Boogie Down

November 1, 2009
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by Scott Healy

Before rock ’n’ roll, there was boogie-woogie. Without boogie, we wouldn’t have Little Richard, Johnnie Johnson, or Jerry Lee Lewis — or half of New Orleans piano music and most of blues.

If you play a lot of jazz, you might be uncomfortable with boogie’s rigid left hand, and perhaps the swing feel will seem too restrictive at first. Rock players might have trouble with the articulations and phrasing, and everyone will struggle with the licks that require weird thumb crossings and explosive rhythms that defy description and transcription. When you practice boogie-woogie, try to lock into the eight-to-the- bar vibe — it’s a steady, churning feel with lots of forward motion. Start slowly, relax, and don’t rush. Don’t drag either!

11-2009 Scott Healy on Boogie Piano by KeyboardMag
 

[Click sheet music staves below for larger images.  - Ed.]

Ex. 1a. The eight-to-the-bar boogie feel is rooted in the left hand, and this is one of many left-hand patterns you can play. G is a great boogie key because the roots and fifths are white notes, and the middle notes of the pattern fit the third and second fingers nicely. Practice your left hand with a relaxed wrist, a slight accent on the downbeat, and a steady eighth-note feel. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 1a

Ex. 1b. At faster tempos, many players break up the open fifth and walk the thumb up to the sixth scale step. This takes some pressure off the weaker fifth (pinky) finger. It helps to rock your wrist back and forth on beat three and four. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 1b

Ex. 2. The right-hand chords are usually based on a close voicing of a major sixth or dominant seventh. The voice leading is simple; you only have to move one finger to get between the I and the IV chord. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 2

Ex. 3a. To put those voicings into action, start simply — a one-bar riff over a left-hand boogie pattern. The hardest part is playing the off-beat syncopations in time; the right hand should feel locked to the left. Practice slowly, keeping both hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders relaxed. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 3a

Ex. 3b. Many of the great boogie licks are contained within the octave span of the chord voicing — it just feels right. Here, the thumb does most of the work, moving up and crossing under the second finger. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 3b

Ex. 3c. On some chords, you can slide up from the black to the white key with the second finger. Experiment with grace notes — generally, you can grab anything within that octave span that fits your fingers. As you slip and slide around, remain aware of your articulation, the time feel, and the tempo. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 3c

Ex. 4. Here’s a full 12 bars of right-hand boogie. The licks feel natural and fit the hand. The thumb gets a workout, with lots of crossing under and even playing double notes (measure 7). Practice these licks with the right hand alone to get comfortable with the hand position and the fingering, Then pick a left-hand pattern, start slowly, and lock the hands together, eight to the bar. Click here for audio.

1109 Play It Boogie 4

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