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Blues Piano Questions


Ed Stanley

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On occasion I am asked to play with or fill in with what are pretty much straight blues / RnB band situations. My question is for guys who are regular members of such bands. How much left hand do you use when playing piano? Is it just sporadic chord stabs to reinforce the harmony or are you banging away all the time? For instance on a shuffle are you playing steady with the left hand and how much resistance or support fron the bass player do you get? It's tough to make a walking bass or stride accompaniment work with a bass player even when their willing. Anyway, I'm just curious as it seems some bands want it and some don't.
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It really depends a lot on the tune. There are some tunes that may have a very specific bass that sounds good doubled. Other times a left hand shuffle pattern might be what works. Sometimes a Texas style chord on the & of 1 2 3 and 4 is what works. Other times it's more of a jazz or jump style comping. Occasionally it's even just sparse left hand fills, sort of a cross between a walking pattern and a riff every now and then for some counterpoint. Unfortunately in this day and age so much of what works is dictated by the guitar player's style or concept. A lot of bands aren't really versatile enough to require much more than right hand banging...
A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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I agree very much with what kanker said "depends on guitar player..." If the guitar player leaves some space, I like to play jazz voicings on left hand and subtle licks on right. This works well with a more versatile guitarist vs. someone overplaying. Doubling the bass for me generally creates dissonance, so I work more between bass and guitar. Octaves or tenths seem to work well also for left hand.
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I've been curious about this aswell as i'm more familiar with jazz than blues. What i've been doing is similar to what smitty describes although instead of doing a shell voicing like 3, 7, 9 or 7, 3, 13 i'll comp just a plain dominant chord maybe inverted on fairly strong beats/upbeats.

 

I'm finding blues harder to get to sound good & varied than modern jazz comping + soloing. Can anyone name some good blues artists to start off on? I'm listening to Ray Charles atm and i've been reccomended Charles Brown and Jimmy Johnson amongst other bigger names like Dr John. I guess there's quite a few different sub-genres that all have different left hand styles.

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Get into as many players as you can. Otis Spann, Big Maceo Merriweather, Pinetop Perkins, Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, Jay McShann, Professor Longhair, Cow Cow Davenport, Charlie Spand, Floyd Dixon, Albert Ammons, Jimmy Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Curtis Jones, Sunnyland Slim, Alonzo Yancey, Louise Johnson, Huey Smith, James Booker, Memphis Slim, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Walter Davis, Leroy Carr, etc....
A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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I'm finding blues harder to get to sound good & varied than modern jazz comping + soloing. Can anyone name some good blues artists to start off on? I'm listening to Ray Charles atm and i've been reccomended Charles Brown and Jimmy Johnson amongst other bigger names like Dr John. I guess there's quite a few different sub-genres that all have different left hand styles.

 

Lucky Peterson is one of the great blues musicians today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrCL1r0h4mU

 

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I've found that even when the piano left hand and the bass are locked in with each other, it's not always a good thing. The overall bottom end can get muddy.

Depending on the song I'll use a rocking left hand, going 1-5 1-6 1-5 1-6 in a shuffle feel, or some variation. Other times I'll move up a bit and play some wide jazz chorde, like a chord that has, bottom to top 7-3-13, or throw in 7ths and 9ths. There's a lot of freedom in the genre, as long as you work with the other musicians and find the area that helps the song along.

 

I agree with the above recommendations for players to listen to.

Don't forget Dr. John. One of the best left hands in the business.

 

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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Let the bass man have the bottom and stay out of his way.

 

I will use the left hand to kick off a tune or two now and then. For th most part my left hand plays organ (upper keyboard) as I do fills and chords on piano with my right hand.

Jimmy

 

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others. Groucho

NEW BAND CHECK THEM OUT

www.steveowensandsummertime.com

www.jimmyweaver.com

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Be careful with those fancy jazz chords. Just because you know how to play them, doesn't mean you have to use them. It depends on the style and context of blues you are playing. You can easily turn a great Muddy Waters song into a bad MUZAK version if you get carried away with chord extentions.

 

I know a few guitar players that insist on coloring chords with all kinds of extentions all the time, when all the song calls for is an open E chord for example.

 

and I'm all like .... dude... ;-)

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I had to learn alot of lessons with this. I always loved Reese Wyans with Stevie Ray Vaughn with his effective doubling using left hand against the bassplayer in the same register. Texas Blues which I have a penchant for. But that approach/sound is practiced to some degree and worked out! Alot of Chicago and New Orleans and Piedmont styles won't support that approach because the looseness of the music calls for a more random, non liner LH style made up of chords, double stops, single notes, stride and patterns. All applied in a patchwork fashion!

 

There are tricks both rhythmic and harmonic for transparency in the LH but that also add too the arrangement/sound. Open sounds work well. I love playing a 1.5 / 1.6 jump pattern w/ my LH but you can't approach all blues tunes that way either. Everything starts sounding like a shuffle.

 

One device is to learn all 1st inversion straight Dom7 chords in all keys. Just practice those Chromatically and/or in the Cycle so you really can call on then whenever you want in any key, than sprinkle to taste on 1 then 2/4 then 1 to begin with to get used to it. Without the tonic it has a less heavy, more open sound both against the bass and the guitar you may find. Also you will find that inversion played an octave below middle C (1 oct. up from where my LH naturally falls) will give you a harmonic niche in the mix/arrangement and stay out of the bass players range and octave below that. You still must work rythmically w/ the bass player so it can be a little bit of a conundrum. Some of the things I learned were not my normal way of playing before I integrated them. It can be confusing coming from other musics. That's one trick.. there are others like this and they come in handy in a blues ensemble...

 

Solo blues piano is another animal all together in terms of LH 'presence'. In an ensemble you don't have to play (LH) all the time, a lesson I am continuing to work on/learn as I'm inclined to play all the time. Benny Yee from KoKo Montoya's band told me it took him 20 years to learn how to comp. So pick your bits and integrate slowly. Your probably gonna be at it for awhile!

 

'Space' in regards to the LH and open voicings, again it depends on the band and style of tune!

 

Another one : Comp in your left hand with a wide voicing of b7 3(above b7) then extend the LH thumb down to the root and octave below then finish up with 3 b7 then b7 3 above played as double stops. So things are more open and dance in that double stop broken chord pattern but things remain sounding open using an arppegiated cordal skelton with double stops. It creates a glue that sort of ties the rhythm section and the piano and the guitar together but in an unobtrusive way. This applied rhythmically is an old New Orleans trick I got from my friend who lived with John Cleary for a year or two. I have a few more that I apply..... I really needed to learn them to because I was getting yelled at and I was getting alittle fed up!

lb :thu:

 

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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Whats the difference between Jazz and Blues musicians?

 

Blues musicians play 3 chords for 1000 people,

Jazz musicians play 1000 chords for 3 people.

 

+1 :thu:

Jimmy

 

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others. Groucho

NEW BAND CHECK THEM OUT

www.steveowensandsummertime.com

www.jimmyweaver.com

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Some of the limited tricks from my trick bag.

 

Lh or Rh -use of 3and b7 (Tritones) against the dom 7 chords, This allows you to use a substitution of the Flat 5 if you like, and, makes for a lot of cool desending licks by walking them down in either hand

 

Parallel 6th licks or slides. - If I was playing in G and wanted to slide into a G7, I would use what I call a parallel 6th run which is basically decending from Bm ,Bbmb5,Am to G or (D,B)to(C#A#)to (C,A) to (B,G or G7 chord)

Usually I only slide off from the Bbmb5 really fast, my slides are more ala Micheal McDonalds It keeps You Running . :)

 

Octave slide- I slide again off the flat 3 using an octave, If I was going to do a basic blues 1-4 vamp G7-C,,G7-C,G7-C I Would start sliding off the flat 3 with and octave Bb-A G This lick works especially good when going to the relative minor and sounds really good repeating it 3 times in the relative minor while walking down the bass Ex: LH(E) RH Bb A to Eminor(G,B,E,G) - LH (D) RH Repeat lick-LH © Repeat Lick

 

There that just about emptys my bag :D

 

 

To me the biggest thing about the blues is knowing all the great signature intros,outros and turnarounds backwards and forwards . This will do more to make you sound like a blues player than anything. :thu:

 

 

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Whats the difference between Jazz and Blues musicians?

 

Blues musicians play 3 chords for 1000 people,

Jazz musicians play 1000 chords for 3 people.

 

+1 :thu:

 

but the three people are the,

 

President of Columbia University

Norman Mailer

Angelina Jolie

(w/ Zeppo Marks as the waiter)

 

and the gig pays $1000 per band member!

god knows I love straight ahead blues too!

 

lb

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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I always double the bass on boogie-woogie tunes like Caledonia but I follow the bass player's phrasing.

 

I tend to use 1-5, 1-6, 1-7, 1-6, 1-5 in the left hand only when the guitarist drops out for his solos. It's a simple pattern that adds drive and supports the soloist. I rarely play it when the guitar is also playing it. It's just too much mud.

 

When there are a lot of solos in a row, I sometimes break into a stride LH during my solos to change up the rhythmic monotony.

 

I avoid 1 and 5 in LH comping if I hear a lot of it from the bass and guitars - and I usually do. But you have to be careful with extensions on simple blues styles. You won't play a lot of 13th chords on John Lee Hooker songs.

 

Some gospel styles will work in certain blues songs such as suspending minor 2 and flat 3 chords over the tonic. 7#9 stabs and altered 5 chords will also be used frequently in Chicago-style horn band blues.

 

Listen for the harmonies that aren't being played and try to fill those gaps tastefully while remaining faithful to the blues style that you're playing.

Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer. W. C. Fields
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BlueJC

 

This is the type of playing info I just love! I will play it along with the guitarist sometimes (15 16 pattern etc). Usually, though they maybe be blowing me smoke, they say they like it. It's the bass players that kick back to me about it! So I will do the 1.5, 1.6 , 1.7 underneath but it has to be crisp and light and low in volume. If you are very careful with your time and can get the attack of the pattern lined up with the bass players attack and play crisply and defined through it, it works I find! But you have to be 'Mud' vigiliant without a doubt. Maybe I really am just a Texas twister from NY on the other hand....

lb :thu:

 

I tend to use 1-5, 1-6, 1-7, 1-6, 1-5 in the left hand only when the guitarist drops out for his solos. It's a simple pattern that adds drive and supports the soloist. I rarely play it when the guitar is also playing it. It's just too much mud.

 

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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Another one : Comp in your left hand with a wide voicing of b7 3(above b7) then extend the LH thumb down to the root and octave below then finish up with 3 b7 then b7 3 above played as double stops. So things are more open and dance in that double stop broken chord pattern but things remain sounding open using an arppegiated cordal skelton with double stops. It creates a glue that sort of ties the rhythm section and the piano and the guitar together but in an unobtrusive way.

 

:confused: I'm sure I missed something here. Please elaborate. For example, what's an arppegiated cordal skelton? BTW, I love my CP-33, now considering the CP-300... :thu:

Jim Wells

Tallahassee, FL

 

www.pureplatinumband.com

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ok, I knew that would be confusing. It was a bad choice of an analogy, but my time is limited at work so sometimes I say stuff like that!

 

( over 4 beats, a step a beat but it doesn't have to be)

 

In Key of C:

 

step 1: Bb and the E above it (fingering LH 2,5) hold it as long as possible before step 2.

 

step 2: C and octave down (using the pinky LH)

 

step 3: E and Bb ( just above the C in step 2) (LH 4, 2)

 

step 4: same Bb and E from step one..

 

It is basically a C7 but broken up into 3/7 double stops and hits the root C note only once. (so I used the skelton idea!)

 

beside being good for stretching your hand , going through it in every key which I usually do before a blues gig reminds me to use it.... it spreads the 7's and 3's out and you hit them 2 ways and only briefly touch the tonic note once.

 

I was skeptical when my friend showed me, but when I applied it on a gig it had the effect of sitting in the mix, supporting the gap in between the bass and guitars but it's never really in one place and heavy sounding! More transparant! It aint' that easy in some keys to play! Suppossedly a New Orleans thing. He showed me another old tim-ee figure thats more complex. Similiar hand strething again and rather difficult to pull off at tempo sometimes, both from Cleary suppossedly! A fill with diminished and Dom voice leading that moves from a very open rootless 7 to a first inversion 7 with Diminised and 7 half steps in between. This is played with both hands, real Americana spoo-di-odi sounding. Again, when I lay it against a guitar, it has a strange way of working and fills in but doesn't draw alot of attention but you would know if it wasn't there!

 

You know they really should support a Staff function on Musicplayer somewhere!

 

lb

 

 

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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Also you can use 3 and b7 in left hand and 9(aka 2) and 5 in right hand. So with a C7 that would be, ascending, E,Bb,D,G. Depending on the key and its position, you just alternate the intervals: b7 and 3 in left hand, 5 and 9 in right. So A7 would be, ascending, G, C#, E, B.

It gives an open transparent sound. A jazz voicing, but adds a nice tonality to blues.

Neil

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I am curious about 2 things about improvising playing blues which aren't covered in books so much.

 

1. How much do you use the natural 3rd? and where? The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 but I hear people use natural 3rd too. I can't get it to sound right.

 

2. I know that you can stay in one key for the whole progression, but if you do switch keys with each chord, how do you do it? If you are switching and in C, do you use C blues scale for C, then F blues scale for F, and later G blues scale for G? Or do you use C scale for C and G, and F for F? Or mixolydian scales? Or major pentatonics? Or what?

 

thank you

 

eric

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erikeys,

 

There are blues that a more major sounding and use the natural 3rd. In fact in a major oriented C blues, many times a country type of Blues, if you play this figure descending e,eb,d,c,a you may start to at least hear it (use of the natural 3rd - the e). And funny thing is it is a straight blues scale's first 5 notes in A. So the 6th (A), the relative minor of C and it's blues scale can also be used to get a more major thing happenning if the tune calls for it! Try fiddling with the the 6th Blues scales in a couple of keys you know over the 6th's tonic changes. That will que you into that sound! try the LH voicings without the 7 voiced first it may make it clearer to hear initially!

 

lb

I am curious about 2 things about improvising playing blues which aren't covered in books so much.

 

1. How much do you use the natural 3rd? and where? The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 but I hear people use natural 3rd too. I can't get it to sound right.

 

2. I know that you can stay in one key for the whole progression, but if you do switch keys with each chord, how do you do it? If you are switching and in C, do you use C blues scale for C, then F blues scale for F, and later G blues scale for G? Or do you use C scale for C and G, and F for F? Or mixolydian scales? Or major pentatonics? Or what?

 

thank you

 

eric

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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You know they really should support a Staff function on Musicplayer somewhere!

 

lb

 

 

Then we'd have to learn to read [ducks for cover] :D

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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erikeys,

 

There are blues that a more major sounding and use the natural 3rd. In fact in a major oriented C blues, many times a country type of Blues, if you play this figure descending e,eb,d,c,a you may start to at least hear it (use of the natural 3rd - the e). And funny thing is it is a straight blues scale's first 5 notes in A. So the 6th (A), the relative minor of C and it's blues scale can also be used to get a more major thing happenning if the tune calls for it! Try fiddling with the the 6th Blues scales in a couple of keys you know over the 6th's tonic changes. That will que you into that sound! try the LH voicings without the 7 voiced first it may make it clearer to hear initially!

 

lb

I am curious about 2 things about improvising playing blues which aren't covered in books so much.

 

1. How much do you use the natural 3rd? and where? The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 but I hear people use natural 3rd too. I can't get it to sound right.

 

2. I know that you can stay in one key for the whole progression, but if you do switch keys with each chord, how do you do it? If you are switching and in C, do you use C blues scale for C, then F blues scale for F, and later G blues scale for G? Or do you use C scale for C and G, and F for F? Or mixolydian scales? Or major pentatonics? Or what?

 

thank you

 

eric

 

In some instances I'll use the natural 6 and major 3 when soloing over the I, then switch to the b7 and b3 over the IV. Gives a nice little change, and emphasizes the chord change.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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I am curious about 2 things about improvising playing blues which aren't covered in books so much.

 

1. How much do you use the natural 3rd? and where? The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 but I hear people use natural 3rd too. I can't get it to sound right.

 

2. I know that you can stay in one key for the whole progression, but if you do switch keys with each chord, how do you do it? If you are switching and in C, do you use C blues scale for C, then F blues scale for F, and later G blues scale for G? Or do you use C scale for C and G, and F for F? Or mixolydian scales? Or major pentatonics? Or what?

 

thank you

 

eric

The blues scale comes in two flavors, or I prefer to call them two sides, a major side and a minor side, which both work over a major blues. The minor side would be the one that you have written out above. The major side uses the same scale, but is built off the note a minor third below the tonic. So, in C, the minor side is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 built on C (C Eb F F# G Bb C), and the major side is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-1 built on A (A C D D# E G A). You would use a combination of these scales, plus a C mixolydian scale, plus any other altered notes that sound good to you, over a C blues, particularly over the I and IV chords, but they work just fine over the V too.

 

To take this a little further than I probably should, once you are comfortable with each side of the blues scale, you can take it to the next level. One can really combine the two different sides of the blues scale into one master blues scale, 1, 2, b3, 3, 4, b5, 5, 6, b7,1. You can then add one more note to account for the V - 1, 2, b3, 3, 4, b5, 5, 6, b7, 7, 1. Now you'll notice there are 2 notes left from the chromatic scale, b2 and b6 - they make for great passing notes too, 2, b2, 1 for example, or 5, b6, 6.

A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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erikeys,

 

Try this figure also in a rolling fashion.

 

ascending d,eb,e,g then play it again - as 8th notes or 16th notes. Over a C7 chord. . .

 

lb

 

 CP-50, YC 73,  FP-80, PX5-S, NE-5d61, Kurzweil SP6, XK-3, CX-3, Hammond XK-3, Yamaha YUX Upright, '66 B3/Leslie 145/122

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