Beginners guide and tips to learning blues piano music and playing recommended songs

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by George Eastman House

If you intend to start learning blues piano, I recommend you work your way through at a few beginners books first. If you don’t have any, there many recommended books that can be found on places like Amazon with the usual reader ratings.

Know yours scales and chords

You might have thought scales were what you did for your exams but they become important when learning Blues piano. Learning about 7th chords, blue notes, twelve bar blues progression and a bit of jazz theory will take you a long way. They are the foundation and will enable you to improve your technique and play those stylish, bluesy scales, chords, riffs and licks. The best thing about the blues is that not everything is set in stone so once you get started, try experimenting with different basic blues scales, chords and improvisation melodies. Also having a metronome will be useful for chord progression, 12 bar blues (for when you need to count and time the chord changes) and learning more advanced, syncopated rhythms.

Finding a good teacher

You can learn by yourself through books, but your progressed will be greatly accelerated by finding a teacher who I must stress has got experience of performing, not just teaching. Don’t hesitate to ask them directly what their experience and background is.

Go to live performances

There should be enough venues (depending on where you live) that have a Blues band performing or an upcoming themed night. Make sure to sit at or near the front, especially where the pianist will be so you can get a good enough view of what he/she does. Also, don’t be afraid to speak to them either during the interval or after the performance. You’ll be surprised how easy to talk to they are and the tips they can give you to get started.

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Blues Pianists

There are a variety of blues styles for the piano. Boogie woogie is the best known kind of blues form, ranging from though barrelhouse to funk, swing, R&B, rock and roll and jazz, all of which are strongly influenced by early pianists who played the blues. Notable blues pianists include Professor Longhair. Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Dr. John, and Ray Charles.

Reading material

If you’re serious about getting good at Blues, you should take an interest in the genre you’re learning. The first item should be Blues For Dummies. Written by Lonnie Brooks Blues For Dummies provides the reader with a solid background in the blues, including an overview of blues history, artist profiles, recommended albums, and even how to make a blues record. The book also includes a CD compiled by the authors that includes top songs from the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and others

Also, listen to:
Willie Mabon
Little Brother Montgomery
Henry Gray
Count Basie
Fats Domino
Memphis Slim
Sunnyland Slim
Otis Spann
Pinetop Perkins

If you’re more advanced, some blues songs to listen to and learn are:

18 and Life by Skid Row
Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers
Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens by Louis Jordan
Ain’t Nobody’s Business by Jimmy Witherspoon
Ain’t That a Shame by Fats Domino
As the Years Go Passing By  by Deadric Malone
Baby Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams
Beale Street by W. C. Handy
Before You Accuse Me by Bo Diddley
Bell Bottom Blues by Derek & the Dominos
Call Me by Tony Hatch
Crosscut Saw by Albert King
Dimples by John Lee Hooker
Early In The Mornin’ by Buddy Guy
Easy Baby by Willie Dixon
Everybody Needs Somebody To Love by Solomon Burke
Feelin’ Alright by Joe Cocker
Flip, Flop And Fly by Big Joe Turner
Forty-Four by Howlin’ Wolf
Freight Train by Billy Cotton
Gangster Of Love by Johnny Watson
I Feel Free by Cream
I Just Want To Make Love To You by Willie Dixon
Ice Cream Man by John Brim
If I Didn’t Care by The Ink Spots
The Joker by Steve Miller Band
Let’s Work Together by Canned Heat
The Little Red Rooster by Willie Dixon
Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean by Ruth Brown
The Midnight Special by Huddie Ledbetter
My Babe by Columbus Short
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out by Bessie Smith
Please Send Me Someone To Love by Percy Mayfield
Pretty Thing by Bo Diddley
Red Sails In The Sunset by Fats Domino
Spoonful by Willie Dixon
Suddenly by Angry Anderson
Tramp by Lowell Fulsom
Tuff Enuff by The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Your Little Secret by Melissa Etheridge

It is important not to jump the gun by skipping the fundamentals and learn the process thoroughly from the start so you understand the genre and can enjoy it more.

Ugo Onwutalu is a musician and piano teacher, also playing the guitar and organ. He is the founder of Grade Music Tutors, a UK music tuition production and entertainment organisation based in London. Visit www.grademusicworld.com for information on everything music-related, from learning an instrument and preparing for exams, to getting a job in the music industry.


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