10 Essential Funky Blues Riffs & Licks (Piano)

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
Level 3
48:03

Learning Focus
  • Groove
  • Improvisation
  • Riffs
Music Style
  • Blues
  • Funk
  • Smooth Jazz
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Have you ever wondered how great pianists can improvise awesome melodies and riffs on the spot? Well, here’s the secret: they’ve learned and memorized hundreds of small riffs and licks over many years. They become like kids in the playground, exploring and cutting all the riffs they know into small pieces and combining different ones. That’s why in this lesson, we will go over 10 easy and advanced funky blues riffs & licks for piano that you can learn and absorb in your playing.

These riffs are based on the groovy funk blues style of piano. This is a style that developed from the language of the blues fused with the grooves and straight rhythm of funk. Examples of pianists who have played in this style include Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Richard Tee. However, these riffs are versatile to virtually any musical style you play.

There’s something to be learned in the lesson for beginner through advanced pianists. You’ll learn:

  • The 2 funky blues chords used in this lesson
  • 5 beginner-intermediate funky blues riffs for piano
  • 5 intermediate-advanced funky blues riffs for piano
  • 2 left-hand piano grooves, 1 beginner, and 1 advanced
  • Tips and tricks for soloing using the riffs including 2 scales you can use to elaborate on the riffs provided here
  • Downloadable PDF of each riff, left-hand grooves, and scales

Excited? Let’s dive in!

Getting Ready: Learn the Chords

We use two simple chords in this lesson, C7, and F7. Be sure you are familiar with these chords. Here they are in root position: 

C and F dominant 7th chords in root position
C and F dominant 7th chords in root position

These chords are strongly rooted in blues, which influenced many styles that followed including this funk-fused blues we’re talking about today. If you haven’t learned all your dominant 7th chords, then check out our Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application.

Beginner & Intermediate Funky Blues Riffs & Licks For Piano

Before we learn these 5 beginner-intermediate piano patterns, we need to learn the left-hand groove:

Beginner Left Hand Groove:

Easy funky blues piano left hand bass groove
Easy funky blues piano left-hand bass groove

As you can see we are breaking up these 2 chords in different rhythms to create a groove, almost like a drummer would do. Playing all the notes in these chords, especially on the lower register of the piano, would sound very muddy. That’s why we omit some of the notes, to have a more clean and open sound:

We omit certain notes in the left hand funk blues piano bass groove for a clearer sound
We omit certain notes in the left-hand funk blues piano bass groove for a clearer sound

Be sure to practice this left-hand groove until it’s completely subconscious for you. Essentially, you should be able to have a conversation with your friend while playing it. That way, it’ll be much easier to incorporate any right-hand riff we put over it.

If you want to learn more beginner-intermediate funk grooves and bass lines, then check out Funk & Smooth Jazz Grooves & Licks (Beginner/Intermediate).

Now, let’s learn some of these riffs!

Easy Riff #1

This riff features what we call a turn, where we quickly alternate from one note to a note next to it (usually above), and then back before continuing the line. Keep in mind the fingering here, which is always important:

Easy funky blues piano riff using turns and blues scale
Easy funky blues piano riff using turns and blues scale

Easy Riff #2

This one has nice piano slides and harmonized notes. The tonic note, C in this case, is usually a good note for a go-to harmony for just about any other note you play:

Easy funky blues piano riff 2 that uses blues slides and harmonized notes
Easy funky blues piano riff 2 that uses blues slides and harmonized notes

Easy Riff #3

This one features some cool slides/pick-up notes each beat followed by a skip upward. It’s a very versatile funk blues riff for piano that’s usable on many positions on the scale we’re soloing over.

Easy blues piano riff uses blues slides and runs on the blues scale
Easy blues piano riff uses blues slides and runs on the blues scale

Easy Riff #4

Some more great examples of blues slides and harmonized notes:

Easy funky blues piano riff using more blues slides and harmonized notes
Easy funky blues piano riff using more blues slides and harmonized notes

Easy riff #5

This one is derived a bit from rock & roll. We’ve got a big octave and fifth spread with some blues slides into the middle every couple of beats. It’s also one of those riffs that’s usable over just about any chord in the tune:

Easy funky blues piano riff 5 uses big octaves and fifths with blues slides
Easy funky blues piano riff 5 uses big octaves and fifths with blues slides

If you want to know more beginner/intermediate piano riffs such as these, then be sure to check out the Bible of Blues Riffs (Beginner/Intermediate).

Now, let’s take a look at the more advanced ones.

Intermediate & Advanced Funky Blues Riffs & Licks For Piano

Left Hand Groove Intermediate Version

Intermediate left hand funky blues piano bassline groove
Funky blues left-hand bassline groove for intermediate piano

This left-hand funk blues groove also breaks up the chords. Compared to the beginner left-hand, this one has more syncopated rhythms and creates a more complex groove. Again, practice it slowly until you’re good enough to play it while simultaneously talking to someone.

If you want to know more advanced left-hand grooves, then check out Funk & Smooth Jazz Grooves & Licks (Intermediate/Advanced).

Intermediate Riff #1

This riff uses a similar turn as easy riff #1 but also combines it with harmonized notes in a longer multi-measure phrase. As you go down this run, the rhythm gets displaced as different parts of the pattern land on different beats:

Intermediate funky blues riff for piano 1 uses a longer phrase with metric displacement, turns, and harmonized notes
Intermediate funky blues riff for piano 1 uses a longer phrase with metric displacement, turns, and harmonized notes

Intermediate Riff #2

This riff begins with the use of the roll technique, where we arpeggiate some chord or structure relatively quickly, rolling from our pinky finger to our thumb.

Intermediate funky blues piano riff 2 uses harmonized notes and blues rolls
Intermediate funky blues piano riff 2 uses harmonized notes and blues rolls

Intermediate Riff#3

This riff uses a variety of harmonized notes in a downward run on the piano. At this point, you should start seeing some of the patterns we’ve used previously, mixed with some new patterns and variations. 

Intermediate funky blues piano riff 3 uses harmonized notes mixes with single notes to make a run down the blues scale
Intermediate funky blues piano riff 3 uses harmonized notes mixes with single notes to make a run down the blues scale

Intermediate Riff #4

This riff takes the slides and the big octave and 5th spread from Easy Riff #5 and puts it together with some cool blues rolls every other beat:

Intermediate funky blues piano riff 4 uses big octaves and 5ths, blues slides, and blues rolls
Intermediate funky blues piano riff 4 uses big octaves and 5ths, blues slides, and blues rolls

Intermediate Riff #5

Some of the material is recycled from intermediate Riff #2. Although in this one, we use bigger chords to harmonize the notes on beats 2 and 4 and big blues rolls in between beats 1 and 3. It is also a repetitive riff that plays throughout the entire progression the same way, which is a common trend in the style:

Intermediate funky blues piano riff 5 alternates large harmonized notes and blues rolls
Intermediate funky blues piano riff 5 alternates large harmonized notes and blues rolls

If you want to know more advanced funky blues riffs for piano then check out the Bible of Blues Riffs (Intermediate/Advanced).

Scales For Embellishing Riffs And Soloing

At this point, we’ve covered many blues licks & riffs. As brought out a couple of times, the goal isn’t to just play each riff exactly as is every time. We want to make them our own, embellish them, and combine them into new phrases that express what we want. This is where playing licks ends and the art of soloing begins.

Since there’s almost an infinite amount of possibilities and personal tastes, every musician tends to come up with different specific licks and patterns that they gravitate towards. This is how you can develop your own artistic sound.

One tip to accomplishing the above is to make melodies from scales that match the feeling of the style you’re aiming for. Since this is a funk blues lesson, many of the sounds of the riffs & licks we’ve used come from the following two scales, which you should certainly know well:

Blues Scale

C blues scale to use for embellishing riffs and soloing
C blues scale to use for embellishing riffs and soloing

Pentatonic Scale

C Pentatonic scale to use when embellishing riffs and soloing
C Pentatonic scale to use when embellishing riffs and soloing

If you want to know more about soloing in this style, then check out Funky Blues Soloing (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Summing It All Up

That’s it for this lesson on funky blues riffs for piano! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Try practicing each left-hand groove and right-hand riff independently and put them together to improve your riff vocabulary and two-hand coordination.

Feel free to download the PDF below to have all the riffs, grooves, and scales used in this lesson in one place.

If this lesson helped you and you’ve learned how to play these riffs, or if you’ve embellished them with your own sound, we’d love to hear it! Record a video of you playing and post it on our Facebook group with the hashtag #1oessentialfunkybluesriffs.

If you want a deeper dive into this style and similar styles, check out some of the following courses here at Piano With Jonny:

Thanks for reading, and see you in the next Quick Tip!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

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