12-Year-Old Blues Player

Watch my 12-year-old student tear up a classic blues tune. Notice how he throws in riffs, kicks, an improvised solo, and even a key change along the way without reading music (the music on the stand is a different piece).  Now, some would assume this kid is exceptionally gifted or that his teacher is a miracle worker.  As much as flattery is hard to deny, I insist that talent is overrated when it comes to playing or teaching creatively. My student is a well-rounded regular kid with normal musical aptitude and a lot of other interests as his uniform attests (soccer practice follows the lesson). What he does have on his side however is: – A genuine love for playing the piano – A more or less regular practice routine – Parents who support his interest in a variety of musical styles – Parents who embrace my teaching philosophy, which … Read more…

Trading 4’s With the Blues

With it’s roots in the lamentations of slaves, the lyrics and tone of American blues genre is often deliberately grim, “Woke up this morning, blues was fallin’ all around…”  However the degree of “bluesiness” can be regulated by the number of “blue” notes the improvising musician chooses to employ.   In previous posts, I discussed the pentatonic and bright blues scales as collections of “fallback” notes for improvisation.  Here are the formulas for review: Pentatonic Scale Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Bright Blues Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 3, 5 and 6 Here’s how they work out in the key of G: G Major Pentatonic Scale = G  A  B  D  E  G (G major scale minus C and F#) G Bright Blues Scale = G  A  Bb  B  D  E  G (pentatonic plus flat 3rd) A stock boogie bass line on the blues progression … Read more…

Twelve Bars for Ten Fingers

One of the most popular chord progressions in American music is the 12-bar blues. Like a coloring book, it provides an outline or picture frame for 10 (or less) fingers to fill with colorful chords and melodies.  There’s nothing quite like using this standard to teach the three primary chords and encourage creativity. This is definitely a two-pronged assignment worth incorporating into your curriculum. Usually, I’m in a hurry to get the potential improvisers on board so I tend to throw them into the 12-bar blues as soon as possible using this 12-bar blues “cheat sheet”. I begin (regardless of age or experience) by coaxing them to play along with me accompanied by a Clavinova style, the iReal b “band” or at least a metronome.  Here are specific steps I use to get them comfortable with the pattern. 1) Ask the improviser to choose one hand or both (depending on ability) … Read more…

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