Teaching Left-Hand Piano Patterns with the Blues

This article about teaching left-hand piano patterns was written by Joanna Shiel. Joanna is a contemporary piano teacher with a focus on blues, jazz and world music styles. She is currently living in Bulgaria, where she runs her piano studio online. Her dessert of the month is fig ice cream. You can learn more about Joanna’s studio at theonlinepianoschool.com.

Left-hand patterns are a crucial component of any piano student’s development, but they’re not always the most exciting thing to learn. For a new, energising way to explore unique left-hand patterns with your piano students, try teaching the blues!

If we want our piano students to compose or arrange music, play lead sheets with ease or improvise like a pro, they need to be familiar with lots and lots of different left-hand patterns.

But simply rehashing what they see in method books can get old. You can see it in your students – first, their eyes glaze over, then their creative spark begins to flicker or even fizzles out altogether.

Try teaching your students these 3 easy left-hand blues piano patterns to restore that twinkle in their eyes.

Getting Into the Groove

One of the trickiest things about the blues for some piano learners is getting into the swing mindset. You might find this issue with piano students who have only ever been exposed to classical repertoire. Sometimes, you have students that might struggle to see the piano in a more percussive way.

To help your piano students get into the groove, try including blues music in their listening assignments before teaching these left-hand patterns. The more they internalise the rhythms, melodies and structural form, the more that feeling will come out in their playing.

Even if your students are blues masters, it’s an important first step to assign listening before we start with left-hand patterns.

Note: Underneath each of the following written examples, you’ll see the degree of the scale written to help you teach the formula of the pattern. Each of these patterns can be adapted to varying skill levels.

LH Blues Pattern No. 1: Walking Bass

Walking bass is when your left-hand plays the individual chord tones on the beat – literally walking up the piano and back down.

What It Sounds like

What It Looks Like

teaching left hand piano patterns

Teaching the Basics

  • Have your student play as low as they can on the piano ( but not beyond low C nor above middle C)
  • Practise chord tones 1, 3, and 5 of each melodic chord ascending then descending
  • Start with crotchets (quarter notes) on the beat
  • Be sure to play the root note of the new chord whenever there is a chord change
  • Find a 12-bar blues in iReal Pro or on YouTube to practise along with

Level up!

If your student is ready for more of a challenge, there are several things they can try:

  • Add passing notes (the notes between chord tones) in your walking bass pattern.
    • Always play a chord tone after a passing note
    • Chromatic passing notes sound great!
  • Change the rhythm – add dotted notes or swing rhythms.
  • Increase the tempo of your backing track – getting your student to think quickly makes this much more fun!
  • Transpose to different keys to become a master of primary chords

For more advanced tips on teaching the walking bass left-hand piano pattern, check out this fantastic YouTube tutorial by Aimee Noite Music.

LH Blues Pattern No. 2: Boogie Woogie

The boogie-woogie blues style is a uniquely piano blues style and is perfect for students to play around with. This bass pattern is especially percussive, really driving the song forward.

While the swing feel is featured throughout blues music, it is especially crucial to the boogie-woogie style

What It Sounds Like

What It Looks Like

teaching left hand piano patterns

Teaching the Basics

When teaching the boogie-woogie LH piano pattern, it can be played quickly or slowly as long as it’s a swing rhythm. Experiment with the swing – it can be a light swing, something more moderate or a strong swing according to your student’s taste.

Have your student play the root and 5th for 2 quavers (eighth notes) on beats 1 and 3, and switch to the root and 6th on beats 2 and 4.

If they struggle with the rhythm in this example, try teaching the pattern first using all quavers (eighth notes) before incorporating the ties.

Level up!

Here are some more advanced boogie-woogie styles for your student to try. Make sure to play these in the primary chords of C major before trying other major keys.

teaching left hand piano patterns

To start putting these left-hand patterns to good use, try some basic improvisation. You can play the RH while your student works on the left-hand piano pattern, then swap places. This is a great way to see if your student can keep a steady pulse in the left hand while listening to a different rhythm in the left.

LH Blues Pattern No. 3: Simplified Stride

The stride blues pattern is a type of jump bass where the left-hand alternates between a lower bass note on beats 1 and 3 and the rest of the chord above that on beats 2 and 4.

What It Sounds Like

What It Looks Like

teaching left hand piano patterns

Teaching the Basics

Have your student play evenly on crotchets (quarter notes).

If the chord lasts for the whole bar, it’s best to invert it on beat 3 (as shown in the example above) rather than play root position each time.

Level up!

Stride is already one of the most challenging piano styles, so if your student finds this pattern easy, well done! To make it even more challenging:

  • Separate the bass note and harmony notes by jumping across a wider range.
  • Transpose into other keys
  • Speed it up!

Want to put these left-hand patterns to good use? Learn more about how to inspire students to compose and improvise on Nicola’s hub page devoted entirely to Teaching Creative Skills.

What other left-hand patterns do you like to teach your piano students?

Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Teaching Left-Hand Piano Patterns with the Blues”

  1. Thank you, Joanna, for writing this article this month, where the focus has been on how to incorporate blues styles into lessons. I am learning a lot about the subject, thanks to Nicola, and now you too!


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