In this lesson, we’re going to talk about rock and roll piano – well, I guess I should say rock ‘n’ roll, to be official.
This will hopefully be a very simple lesson for you, because rock and roll piano uses some very simple structures.
Before we do anything, here’s a picture of the piano keys and note names for your reference. This pattern repeats up and down the piano, so the note names remain the same – they just make higher or lower sounds.
First, let’s talk about the chord progression.
The most standard progression is based on the “12-bar blues” progression:
(4 bars of I) + (2 bars of IV) + (2 bars of I) + (1 bar of V7) + (1 bar of IV) + (2 bars of I)
If you’ll recall from some of my other lessons, the roman numerals correspond to chords based on scale tones. Capital numbers are major chords, and the number corresponds to the scale tone of the chord root.
For example, in the key of C:
I = C major = C-E-G
IV = F major = F-A-C
V7 = G7 = G-B-D-F
Now, let’s talk about each hand separately, then we’ll put them together for the finale, OK?
For the left hand, I suggest starting with one of the following two bass lines:
OK, so what does THAT mean?!
Well, those numbers represent notes in the major scale in whatever key you’re playing.
For example, in the key of C, a C major scale is:
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
So, those two bass lines become:
C A G A (moving DOWN from C to A and A to G, then back up to C)
C E G A (moving UP the entire time)
For a song that’s “in 4” (4/4 tempo – 4 beats to a measure), simply play this pattern over and over in your left hand.
Now, for the right hand…
The easiest thing to play would be the following pattern, depending on the chord being played:
Alternate these two chords over and over for the “C major” portion of the progression:
Each chord should be played at the same time as the left hand. In other words, both hands press the piano keys at the same time:
(This is actually a nice little 2-hand practice pattern)
For the “IV” part of the progression – let’s stick with the key of C for this – play the following 2 chords:
while the left hand plays the same pattern as before, but beginning on F:
Finally, for the “V7” portion of the progression, the left hand portion is:
and the right-hand chords are:
The rhythmic pattern is the same throughout this entire progression – simply apply the appropriate chord and bass pattern to each section to build the following chord progression for each measure of 4 beats:
C – C – C – C – F – F – C – C – G7 – F – C – C
It’s kind of like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. In fact, that’s exactly how I think of it when I learn a new tune.
And if you’d like to dive in a little deeper, you might want to check out my Rock and Roll Piano… FAST online/DVD video piano course.
Hope that helps you rock a little harder, or at least easier 😉
Thanks so much for your support on piano playing. I absolutely love piano and want to learn all I can for improvement. Looking forward to just setting down at the piano and going over what you have shared. Thanks, Marlene
Wonderful, Marlene! This past year, I had an experienced “dueling pianist” teach this old dog a few new tricks, so I’ll hopefully be sharing some of those soon, too. 😉
Oh, Bill! I’m a classically-trained pianist and organist and I have always wanted to play jazz. I have taken careful note of each of your lessons but find it all a little bit too much to take in all at once. (It’s probably my age!) I will continue to try, however, and when I have an odd moment I will practise!
It is extremely generous, kind and gracious of you to give these free lessons. If I make some progress I will let you know.
do you have a diagram showing where the notes or letters go on the keyboard.
Yes, I just put a diagram in the post – thanks for the reply!
Sorry, don’t get it. I do not know how to read music, play by ear a bit. would like to learn basic chords and maybe sheet music later. right now what your talking about c-d-e what ever along with strange numbers, do you have pictures of the keyboards telling us where and how to place our fingers per chord. I do have a portable keyboard Casio, its old and has a few instrument banks etc…but I would rather learn the real way…can you help or am I wasting my time!
Sorry about that, Claude. I just included a piano note chart for everyone.
so much to learn, thanks for the help.
Hi Bill: Thank you for all your piano tips. I need you to help me. I accidentilly unsubscribed to yur blog. Please re-instate me…I am getting so much out of your lessons. Thank you…Joyce
No problem, Joyce. You can either subscribe by clicking the orange RSS “thingy” in the upper right corner, or simply submit your name and email address in the box at the top right of the blog again.
I’ve a black thumb with music, but these lessons are a swell undertaking of yours.
Hi Bill, I have enjoyed your lessons and my daughter bought your book for me and it has made playing so much more fun Thanks again. Chuck
Whew! Thank you. I really look forward to each and every lesson. I am having trouble making both hands work together on the Rock & Roll Piano Lesson..Did I hear you say Practice, Practice, practice? Thanks again…joyce
Hi Bill, i have really enjoyed taking your lessons..i gave up playing piano when I was still at school, primary actually…was beyond me but can play by ear but would really like to learn how to read music…your free lessons have taught me a lot and i can actually attempt to try and read the music sheets of some popular songs…thanx heapz…
your first sample base line of 1656 does not jive with the explanation of cagc
Jeremy, C is 1, A is 6 (below it), G is 5 (below A), and back to C (1).
Sorry Jeremy – I should have paid more attention – you were right the first time!
You list the 12-bar chord progression as follows:
(4 bars of I) + (2 bars of IV) + (2 bars of IV) + (1 bar of V7) + (1 bar of IV) + (2 bars of I)
The chords between your second and third pair of parentheses are identical: (2 bars of IV).
Shouldn’t the latter of these two by (2 bars of I) again? Also, isn’t this the basic boogie woogie chord progression?
Thanks for all your insights. Will
You’re absolutely correct, Will, and I’ve made the correction – thanks! Yes, you’ll find this progression in blues, rock, boogie woogie, and in lots of other places.
Bill, I just want to thank you for inspiring me to start learning piano again, your course was right on point and easy to follow. I play piano and organ at church and find your course very helpful. Let me know if you have an advanced follow-up course that I can get. Keep up the good work.
Hi Bill, I had almost given up on learning to play the piano. But you have been such an inspiration with your tips etc. I am 70 as of today, and I enjoy the piano so much. thanks for all you do.
Thanks Joan. Happy Birthday!
In today’s email you hope we learn to ‘rock hard’ — but at my age, that wouldn’t be easy.
My wife would be first to agree. And she has
her own way of reminding me, just before lights-
out. …Do you teach trumpet??
Bill, why is 1-6-5-6 CAGC and not CAGA? As always, thank you for the free lessons… you’re lessons have motivated me to start practicing again. However, you also linked to Oscar Peterson videos and watching him shred the piano – while impressive – is also a downer cause I’ll never be close to that!! hehe
Oops… quite right, Dave – sorry!! I was too busy playing it in my head and not typing it correctly on the computer keyboard!
YES! It should be C A G A – THAT’S 1656.
Will try it out thankyou
May I suggest, Bill, that you extend your keyboard to include at least one more octave, preferably two, so that beginners can better appreciate where to place each hand?
Hi Bill, how about some MP3 files. To hear the pattens would round out the lessons making them completely foolproof.
Your efforts are appreciated,
thank you this is kinda helpful i dont know if its suppose to sound the way but it sounds ok
thanks so very much ; you’re awesome to give of yourself free lessons; i love to see what you have next.
Hi Bill thanks for the free lessons. I can play with notes but i always wanted to play by ear. I am 74 years old. Any tips on playing by ear? tks.
Hi, am I missing something? I like the info but really feel like there should be a youtube link or a embedded clip accompanying this lesson.. The student who is unfamiliar with what you’re illustrating really needs to hear how it sounds. At least that’s what I think… Maybe I’m missing something. But I do appreciate the info you share for free… Keep it up…
Hi Bill, Thanks for the mail, I have printed off all the previous lessons you have sent, only need a bit of spare time now to mull over them, I do play reasonably well so when I sit down at the keyboard tend to go straight into playing mode rather than practice which is naughty I know, but promise to use all the material you have sent as there is always room for improvement,the only parts I have found a bit confusing are thr roman numerals,but on further investigation I am sure all will be clear, also would love to be able to play by ear, as I tend to need to see the music,my one advantage I can read music so a lot of what you write makes sense.
As have mentioned before I also do a lot of painting so its just having enough time to juggle the two hobbys.
Thank you for getting in touch again.
Best Wishes Julie
I would give anything if I could understand how the hell you do the above lesson as you have instructed. Example: EC-F-A doesn’t go together nor sounds right.
Can you provide a sample in video form so that I can visualized? Thank you so much for your help. It has been very helpful thus far
……hey Bill. Am really taking my time with this page . Opportunities for having fun at church abound because of being “drafted” to play the service hymns every Sunday due to sudden resignation of organist.Am transferring every lesson to manuscript for practice.You should of heard what was done to “Jesus loves me”, last week.You would be proud of youself.
Please keep the lessons coming,Sincerely Bob T
OK–I am not sure how to reply?
When I subscribed to your lesson I was sceptical.
How this men can teach me play piano over email ? Today I know. You are great teacher !!!
Thanks and have a great day
In the past I Played acoustic Bass and Bass guitar ii a jazz band. Also played 2nd trombone in a brass band, with folk music on classic guitar and mandolin. My keyboard is limited to playing classical music but I would like to play some appropriate jazz on keyboard.
Having suffered a stroke some time ago there is some impediment to learning but I find your lessons interesting and serve to get my mind back into shape. Please keep up the good work. PS.
I don’t expect to reach professional standards on account of lots of health problems affecting my arms and hands.
I HAVE LEARNED A GREAT DEAL FROM YOUR LESSONS AND AM IMPROVING WITH PRACTICE, THANKS A MILLION!!!
thanks for the love you have to give piano’s free lessons.God bless you BILL!
Thanks so much for your help. This is great. I’m looking forward to more of your work.
Hi Bill. Greetings from Aus. Thanks for giving us your time and inspiration. Many of us need all the help we can get.
thanks so much..
Hi Bill,You are great teacher.
Thank you so much for sharing your blessings with us.
May the Lord bless you.
keep up the good work.
Wesley (from UK)
Just like to thank you very much for all the valuable lessons Bill. You have a talent for making things simple while taking a light and entertaining approach. I am recommending you to my music-deprived friends, bravo and all that jazz!
I did not mean to drop your lessons. I just clicked on the cancel address thinking it was a lesson. Please do not drop my lessons that you send.
Bill thanks for your klessons ,you are the real thing ,for real
I already play by note but want to be able to play by ear. I am NOT a fan of Jazz,could we also have some music where you can hear the melody, just pretty, easy music
Just brilliant would like to ask questions if possible
Sure, Les. What questions do you have?
very easy to learn, looking forward to continue.
Many of us can read music if only a little, so it would be great to include the score if possible – and it would also help to teach non-readers to read the dots!
It would mean a departure from simple text but oh so rewarding for your clients!
Keep up the great work…
Mr.Bill,thank you for your much needed help…
on chords and scales. i can read music..but it
does’nt sound full. i need to know how to use
Patterns to improve my playing. Mr. Bill you
was so kind to send me a copy of Music Fundamentals or Piano Encyclopedia i did’nt get a
chance to finish reading the material before my
computer crashed and it was on my desk top..well
i lost the information…Please send it to me again asap. Thanks for time well spent!
everything you are teaching is helpful. you have simplified some of the lessons….as far as “playing by ear”, at that point all bets are off. Lessons won’t do them any good. I tried it years ago, but kept bumping the side of my face on the keyboard…impossible on a accordion….
thanks a lot its a big important for me that i have learn more how to play and study of all notes thanks for your kindly sharing for us.
your amazing god bless u
Nice work your tips are very helpefull, i love that, i would like to learn play by the ear, can you teach, a exercice?
Thanks, Ermelo. That’s hard to teach in a lesson or two, but I do have a course where I teach how to do that. You can find it here: https://pianobyearfast.com/how-to-play-piano-by-ear-faster-than-you-ever-thought-possible/
This ‘old dog’ took some lessons at the adult education center and when they were canceled the class I looked online for help – and found YOU!! YAY
Thank your for doing this and making it free. I was having a hard time understanding chords and scales but you have cleared that up for me.
I will continue following.
hi mr bill rommer i really apprerciate ur piano leason, my mind was open to so many idea on piano thanks so much. pls if i may ask is that all you have for piano? pls i need more leason on piano expecially hand ffrelling exercise. thanks so much
thanks you sir i really love piano… your post help me a lots.. keep on posting sir…nice job… God bless you..
Thank you Bill Romer!
Please send me finger lessons (left & right hand) and scale of major, minor, and 9th chords…
Good teachers make details open and interesting without a lot of bruhaha. You have it down to a science Bill.
I join the ranks of those most appreciative.