Bill Hilton

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Last week I explained that playing blues in keys that are normally considered more difficult (such as E, A and D) can actually be easier than playing blues in C. This is because there are fewer black notes in the basic blues scales of the more ‘difficult’ keys than in the blues scale of C.

However, it’s important to remember that playing in a different key will affect which crush notes you play. Crush notes are usually a slide from a black note to a white note. You can slide from white to black, or white to white, but this is a bit more unusual – crush notes are as much of a rhythmic effect as a melodic one and it’s hard to get an ‘edgy’ sound when crushing up from white to black.

In the key of C, I tend to crush from notes in the blues scale to notes in the pentatonic scale, to make what I call an extended blues scale. However, with a key with fewer black notes in the blues scale, such as the keys I mentioned last week, it’s necessary to change things around a little bit.

It’s not too difficult to do this, because you can actually crush from notes that are not in either of the scales that you’re focusing on. For example, when playing in E I will often use D sharp as a crush note. Even though D sharp is a major seventh in E and normally wouldn’t work when playing blues — it sounds a little too jazzy – it works as a crush note because people will only hear the E.

Remember that blues in E shouldn’t be simply a transposition of blues in C. Different patterns and licks will fall under your hands, and licks that work in one key might not work in another.

The best way to get used to playing the blues in any key is to practise. Have a go and see what different sounds you can come up with using different crush notes.

If you’re interested in learning more about blues, jazz or pop piano, you might be interested in my book, How to Really Play the Piano, which teaches improvisation through the medium of 12-bar blues and has loads of information on chords and harmony.

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