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You Can Play The Blues on the Piano. Really.

At least once a year I used to bring a keyboard into the classroom and give students an opportunity to play it.  I  did this with everyone, 3 to 13 year olds.  I also invited their teachers to give it a try and love to see the look on their faces when they discover that they can do it too.

Wondering how this is possible with people who've never played the piano?  Well, it turns out that if you play only the black keys, you're playing a blues scale in Eb (E Flat). Does that sound scary?  No worries because one of my missions in life is to take the mystery out of stuff like this.

If I play the chords for blues in Eb and then anyone can play a solo that sounds cool by playing only the black keys.  Really.

Even 3 year olds can do it.
Here's how it works:
Let's start with something most of you will have heard of, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.  This is the template for what's called a major scale.  From do to do is 8 notes or an octave.

An octopus has 8 legs, an octagon has 8 sides and an octave has 8 notes.  The month of October used to be the 8th month until during the ancient Roman Empire they added July for Julius Caesar and August for the Emperor Augustus.
Basic blues chords are based on the 1st, 4th and 5th note in a major scale.  Here are the notes of a C major scale:
2 3 4  5 6 7 8
The "1" is C, "4" is F and the "5" is G.  Each of these notes is the foundation or what's called the root of a chord.  A chord is a group of notes in a specific pattern.
A blues scale is also called a pentatonic scale which sounds like something you need to take antibiotics for, "Hey Janet, why weren't you at school today?....Oh man, I was home sick with a pentatonic scale!" "Penta" is 5 (think pentagon) and a pentatonic scale has 5 notes.
The pentatonic or blues scale in Eb is as follows: Eb Gb Ab Bb Db  An Eb Major scale has the following notes: Eb F G Ab Bb C Db Eb. If I play an Eb (the 1), Ab (the 4) and Bb (the 5) chord someone can create a perfect solo using the notes in the Eb pentatonic scale.
Did your brain just shut down?
No problem, I've attached an mp3 of me playing blues in Eb so you can just try it for yourself.  Let it play through some speakers or load it on to your iPod and try playing along on the black keys of a piano or electronic keyboard.  Don't own a piano or keyboard?  You can download keyboard apps on to your iPad (there's a cool one for free called "Grand Piano").  Don't have an iPad? Go on a field trip to a music store and try it out there.

Don't worry, you can't make a mistake if you only play the black keys.  The worst thing that can happen is that you'll create a cacophony of piano sound.  No one will die or even get a little sick. Remember that we call it "playing music" because it's supposed to be fun.  Otherwise we'd call it "working music" or "suffering music".


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