Beginner's Guide: How to Play Blues Piano in 5 Easy Steps
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Get familiar with the blues scale
  2. Learn blues chords and progression
  3. Practice left hand patterns
  4. Incorporate right hand techniques
  5. Put it all together

Are you eager to learn how to play piano for blues? You've come to the right place. This beginner's guide will lead you step-by-step, transforming your enthusiasm into a tangible skill on the keys. We'll start our journey with the blues scale, which forms the backbone of this soulful genre.

Get Familiar with the Blues Scale

Let's start at the very beginning. The blues scale is the starting point of our journey into how to play piano for blues. Despite its simplicity, this scale is a powerhouse, capable of capturing the listener's emotions. It's the key to unlocking the rich, soulful sound of the blues.

Understanding the Blues Scale

The blues scale is a six-note scale. It's a minor pentatonic scale — a five-note scale — with an added flat fifth. This flat fifth, also known as the 'blue note', gives the blues its distinctive sound. Here's how it looks for the key of C:

  • C - the root
  • Eb - the minor third
  • F - the perfect fourth
  • F#/Gb - the flat fifth (blue note)
  • G - the perfect fifth
  • Bb - the minor seventh

Practicing the Blues Scale

Now that you know what the blues scale looks like, it's time to start practicing. Here's a simple way to do it:

  1. Start slow: Begin by playing each note slowly, making sure each one rings out clearly.
  2. Use a metronome: This will help you keep a steady rhythm as you play.
  3. Try different keys: Once you're comfortable with the C blues scale, try playing it in different keys.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Take your time and enjoy the process. Soon enough, you'll find yourself playing the blues scale with ease, ready to dive deeper into the world of blues piano.

Learn Blues Chords and Progression

Now that you're familiar with the blues scale, let's move on to the next step in learning how to play piano for blues — understanding and mastering blues chords and progressions. Chords are groups of notes played together, and progressions are the sequences in which these chords are arranged. They create the structure of a song and give it its distinctive feel.

Getting to Know Blues Chords

Blues music often makes use of seventh chords. These are chords that include the first, third, fifth, and seventh notes of a scale. In the key of C, for example, a C7 chord would include the notes C, E, G, and Bb. Here's an overview of the most common blues chords:

  • C7 - C, E, G, Bb
  • F7 - F, A, C, Eb
  • G7 - G, B, D, F

Understanding Blues Progressions

The most common progression in blues music is the 12-bar blues progression. This progression is a sequence of 12 measures, typically arranged in the pattern I-IV-V. In the key of C, this would be C7 (I), F7 (IV), and G7 (V). Here's a basic 12-bar blues progression in the key of C:

  1. Bars 1-4: C7
  2. Bars 5-6: F7
  3. Bars 7-8: C7
  4. Bars 9-10: G7
  5. Bars 11-12: C7

With these chords and progressions, you're well on your way to playing blues piano. Practice these until they feel natural under your fingers. The more comfortable you become with these basics, the more you'll be able to express yourself through the music.

Practice Left Hand Patterns

Great job on mastering the blues chords and progressions! Now, let's dive into the next step of how to play piano for blues — practicing left hand patterns. These patterns are the backbone of blues piano, providing a steady rhythm and harmonic support.

Mastering the Walking Bassline

A walking bassline is a common left hand pattern in blues music. It's a fluid, continuous stream of quarter notes that 'walks' up and down the keyboard. Here's a simple walking bassline in the key of C, based on our 12-bar blues progression:

  1. Bars 1-4: C, E, G, A, Bb, A, G, E (repeat)
  2. Bars 5-6: F, A, C, D, Eb, D, C, A (repeat)
  3. Bars 7-8: C, E, G, A, Bb, A, G, E (repeat)
  4. Bars 9-10: G, B, D, E, F, E, D, B (repeat)
  5. Bars 11-12: C, E, G, A, Bb, A, G, E (repeat)

Trying Out the Shuffle Rhythm

Another popular left hand pattern is the shuffle rhythm. It's a swinging rhythm that feels like a heartbeat, driving the music forward. Here's a basic shuffle rhythm in the key of C:

  • Beat 1: C and E (together)
  • Beat 2: G
  • Beat 3: C and E (together)
  • Beat 4: A

Play this pattern repeatedly, and try to maintain a steady tempo. The left hand patterns might seem tricky at first, but with regular practice, they'll become second nature. Remember, learning to play piano for blues is a journey, and every step you take brings you closer to the goal.

Incorporate Right Hand Techniques

With your left hand doing its magic on the keyboard, it's time to bring the right hand into the game. For a complete understanding of how to play piano for blues, learning right hand techniques is key. This is where you'll be playing the melody, adding riffs, and improvising solos.

Familiarizing with the Blues Riffs

Blues riffs are short, repetitive musical phrases that can add a lot of flavor to your playing. They often involve playing several notes in quick succession or a repeated pattern. Here's a simple blues riff you can start with:

  1. Beat 1: E (middle finger)
  2. Beat 2: G (thumb)
  3. Beat 3: A (index finger)
  4. Beat 4: C (thumb)
  5. Beat 5: D (middle finger)
  6. Beat 6: E (pinky)

Practice this riff slowly at first, then gradually increase your speed as you get comfortable.

Improvising Solos

Improvisation is a big part of playing blues piano. It's all about expressing your emotions and telling a story through your music. So, how can you start improvising solos?

One approach is to choose a few notes from the blues scale and experiment with different rhythms and patterns. For instance, in the key of C, you could use the notes C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, and C. Remember, there's no right or wrong here — it's all about exploring and having fun with your music.

As you're learning how to play piano for blues, don't be afraid to make mistakes. They're simply stepping stones on your path to becoming a better musician.

Put it all Together

Now we've reached the final step in our journey on how to play piano for blues. You've learned the blues scale, delved into chords and progression, practiced left-hand patterns, and incorporated right hand techniques. So, what's left? It's time to put all these pieces together and start playing some blues!

Start Slow and Build Up

Start by playing a simple blues progression with your left hand, and add in some simple riffs with your right hand. Remember the blues riff we just practiced? Try incorporating that into your playing. The important part here is to go slow. There's no rush. The smoother your playing at a slower tempo, the easier it will be to increase your speed later on.

Add in Some Improv

Once you're comfortable playing a basic progression with some riffs, it's time to start improvising. Choose a few notes from the blues scale we discussed and start experimenting. Vary your rhythm, try different patterns, and see what sounds good to your ear. Improvisation is all about personal expression — there are no wrong choices.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Blues piano, like any form of music, requires practice. As the old saying goes, "practice makes perfect." The more you play, the more natural it will feel, and the better you'll get. Set aside some time each day to practice, and before you know it, you'll be playing the blues like a pro!

So there you have it – your guide on how to play piano for blues. The journey might seem challenging at first, but with persistence and passion, you'll soon be immersed in the soulful world of blues piano. Enjoy the journey and let the music guide you!

If you're passionate about learning blues piano and want to take your skills to the next level, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop will provide you with valuable tips and advice on how to improve your piano playing and progress from being a good musician to a great one!