Introduction: How to Play the Blues Scale on the Piano
The Blues style of music is one of the most played genres by those that love to improvise.
Just like with any type of music there is a specific set of rules and some guidelines as to how to play this particular style of music on the piano.
Scales are the absolute best way to learn music, no matter what style or genre it happens to be because we learn the notes and how to play them on the piano when we learn and play scales.
If you're at the point in your playing that you are ready to learn a new style of music like the Blues, then you are already familiar with Major scales, the notes in at least several of them, and are comfortable playing those notes on the piano keyboard.
We're going to learn how to play a Blues Scale on the piano in this lesson. Since it's different in a few ways from a major scale, let's take a quick review of what a major scale is.
Step 1: Review - C Major Scale
The Major Scale is the first kind of scale that we learn to play on the piano. Usually, it is C Major.
(I bet Middle C was the first note that you learned to play on the keyboard too!)
Now, remember, a major scale has 8 notes total in it, 7 that are different from each other. The bottom and top notes are the same, just an octave apart. The notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B & C.
Start on Middle C and play up the to the next C. That's it!
Before we move on, let's give a number to each note in the C scale.
If you're at your piano keyboard right now, play through the C major scale saying each number with its corresponding note. Do this a few times so you can get used to thinking about the numbers and the notes at the same time.
What is important to remember about these numbers and notes, is that you can alter them to make them into a completely different key, style or anything that you want. This is what we will do to create a Blues scale in the next step.
Step 2: Transforming the Major Scale Into the Blues Scale
There are several notes that we change to change a major scale into a Blues scale. Remember in the last step how we gave each note of the C Major Scale a number.
Well, what we're going to do is take several of those numbered notes, and change them. You can do this in any scale simply by raising or lowering a note by a 1/2 step.
- Start with C...this note doesn't change
- Now, instead of D, play Eb. This is the 1st note that we are changing...we are lowering the 3rd by a 1/2 step. This is called a Flat 3rd. (Don't play D at all)
- Next, play F just as you would in a major scale...nothing changes here.
- OK...G, changes. G will become Gb..so again, we're lowering that one-the 5th by a 1/2 step. This is called a Flat 5th.
- Now you are in fact going to play G natural right after the Gb.
- The next note, the 6th of the scale, which is A, is going to be eliminated altogether. Just don't play it.
- The 7th, which is the next tone/note...you are going to flat again. Lower it 1/2 step to Bb. This is called a Flat 7th. (Notice how each one we change, we've made them flat and then called them a Flat 3, or 5, or 7).
- Lastly, you will play the top C again just as you did in the beginning. Nothing changes here.
In general, for all Blues Scales, you lower the 3rd, 5th, and 7th by 1/2 step, making them flat.
Also, we eliminate the 2nd and the 6th notes from the Major Scale altogether, to create a Blues Scale.
To play a C Blues Scale, you would play the following notes:
- C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb, & C. Or in Blues language...we say it this way:
- 1st, flat 3rd, 4th, flat 5th, 5th, flat 7th, and then the root, or the 8th note. (notice no 2 or 6)
Now let's see how we can turn any major scale into a Blues Scale in the next step.
Step 3: Playing the Blues Scale in Different Keys
The more keys you can play the Blues Scale in, the better you will understand how to successfully play this particular type of music.
It's relatively easy to transfer everything you applied to changing the C Major Scale into a Blues Scale...you simply do the same thing with each different scale.
It's important to really know and be able to say the basic pattern for a Blues Scale: Say the following several times till it just rolls off your tongue.
All you have to do is apply this basic "rule" to every major scale that you want to change into a Blues Scale!
Make sure that you know the key signature of any scale that you want to make a Blues Scale. You have to know the right notes to change them correctly. (In the video I go over G major & Bb with you but here we'll just talk about D major which is in the video as well)
D Major - We know these notes, and we know that we have 2 sharps; F# & C#. The notes in the D Major Scale are:
D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D.
Now, remember that we need to lower by 1/2 step the 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of this scale...and we actually get rid of the 2nd and the 6th notes.
So the Blues D Scale would have the following notes:
D, F-natural, G, Ab, A, C natural, & D. (see image 1)
This is exactly what you do to any major scale to make it into a Blues Scale.
Let's talk a little about the best way to practice these new scales and actually practice them together at the piano in the final step.
Step 4: Come Practice With Me!
Aren't these Blues Scales fun to play? They are on any instrument and they add such a fun and appreciated style of music into our playing!
Learning Blues Scales is easy when you take on just a couple of new scales each week and practice them each day. Try playing them through 5 times each so you'll really get a good understanding of the different sound these scales have as well as the changes in notes.
This video takes you through all of the scales (even the major ones) in this lesson and we go over a couple of other ones as well. More importantly, you can watch me play them and I give you time to play them yourselves with me.
Take a few minutes to read through this lesson a couple of times just to start getting familiar with the basic structure of the Blues Scale, then grab your keyboard and join me so we can open this new fun door for your piano playing!
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