Essential Funky Blues Piano Chords and Bass

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 3
17:26

Learning Focus
  • Groove
  • Riffs
Music Style
  • Blues
  • Funk
  • Smooth Jazz
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Let’s get a little bit funky in here! If you ever wanted to get that groovy funk or blues sound then this lesson is for you. We’re going to be learning some essential funky blues piano chords and bassline over the very common 12-bar blues form. We’ll be breaking it down into 3 steps of exercises, and in no time you’ll have some tasty new material that your listeners will dig.

This lesson is aimed toward intermediate/advanced pianists. If you want to see the beginner/intermediate version of this lesson click here. 

We’ll be incorporating the sounds and techniques from other blues and funk pianists such as Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Richard Tee.

You’ll learn:

  • The funky blues piano chords and form
  • The 12-bar blues form this lesson is based on
  • The funky bassline for left hand
  • Breaking down how the blues riff rhythm and melody work
  • Backing track and pdf sheet music to use for reference and practice

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Getting Ready: Learn The Funky Blues Piano Chords over the 12-Bar Blues

Let’s learn the order of chords used in this pattern and the overall structure we will be using, called the 12 bar blues. This is not only popular in the blues style but many styles that came after such as rock and roll and funk:

12 bar Blues form in G for the essential funky blues piano chords and bass lesson
12 bar Blues form in G for the essential funky blues piano chords and bass lesson

As you can see there are 4 bars/measures of G7, 2 bars of C7 (dominant 7th), 2 bars of G7, then D7, C7, G7, and D7 all 1 bar each, adding up to 12 bars total.  We usually will repeat this structure throughout the entire funk or blues song.

Try playing the chords and their roots by themselves if you’re not too familiar with them. Also, practice playing them in the structure and order of the 12-bar blues.

If you haven’t learned all your dominant 7th chords, then check out our Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application. If you want to learn more about 12-bar blues then check out G Blues Improvisation (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 1: Learn the Left Hand Funk Bassline

Check out the sweet left-hand bassline we will be using under our funk blues piano chords:

Funky blues bassline for left hand piano over the 12-bar blues form
Funky blues bassline for left-hand piano over the 12-bar blues form

Look at how we form this sweet bassline based on the chord for a G7:

Analysis of the funky blues bassline for piano on a G dominant 7th chord
Analysis of the funky blues bassline for piano on a G dominant 7th chord

As you can see, we are playing in a pattern of root, 5th, 7th, and octave of the chord. We are using a cool syncopated rhythm that accents some of the offbeats of the measure. This is what really gives us that “groovy” feel.

Once you get this pattern in the left hand down for G minor 7th, then all we have to do is transpose the same pattern to the other chords when they come in.

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

Step 2: The Right Hand Funk Blues Riff

Now that we’ve got the bass line down, let’s get to this tasty blues riff for right-hand that will really get people off their seats. Also, take note of the fingering notated in the first 2 bars:

Essential funky blues piano right-hand riff with fingering
Essential funky blues piano right-hand riff with fingering

As you can see we have a nice funk blues riff that is 2 bars long and simply repeats the entire 12-bar form. This is a technique that’s been around forever where the same familiar riff is put over the different chords throughout the form, even if it doesn’t fully “fit” the chord. Think of real-life where something familiar feels different under different contexts. Sometimes it’s smooth and easy-going, other times it’s tense and rough! Either way, it makes things interesting.

So what are some of the components that make this riff work? Let’s briefly break it down.

How This Funky Blues Riff Works

First off we are constructing nice connected phrases and patterns of melody. To do this, we are using both the G blues scale and G Dorian scale:

The first half of the funky blues piano riff uses notes from the G blues scale
The first half of the funky blues piano riff uses notes from the G blues scale

The second half of the funky blues piano riff uses notes from the G dorian scale
The second half of the funky blues piano riff uses notes from the G Dorian scale

Combining scales of the chord’s root is very common to the style. We’re sure to also to harmonize some of our notes for a thicker sound as common also in blues, gospel/soul, and rock and roll.

We also take advantage of cool techniques such as turns. We talk about turns a lot here at Piano With Jonny for creating more professional piano lines. Check them out on beats 1 and 2 of the first measure:

The funky blues riff for right hand piano takes advantage of a technique called the turn, circled above
The funky blues riff for right-hand piano takes advantage of a technique called the turn, circled above

The key is these turns at a nice texture to our lines. Be sure to line up the “and’s” after each turn. In this case, the Bb and G should be hit right on the and of 1 and the and of 3.

After the triplet 16th note turns the following note lands on the "and" of the beat in this case after beats 1 and 3 of the essential funk blues piano riff
After the triplet 16th note turns the following note lands on the “and” of the beat in this case after beats 1 and 3

If you want to know more blues riffs and scales then check out the Bible of Blues Riffs (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced), and The Major Blues  Scale (Gospel Scale) (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 3: Putting Both Hands Together

Once you got both hands down separately on steps 1 and 2 and can play them both up to tempo, we can now begin to combine them together:

Putting both hands together for the essential funky blues piano chords and bass
Putting both hands together for the essential funky blues piano chords and bass

When we combine the two there will usually be another learning curb as we now have to process how they line up. It’s especially challenging with the syncopation that makes up this funky blues piano chord pattern and groove. Over time though, it’ll become natural with enough slow and accurate repetition.

Once you get it to tempo, it’s also a good idea to practice with the backing track at the bottom of the page. It’ll really put everything in context and you’ll feel the full effect of the funky blues sound. In any case, as pianists, we should always be prepared whether playing solo or with a band. It’s also a great track to start practicing some soloing over!

Summing It All Up

There you have it, our lesson on the essential funky blues piano chords and the accompanying bassline and riff. Be sure to check out the sheet music in PDF format below for reference to the entire pattern we learned today.

If you’re a PWJ member, you can also transpose this sheet music into any key you want using our smart sheet music! It also allows you to play and hear each section in the tempo of your choosing.

If you feel like you’ve mastered this lesson, then share it with us in our Facebook group using the hashtag #funkybluesjam2.

If you want a deeper dive into funk, blues, soloing, and much more then check out just some of our courses here at Piano With Jonny:

Thanks for checking out this Quick Tip, and I’ll see you in the next one. Keep jamming on that piano!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

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