Boogie Woogie Left Hand

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For piano players, the boogie woogie left hand is the unsung hero of the boogie woogie and blues solo piano style of playing. While the left hand is perhaps not the flashiest or sexiest part of what the listener hears (that’s usually reserved for the right hand), the left hand has an incredibly important and challenging role to play. It creates the canvas upon which all the right hand pyrotechnics are boldly painted. In this article we’ll build a challenging boogie woogie left hand accompaniment in phases which will allow you to practice in a step-by-step manner and master this left hand style. All examples are shown over a C7 harmony, but remember to work these bass lines through all 3 chords (I, IV, V) of the 12-bar blues form.

STEP 1: Simple Quarter Notes

The real essence of the boogie woogie left hand is its consistency and steadiness. While notes and the occasional syncopated rhythm are important, the real success of the boogie woogie left hand is being able to keep it going in a steady, in-the-groove, driving pulse. So we start with quarter notes which primarily outline the chord tones. The focus in practicing this should be to maintain rhythmic accuracy as much as possible – which means use your metronome!

boogie woogie left hand 1

 

STEP 2: Adding Some 8th Notes

Since we’re working towards a boogie woogie left hand bass line consisting entirely of 8th notes, this step aims to add in some of those 8th note rhythms. Make sure you’re using the fingering indicated, or at least a fingering that works for you and will be used each time you play the bass line. And continue to use your metronome!

boogie woogie left hand 2

 

STEP 3: Using An All-8th-Note Bass Line

After working through steps 1 and 2 you should be starting to build up some muscle memory in your left hand for these bass lines. Although we’re going to change the rhythmic subdivision in this step (from mostly quarter notes to all 8th notes), we’re still building the bass line around the same notes – the chord tones. Now that we’re using all 8th notes, it’s important that you play them with that triplet-based, shuffle-feel that is characteristic of boogie woogie playing. So although the notation looks like this:

boogie woogie left hand 3

We’re going to play it as if it were written like this:

boogie woogie left hand 4

STEP 4: The Classic Boogie Woogie Left Hand Bass Line

This is the grandaddy of boogie woogie bass lines and it is a challenging little bugger. Like so many things at the piano the first course of attack is to be able to play this with your left hand alone. Note that the fingering is challenging as your hand is constantly in a spread shape and moving up and down the chord tones. With the exceptions of some minor liberties, this is the fingering that most pianists end up using.

boogie woogie left hand 6

Although we do not want to sacrifice quality for speed, this is one of those iconic bass lines that sounds great when played fast, so start slowly with your metronome and gradually increase your tempo as you acquire mastery. Happy practicing!

 

 

 

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Willie

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  1. Hi Willie, Thanks for the Boogie tips. I started practicing these bass lines when I started to learn about 2 years ago but unfortunately I have developed a tendon problem in both hands (worse in the right hand) and this is holding me back somewhat. However, I started playing through these examples again and find that if I take it gradually I can manage. At my age (64) It’s probably arthritis! but I am not going to let it stop me playing as I derive so much enjoyment from it since I retired. I am learning Moon River at present and thoroughly enjoy working through these type of songs but blues and boogie is my passion. Please keep ’em coming!
    Keep up the good work,
    Cheers, John. PS. Played guitar since I was 15…..just wish I had learned piano instead. But that’s life…ooh I feel a song coming on!

  2. In step 4 left hand base line finering be: 1-5-1-5 vs 5-1-5-1 as written?

    1. Looks like right-hand fingering is shown in step 4 instead of left-hand fingering. It should definitely be shown as 5 1 5 1 . . . instead.

  3. I know lots of basses , interested in new right-hand licks..Thanks, nice presentation !!

  4. Thanks Willie, your talking to me when you give this type of lesson.
    Sure some of us know these things but when your teaching it, it all comes home.
    Teach me all day when your on these examples..[boogie/blues] I want them to be my bread and butter someday and at 74 I may not have many supper times to go…LET’S GO! Hi Kerry, thanks for helping Willie out!