davis’ trumpet. His use of block chords, bluesy riffs, and swinging grooves helped define the sound of the quintet and left an indelible mark on jazz piano.
  6. Ahmad Jamal: A pioneering pianist known for his innovative use of space and dynamics, Jamal’s playing was deeply influenced by the blues. His minimalist approach, rhythmic subtlety, and soulful interpretations of standards helped him carve out a unique niche in the jazz world.
  7. Bud Powell: A bebop pioneer and one of the greatest improvisers in jazz history, Powell’s playing was imbued with the spirit of the blues. His lightning-fast lines, bebop vocabulary, and bluesy phrasing set a new standard for jazz piano. His genius certainly inspired generations of pianists to come.
  8. Oscar Peterson: A virtuoso pianist with unparalleled technical prowess, Peterson’s playing was steeped in the blues tradition. His lightning-fast runs, soulful ballads, and impeccable sense of swing showcased his deep understanding of the blues language. This earned him worldwide acclaim as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.
  9. Herbie Hancock: A visionary pianist and composer, Hancock’s groundbreaking fusion of jazz, funk, and rock was deeply influenced by the blues. His innovative use of harmony, rhythm, and electronic instrumentation pushed the boundaries of jazz while maintaining a strong connection to its roots in the blues tradition.

These pianists, along with legends like Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Professor Longhair, embraced the blues as a core element of their musical language. They incorporated its soulful melodies, expressive techniques, and rich harmonies into their playing. Undoubtedly, their contributions bridged the gap between blues and jazz, enriching both genres and ensuring the vitality of America’s musical heritage.

Two Masters Playing The Blues

Let’s give a watch and listen to Oscar Peterson and Count Basie as they “converse” with the blues language is such a simple, profound manner:

Demystifying the 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression

At the heart of countless blues compositions lies the iconic 12 bar blues chord progression. This simple yet endlessly versatile sequence provides a framework for improvisation, songwriting, and musical storytelling. The 12 bar blues follows a basic structure consisting of three four-bar phrases, often labeled as the I, IV, and V chords in a given key. This pattern repeats throughout the song, allowing for endless creativity within the framework of the blues.

In its most basic form, the 12 bar blues chord progression typically follows a I-IV-V chord pattern, with each chord lasting for one bar. For example, in the key of C major, the progression would typically consist of the following chords:

C7 (I chord) for four bars

F7 (IV chord) for two bars

C7 (I chord) for two bars

G7 (V chord) for one bar

F7 (IV chord) for one bar

C7 (I chord) for two bars

One Slight Variation

Also, a basic 12 bar blues chord progression will include the IV chord (in this case, F7) in the second measure, replacing the I chord for that duration. This adds some harmonic interest and momentum rather than the I chord carrying though for the entire four measures:

C7 (I chord) for one bar

F7 (IV) for one bar

C7 (I chord) for two bars

F7 (IV chord) for two bars

C7 (I chord) for two bars

G7 (V chord) for one bar

F7 (IV chord) for one bar

C7 (I chord) for two bars

Adding The Turnaround Chord

It is also quite common to play the V chord (in this case, G7) as a turnaround for the last measure when repeating the form. This, again, adds some additional interest and momentum by interrupting the I chord. Otherwise, the I chord would be heard both at the end of the form and the beginning:

C7 (I chord) for one bar

F7 (IV) for one bar

C7 (I chord) for two bars

F7 (IV chord) for two bars

C7 (I chord) for two bars

G7 (V chord) for one bar

F7 (IV chord) for one bar

C7 (I chord) for one bar

G7 (V chord) for one bar

A Typical Chord Chart for the 12 Bar Blues Chord Progression

Here is a typical chart of what this 12 bar blues chord progression would look like:

12 bar blues chord progressions

That repeat measure sign sign simply means to repeat what was played in the previous measure. Sometimes you will see parentheses around the V chord at the end like this (G7) since it will only be played when the form is repeated. Otherwise, the I chord would be played for the ending.

A Blueprint For Many Creative Journies

The 12 bar blues chord progression provides both stability and flexibility for musicians. It offers a solid foundation for improvisation. The progression allows performers to explore various melodic and harmonic variations while remaining rooted in the traditional blues form. Moreover, there have been numerous reharmonizations of the basic blues form itself. Pianists often experiment with different blues voicings, enriching the music with subtle variations and embellishments. This adds depth and interest to their interpretations.

The possibilities in blues piano span from the rhythmic boogie-woogie bass lines of early players to the intricate harmonies of contemporary jazz. Mastery of the 12 bar blues chord progression is crucial for aspiring blues and jazz pianists, unlocking a realm of creative expression. Delve into its rich history, and let the music carry you through the soulful essence of American blues.

In Conclusion

Mastering the 12 bar blues chord progression is essential for any aspiring blues or jazz pianist. Understanding the origins of the blues unveils its rich history. Appreciating the piano’s role in its evolution highlights its significance. Studying techniques from legendary pianists enriches musical knowledge. Exploring its influence on jazz sparks creativity and innovation. Therefore, whether you are drawn to Delta blues or jazz, the 12 bar blues fosters musical expression. Its solid foundation enables improvisation and artistic exploration.

The next time you sit at your piano, ready to dive into the world of blues, take a moment to reflect on its rich history with appreciation. Let your interest and passion become intertwined with this genre, adding your own unique contribution to its legacy.