Piano Blues Scales

Piano blues scales as we know them were probably an accident.The blues has a set of rules that are unique to it. These can be understood in terms of traditional music theory. Whether or not somebody consciously sat down to formulate a formal "theory of the blues" is open to question.

This explanation of piano blues scales is going to be really basic. I will try to explain the concept of scales in a way so that someone who knows little or nothing about music can understand it.

To understand what a piano blues scales is you first need to understand what "pitch" is. I'll be making some gross oversimplifications here, but this is not a course in acoustophysics.

Basically pitch is how "high" or "low" a tone sounds to us. In a piano, the sound is produced by a hammer striking a string that is fixed at both ends. Whether a pitch is "high" or "low" depends on the rate of vibration.

High number of vibrations per second = "high" sound. Low number of vibrations per second = "low" sound.

Whether the string vibrates fast or slow is determined by its length. Look at a piano and you will see that the longer strings correspond to the lower notes. Conversely, the shorter strings correspond with the higher notes.

So what is a scale? It is simply a series of pitches that follow each other in some kind of preset pattern. It starts at a certain pitch and then ascends to another pitch. The pitch it ascends to vibrates at exactly twice the rate of the first one.

In Western Music the difference in pitch between this two notes is called an "octave".

This is because on a piano keyboard there a total of eight notes (thus "octo") in this series.

It is possible to split an octave into more that eight parts. This is not commonly done in Western Music. Since the piano is a fixed pitch instrument, the notes in between the octaves cannot be changed.

Notes an octave apart are called by the same name. A long time ago some theorist decided that we perceived notes an octave apart as essentially the same pitch. So this is why there is more than one "C" on the piano keyboard, if you were wondering.

Now, go to a piano or keyboard and play a white note. Now play the next white note above that but make sure there is a black note in between them. The difference in pitch between these two notes is called a "whole step".

Whole steps can occur between two white notes, two black notes, or between a black and white note.

Now, go to your piano or keyboard, hit a note and then hit the note right next to it. Make sure there are no notes in between. The difference in pitch between these two notes is called a "half step".

Half steps can occur between a white note and a black note, or between two white notes.

Notice that the half step, when both notes are played together, sounds "closer together" than the whole step.

In Western Music, scales are made up of various combinations of half steps and whole steps.

The primary granddaddy scale of them all, the matrix that everything else is based on in one way or another, is the Major scale.

The Major scale consists of this sequence: whole step/whole step/half step/whole step/whole step/whole step/half step.

So a "C" major scale would be like this:

C whole step to D whole step to E half step to F whole step to G whole step to A whole step to B half step to C. Just find middle C (or any C) on the piano and play each white key one after the other up to the next C, and you will automatically get this pattern.

Start on any note on the piano, white or black, follow the above pattern and you will get a Major scale. Whether or not that scale is an "A" Major scale or a "D sharp" Major scale depends on what note you start it on.

The keyboard is deliberately set up to make this possible. This system is part of what makes Western Music sound like "Western Music".

Other music systems such as the Oriental and Indian systems are not set up like this.

So what are piano blues scales? The Major blues scale has this pattern:

C whole step to D half step to D# half step to E half step and a whole step to G whole step to A whole step and a half step to C.

The other blues scale is the Minor scale. It has this pattern:

C whole step and a half step to D# whole step to F half step to F# half step to G whole step and a half step to A# whole step to C.

So now you know what piano blues scales are and have some understanding of it. Learning how to use these to make music can be a lifetime's work. Much more on this on the pages to follow.

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