Everything You Need to Know About Boogie Woogie Piano 

Boogie Woogie music is one of the most infectious genres out there! Instantly recognisable by its distinct upbeat pace, repetitive bass pattern and counter rhythms, boogie woogie songs can encourage even the shyest listener to get up and dance. 

Boogie woogie music originated in the late 1800s, created by travelling African Americans in East Texas, as a derivative of blues – particularly blues piano. Whilst traditional blues piano can portray a variety of emotions, often to do with love, longing and melancholy, boogie woogie blues is all about dancing!

Musical scholars and researchers claim that itinerant African American piano players used to travel up and down the turpentine camps, entertaining workers after a long hard day with upbeat blues in makeshift bars – and thus, boogie woogie piano music was born. 

However, it wasn’t until the 1920s when the genre made its way into popular culture and became the music we recognise today. Since then, it’s gone on to influence many other popular music genres such as jump blues, country music and rock and roll. 

Many different instruments are now involved in boogie woogie songs, including guitar, big band and even gospel singing. However, despite the genre’s evolution, the original boogie woogie piano is by far the most popular, distinctive and impactful instrument of the genre.  

The Best Boogie Woogie Piano Players

If you want to know more about boogie woogie piano you need to listen to the greats! Listening to classic boogie woogie piano music will help you to pick up on the genre’s rhythms, phrasings, timings and style. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to notice the true influence the genre has had on modern music.

Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, & Meade Lux Lewis

These three artists were pioneers of boogie woogie piano in the 1920s. As childhood friends, these three pianists took the Chicago music scene by storm and were at the forefront of boogie woogie music’s emergence into mainstream music. Their popular song ‘Yancey Special’ has since been re-recorded many times and is still immediately recognisable.

Pinetop Smith – Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie

Also emerging out of the 1920’s Chicago music scene, Pinetop Smith was a pioneer of boogie woogie piano music in his own right. In 1928 he was the first musician to record a boogie woogie song named ‘Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie’. 

In the song he pays homage to the genre’s dancing origins, encouraging the listener to ‘get dancing…’ and ‘…do a boogie woogie!’

Otis Spann

Often referred to as the King of Chicago Blues, Otis is a staple artist in the boogie woogie piano genre. Following his predecessors mentioned above, Otis was one of the most popular blues piano players in the 1950s and 60s, playing as part of the popular band Muddy Waters and recording hit solo albums such as Otis Span is the Blues and Walking the Blues. 

How to Play Boogie Woogie Piano

Boogie woogie piano is one of the most complicated blues piano styles to learn. The genre features a rolling 8 to the bar rhythm over a 12 bar blues song form. To play a boogie woogie song on the piano, the musician must have a strong knowledge of techniques such as single-note lines, tremolos and cluster chords, in order to keep up with the fast paced and changing figures, hand patterns and melodies. 

Even the most experienced blues piano player will require a good amount of knowledge and practice in order to master boogie woogie piano. That’s why we recommend that anyone interested in playing the genre take a boogie woogie piano lesson.

We’ve teamed up with Paddy Milner, one of the world’s leading piano players. In our course, Paddy gives a masterclass on boogie woogie piano breaking down the key building blocks and characteristics of the genre in short and easily digestible videos, before going on to teach you the famous riffs of Meade Lux Lewis, Pinetop Smith and more. Finally, Paddy will teach you how he writes his own authentic boogie woogie piano riffs and will encourage you to do the same. 

Once you’ve mastered the basics you can move onto Paddy’s brand new boogie woogie course where he has transcribed some of his favourite tunes from Pinetop Smith, Meade Lux Lewis and the great Pete Johnson.

Or for those of you who don’t quite feel comfortable to take on boogie woogie piano just yet, why not check out some of our other blues piano courses from world class professionals. Browse our full collection of online piano lessons now, to get started on your blues piano and boogie woogie journey today!

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