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