In this article we'll discuss some easy blues piano practice exercises. These practice exercises will help you get more familiar with the blues form and the individual chords that make up the 12-bar blues structure. As you probably know, the blues form is used in jazz, rock, country, and well... blues music. Generally speaking, the chords are the same in any genre - it's the feel that determines whether the blues form is being used as a jazz tune (characterized by swing) or a blues-rock tune (characterized by a shuffle feel). Be sure to practice these exercises in a variety of different keys so that you feel comfortable transposing.
In order to get started we need to understand that, in any blues form, we are primarily concerned with three chords - the I, IV, and V chords. All three of these chords are played as dominant chords. We'll use the key of F for our examples, meaning that we're looking at F7, Bb7, and C7 chords.
In a moment we'll look at some specific comping exercises over these chords. But it's also important to know how we're thinking about these three chords. In our examples, we'll be thinking of mixolydian chord scales. That means for each chord (F7, Bb7, and C7) we're thinking of the corresponding chord scales as mixolydian scales (i.e., F mixolydian, Bb mixolydian, and C mixolydian). Mixolydian scales are simply major scales with flatted-7ths.
Now let's look at some simple triad shapes that can be extracted from each chord.
These triads can be thought of as "chords within chords." Notice that each of these triad shapes are constructed using only notes from the chord scale of each chord. For example, the three triad shapes for F7 are created using only notes from the F mixolydian scale. Ditto for the Bb7 and C7 chords. Practice being able to play back and forth through these triad shapes in time with your metronome.
Now that we understand the three triad shapes per each chord, we want to practice playing them in time with the blues form. Practice isolating one chord change at a time, working with a simple rhythm (like the one below). For example, using your metronome, practice playing these three triad shapes over and over again over F7. Then do the same over Bb7. And then, of course, C7. Once you are able to competently play through each chord, practice playing these triad shapes as a groove over the entire blues form.
A great practice idea is to alternate between a rock feel (playing everything "straight," or squarely on the beat, and playing the groove with a swing feel). For more practice material alternating between these groove feels, and for some great play-along practice tracks, check out our complete blues lesson on this topic.