How To Form Blues Chords
Playing the piano really becomes fun, when you learn how to build your own chords. You can accompany yourself singing a bluesey song such as “Jelly Roll Blues”, or accompany another vocalist on a folksey tune like “Banks of the Ohio”, which also uses the Blues Chords.
You can play Blues Chords on Piano or Guitar. Blues Chords are the easiest chords to learn, because there are just three basic Blues Chords.
The blues chordal structure characteristically uses three basic chords which are built on I, IV and V of the scale. Roman numerals are often used in Blues Music to define the first degree, the fourth degree, and the fifth degree of any scale. In fact, Classical Music, Jazz, and Pop Music also use this Roman numerical system to talk about chords. Usually, the name of the Chord is written down on the music for you to see, but sometimes, just the Roman numerals are used: I, IV, V.
The theoretical terms for these degrees of the scale are:
I – Primary; IV – Subdominant; V – Dominant.
In C major, the Tonic Chord, or Chord I means that you will build your chord on the First Degree of the Scale. This is the Primary Note, note C, which begins the scale of C Major. The C Major Chord will begin with C. On top of that, you will build the 3rd and 5th Degree notes, which are E and G. The full C Major Chord which you will have built will have the notes C,E,G.
The Subdominant Chord, Chord IV, is built on the 4th degree of the scale. This will begin on F if your song is in C major. F is the 4th degree of the scale of C, so this note forms the root, the bottom or main note of the IV Chord on F. Above F you will build notes A and C to form a Major Chord on F. Your full Chord on F, being the Subdominant or IV Chord in C Major will read: F, A, C.
The V Chord, the Dominant of the Key, is begun on the 5th degree of the scale. In C Major, this means that your bottom note, or root note of Chord V will be G, because that is the 5th note of the scale of C Major. Your G Major Chord, being Chord V of the Scale of C Major, will read: G, B, D.
So there you have the three basic Blues Chords in C Major: Chords built on C, F, and G.
You can, of course, build chords on any note of the piano. You can also build chords in any Key, which will fit with the sharps and flats which that key signature has.
Sometimes, even in blues music, another chord may be substituted for the standard one, but generally speaking, you can ‘learn to play the blues’ by using just these chords formed on the 1st, 4th, and 5th degree of the scale.
We have chosen the Key of C Major to illustrate how to build your own blues chords, because, as you will remember, C Major is the only Major key which has NO SHARPS OR FLATS. This is the easiest of keys to learn, because it uses all white notes of the keyboard. C Major has a relative minor, A Minor, which also has a key signature with no sharps or flats, but for now, until you get familiar with how Minor Keys work, we will work only in the major Key of C major.
So – now get some practice in forming your blues chords on piano, in the Key of C Major.
To Increase Your Knowledge of the Keys, Play Scales in Different Keys Every Day: If your understanding of keys and their key signatures is growing, then you will be able to make chords in those keys which you have learned. Playing scales in the different keys, with their different key signatures, is really the best way for you to become familiar with all the different keys.
Chords Chart of Other Combinations: These Chords are not so common in Blues Music, but will often see the following more obscure chords in Jazz. Sometimes Popular, Folk or Church Music will use these chords also:
maj. – Major: 1,3,5
min. – Minor: 1,b3,5
dim. – Diminished: 1,b3,5
aug. – Augmented: 1,3,#5
maj7 – Major 7th: 1,3,5,7
dom7 – Dominant 7th: 1,3,5,b7
min7 – Minor 7th: 1,b3,5,b7
min7b5 – Minor 7b5: 1,b3,b5,b7
aug7 – Augmented 7th: 1,3,#5,b7
7sus4: 1,4,5,b7 (‘sus’ means a suspended note: the 4th in this case)
dim7 – Diminished 7th: 1,b3,b5,bb7
maj6 – Major 6th: 1,3,5,6
maj9 – Major with added 9th: 1,3,5,9, or C,E,G,D. sometimes this is written as Cadd9, meaning add 9th note D above the chord of C Major.
min6 – Minor 6th: 1,b3,5,6
I really do recommend Will Barrow’s DVDs to fast-track your ability to play the Blues. Actually, whether you want to play Folk, or Church, or Pop music, seeing Will’s visuals and hearing his sound tracks does make learning to play those chords a lot easier.
Whatever you do, enjoy your piano practice. Cheerio for now,
Kind regards, Bianca Tremelo.