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I've been playing piano for about a year now and have been playing guitar (with an emphasis on blues improvisation) for a number of years. I've only just put the two together, though, attempting to play a bit of blues piano, by which I mean:

- Playing ANY kind of 1-4-5 blues shuffle in the left hand
- Improvising ANYTHING with the right hand
- Sticking to the C blues scale for the time being

I've never found any single task in music more challenging. I've found I have ZERO natural capacity for keeping the 1-4-5 shuffle going (no matter how simple) while doing anything improvised with the right hand.

Bear in mind I have no trouble with general two-handed piano playing; I routinely play the same chords, arpeggios and countermelodies with both hands that an intermediate player is used to. The difference is that I spent a lot of time practicing these passages, and the two hands are generally reinforcing each other (melodies over chords, etc.). But blues is, of course, all about spontaneity and syncopation. The two hands are meant to sound separate and free from one another.

Obviously I don't expect to get even remotely good at this "quickly", but I truly have zero ability to keep the 1-4-5 going if the right hand is doing anything even remotely irregular (even just playing a single note in an improvised rhythm). I feel like I can't even take a coherent first step, and thus have no idea where to begin.

Any advice? Thanks!

Last edited by amv256; 02/17/15 03:41 AM.
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Try practicing the parts reversed. The bass with the right and treble with the left. Then switch back and see if that helps. And while it's generally called "hand-independence", I've found it's useful to think of it as the hands working together. It's a mindset thing, "you don't have 2 hands with five fingers, you've got 1 hand with 10 fingers".

Also, it's classical, but J.S. Bach's Two-Part/Three-Part inventions are designed, among other things, with "hand-independence" in mind.


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Hey AMV, I learned by striking the C & G twice at the same time with the LH pinky and index, then striking the C & A twice at the same time with the pinky and thumb while playing the first 4 tones to Chattanooga Choo Choo (Follow me boys). Did it over and over until playing the melody on and off the beat became automatic. You could also play single tones pretty much for the same effect CGCA CGCA / pinky index pinky thumb ... pinky index pinky thumb.

You'll get it and probably take you less time than it took me.


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Shuffle rhythms are quite difficult to learn for Left Hand while playing with the Right Hand. It took me years to finally get really smooth with a LH shuffle while playing freely with the right hand.

I start students with a simpler rhythm for the left hand when doing a solo w/the right hand...a non-shuffle rhythm, or a simple chord on each beat.

If you must do a shuffle, start with simply playing a chord with the RH on beat #1 when playing a shuffle w/left hand.

Also, go real slow...there are plenty of examples of slow Blues with a shuffle rhythm.

And people think playing Blues is simple laugh

ps...you also might try playing from a simple grade 2 or so book that has simplified Classical repertoire. From your post, you are playing much of the same thing with both hands (chords, arpeggios) so there is not a lot of true hand independence going on. Find a book you can easily play that has different things for each hand, not similar. Or find a teacher, not necessarily a pop teacher, who can help you build the hand independence.


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Best thing you can do:

Buy a copy of Tim Richards' "Improvising Blues Piano", and start working through it.

It's got plenty of left-hand patterns for you to memorize (and that's the only way to achieve "hand independence", IMHO). And lots of ideas for RH improvisation. It starts out easy, and ends really, really hard.

"Shuffle" is ambiguous. Many people use it to mean "triplet rhythm" -- 2 quanta on the first note, 1 quantum on the second note. Richards calls that "swing".

But (IMHO) real shuffle isn't quite that uneven. The first note is longer than the second, but not twice as long. And it's not easy to get right.

. Charles


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Funny, I was working on this last night too. No, it's not easy. I'd crash and start slower. And crash and start slower yet. Until I could get what had to be the slowest stride ever. smile
Then I quit and went back to 8s, and chords. I'll be back at it tonight.


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I wouldn't even try and improvise. First make sure your LH pattern is as automatic, as second-nature as you can get it then try and work in an arranged RH motif, something of your own or a borrowed idea like Rerun's Chatanooga. Try and build up a library of different RH rhythms and learn to accommodate each one with your LH riff.

I see 'independence' as a false goal. Instead, I think the idea is to build a collection of tricks, ideas that you can link, sequence and interchange.

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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen


"Shuffle" is ambiguous. Many people use it to mean "triplet rhythm" -- 2 quanta on the first note, 1 quantum on the second note. Richards calls that "swing".
. Charles


Although the word Shuffle" is ambiguous, professional Blues musicians do call it a Shuffle.

I have been playing Blues and Boogie-Woogie professionally since the early 1970's with many bands and people... and if you want anything that resembles a shuffle from the band, you call it a "shuffle", especially when communicating with the drummer.

"Swing" is much more loose and ambiguous a term.

The band leader will say, "This is a shuffle in G, quick four, take it from the five..."

Not, "This is a swing in G...."

Last edited by rocket88; 02/17/15 09:19 PM. Reason: clarity

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I think there are some great comments in here already. If you post a video/recording, I can offer specific feedback. But I think you've got a pretty good start here.

One thing I will say: if you think in terms of scales, ingrain the "feel" of the scale, so you can start anywhere inside it and go any direction. If you think in terms of chords, block them and ingrain the feel of the inversions so your hand is always in a comfortable place.


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I had bad time also with similar situations . I still have with new songs.
My teacher saw that and brought with Dave Franks "Breakthrough To Improv - The Secrets of Improvisation".
It is a small book but had an excercise which had at the left a sequence of seventh cords and at the right some standard riffs on Cm scale (i didn't new the scale at that time {:-0) ) .
It was imposible to be to keep that C7-F7-C7-C7-F7-F7-C7-C7-G7-F7-C7 correctly at the bit and play the riffs at the right.As soon as the right hand started the left one stalled .
Dave FRank new that is happening, and proposed (in the book ) something simple: Keep playing those cords until they are second nature at the left hand.Then the right hand impro will just happen .

He proposed that after left hand is keeping the cords in time without any need of attention,to start some scale up and down at the right hand and be carefull on timing . After that start the riffs at specific order.
After all these , i could just impro (no much but was improvisation) and never loose timing or switch between riffs and impro.


It needs some time.



Last edited by George Gk; 02/18/15 05:35 AM.
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Hey AMV,

I'd also add that in the beginning, try giving that LH shuffle a good bounce rather than playing it flat ... it may give those ears/fingers a leg up on placing your RH melody/chords on and off the beat of that motor running:

Chug ga / Chug ga / Chug ga / ... not unlike an old live steam locomotive rolling outa town.


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Originally Posted by amv256
I've been playing piano for about a year now and have been playing guitar (with an emphasis on blues improvisation) for a number of years. I've only just put the two together, though, attempting to play a bit of blues piano, by which I mean:

- Playing ANY kind of 1-4-5 blues shuffle in the left hand
- Improvising ANYTHING with the right hand
- Sticking to the C blues scale for the time being
...I've found I have ZERO natural capacity for keeping the 1-4-5 shuffle going (no matter how simple) while doing anything improvised with the right hand.



amv,I have been doing precisely this - teach the beginners to play the blues on piano (I got experience by playing together with Memphis Slim). A few tips:

The left hand

Don't play shuffle time in left hand straight away - it's just difficult for connection both hands .Start with â„–1; and if it is difficult to change in time the top note, you can play just a fifths - as the familiar for you power fifths.Then gradually proceed in accordance with the specified order.

The right hand


.
Quote
doing anything improvised with the right hand..
.
.
Quote
..But blues is, of course, all about spontaneity and syncopation...

You are not playing "something" , You have to play riffs that you own stylistically and technically. The easiest method of starting - choose two bars riff, and repeat with comping in left hand - as in â„– 4.
Of course you need for real improvisation more than just one riff.

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What is played is unimportant when improvising; In reality, the brain is attempting to perform separate tasks simultaneously. The difficulty of this must not be underestimated. Essentially, it is similar to what a drummer has to learn to accomplish. Johnny Cash nailed it when he sang "Get Rythm". You'll know it when you feel it and it will improve all of your playing.

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Originally Posted by krzyzowski
What is played is unimportant when improvising;

This is one of the most earth-shattering statements about the jazz that I've ever heard!

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Originally Posted by rocket88

. . . .
And people think playing Blues is simple laugh
. . .


+1.

I thought that, until I listened to some of the Smithsonian "classic blues" recordings, and realized just how difficult the music was, and how skilled the players were.

"Good enough for jazz" -- what a put-down!<g>

. Charles


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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by rocket88

. . . .
And people think playing Blues is simple laugh
. . .


+1.

I thought that, until I listened to some of the Smithsonian "classic blues" recordings, and realized just how difficult the music was, and how skilled the players were.

"Good enough for jazz" -- what a put-down!<g>

. Charles


Amen to that! Its like gourmet cooking...the difference between a frozen dinner and a gourmet dinner of the same meal is not very much...basically the same ingredients, etc.

But what a difference the nuance makes, plus the rhythms...


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What kind of blues?

New Orleans Blues? Boogie Woogie? Shuffle? Chicago Blues?
Stride Blues? Jazz Swing Blues?

Your question is just the tip of the ice berg.

My advice is to pick a style of blues that you like, and start imitating the left hand at first.

Learn the left hand accompaniment patterns until you can play them in your sleep.

Slowly start adding right hand ideas.

Start with just whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, then 8th notes, then eventually triplets, 16th notes, and then practice riffs that use all these things.

Practice all this against the LH pattern, and use a metronome if you have to.

GO VERY SLOWLY AT FIRST.


Eventually you can improvise, but not until you've locked in some of the patterns in both hands.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by Tony Romo; 02/19/15 02:42 AM.
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I think the OP is missing the fundamental. To achieve the ability to improvise, first you have to study a lot and, as someone said before, learn A LOT of patterns, make them second nature and only then...you'll find yourself improvising one day. We all improvise in our lifes, but it takes years!!
So for some time there's no such thing as improvisation. There are lots of LH patterns and scales and licks and styles that you have to assimilate.
Of course it's difficult. But, if you take it by chunks you can make it easier.
My choice has been starting with something calmed, Blues Prelude by Gillock. The entire book is great.


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