In this article we’ll look at a very important blues piano tip – displacing the beat. Actually, this is not just a blues piano tip but a general piano tip because it can be applied to all types of music, as well as music composition. “Displacing the beat” refers to taking a musical lick or phrase and moving it around, starting it in different parts of the measure. This is an excellent thing to incorporate into your practice because it gets you thinking rhythmically and gets you focused on rhythmic precision. This is an excellent blues piano tip because a big part of blues playing revolves around using a simple melodic idea with various rhythmic treatments.
Step 1: The Lick
Let’s take a very simple blues phrase that we will play with our right hand over a 12-bar blues in the key of F. Be sure that you can play it through the entire form in time with your metronome. (Playing with the metronome is a BIG piece of this type of practice, so make sure to use it).
Step 2: Move the Phrase to Beat 2
Now we’re going to move this phrase – displace the beat – by one full beat. We’re going to take the same right hand phrase and, instead of starting it on beat 1, we’re going to start it on beat 2.
Again, be sure that you can play this with both hands at the same time and with your metronome. Don’t move on to the next step until you’ve mastered each one. Also practice moving between starting the phrase on beat 1 and beat 2 until you are able to do so easily, without mistake, alternating between either one on command.
Step 3: Move the Phrase to Beat 3 and Beat 4
Using your metronome and playing through the entire blues form, now practice and master playing the phrase by starting on beat 3.
And now… ditto for beat 4:
Let’s stop for one moment and recap this blues piano tip: in order to score an A+ on this idea of displacing the beat, you should be able to play through the entire form with two hands, with your metronome, and start the phrase on beat 1, beat 2, beat 3, or beat 4 at will. That is considered mastery.
And then, you’re done, right? Well… not quite.
Step 4: The “Off” Beats
If you can start this phrase – or any phrase – on the downbeats (beats 1, 2, 3, and 4) then you can start the phrase on the off-beats (or upbeats), which is the “and” of beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. These should be practiced in the same way that you worked through the above steps. Remember to master one rhythmic figure before moving on to the next. Mastery means being able to move through each rhythmic figure at will, without mistake.