Improvisation is a major part of blues music, regardless of instrument.
It is also one of the ones that tend to fluster most beginning and intermediate blues players. In many cases,
musicians tend to view improvisation as a very difficult aspect of playing this style of music. Overall, this
is an extreme exaggeration.
Blues piano improvisation is not very difficult if you approach it from the correct mind set. You do not need
extensive knowledge of theory or experience to be a decent improviser.
Most blues songs use some sort of chord progression based off the 12 bar blues format. This chord progression is
based around the I, IV and V chords, so most scales and modes can be played over top of it and sound like they fit.
For the most part, any blues musician can improvise over almost any song using the minor pentatonic (1, b3, 4, 5,
b7) or blues (1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7) scales.
Other scales can be used, but most blues improvisation tends to use one or the other. Before you start blues
piano improvisation, you do need to know how to play these scales
without thinking much about it. The key of A is fairly common in blues music, so these scales should not be
difficult since they are both very similar to the A minor scale.
The aspect of improvisation that tends to fluster people the most is actually picking the notes when playing. It
is a valid method of improvisation, but it is not the only method of playing. Instead, many blues improvisers have
a few musical phrases, usually at least a bar long, that they use.
In most cases, they are stringing together these musical phrases rather
than individual notes. In a four bar section of a song, they might play over thirty notes, but in their mind,
they played four phrases.
Improvising is much easier when you are not trying to figure out what note you are playing continuously. If you
watch a blues improviser perform a few times and pay close attention, you can often pick out all of their basic
Having some sort of fall back option is a good idea during blues piano improvisation. A fall
back option is basically something you can play without thinking too much about it. If you ever get stuck or need
time to think, you throw out your fall back option to give yourself time.
The exact nature of the fall back option can vary. You can use a musical phrase you know very well, which
usually should fit into almost any improvisation part. Another option is to use a long sustained note.
This is even easier than trying to play an entire phrase and might even sound better in some cases. However,
long sustained notes on piano do not always work very well, so you most likely do not want to rely on it as your
Sometimes you are going to make mistakes when improvising. The worst thing you can do is get flustered or call
attention to your mistakes. You just need to ignore any mistakes and move on. In many cases, the audience is not
going to notice the mistake at all.
If they do notice it, they are most likely going to quickly forget it occurred. If you keep playing as nothing
unusual happened, the audience is going to ignore any small errors or inconsistencies you make.
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