How to Play a Funk Piano Solo
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When most beginner piano students sit down at the piano, their main concern is usually limited to “play the right notes.” And while notes are certainly important, intermediate and advanced students eventually turn a corner and come to understand that rhythms are just as essential—some would say even more essential—than notes. After all, what good are “the right notes” if you don’t play the notes right? In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn how to groove “in the pocket” like a drummer as you play a funk piano solo reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock or Richard Tee. You’ll learn cool funk piano skills like:
- The Blues Scale
- Funky 4ths
- Stacked 4ths
- 12-Bar Funk Blues Form
If you’ve never played funk before, this lesson will give you plenty of tools to get your foot tapping. Let’s dive in!
The Blues Scale
The funk piano solo licks that you’ll play in today’s lesson are rooted in the C Minor Blues Scale, often referred to more simply as “The Blues Scale.” You can construct a Minor Blues Scale on any starting note by modifying the Major Scale according to this formula: 1-♭3-4-♯4-5-♭7. Here is the C Blues Scale.
Great job! Next, we’ll learn two different techniques to harmonize this scale. But first, if you need a refresher on your major key signatures and corresponding scales, our Level 1 Piano Foundations Learning Track is the perfect resource for you.
Now, to get a classic funk piano sound to your solo lines, you’ll want learn to play your Blues Scale harmonized in 4ths—a technique called Funky 4ths. To do this, play the note that is the interval of a perfect 4th below each scale tone. (A perfect 4th is comprised of 5 half-steps or semitones.) As you use this technique, be sure to alternate between the 3rd and 4th fingers on the top note and between the 1st and 2nd fingers on the bottom note. This will allow you to connect your lines.
Great job! That’s starting to sound funky already!
If you are more on the intermediate level, you’ll also want to learn to play a second funk piano solo technique called Stacked 4ths. This technique builds on the concept of Funky 4ths by adding an additional perfect fourth below the bottom note. This sound, called the quartal sound in jazz music, was made popular by pianist McCoy Tyner. Once again, by alternating your fingers on the top note, you’ll be able to play lines that are more connected.
What a cool sound! Next, we’ll learn to use these techniques to improvise funk piano solo lines along with some grooving backing tracks. You can download the entire lesson sheet and all three backing tracks from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.
Play Funk Piano Solo Lines
To get started improving funky improv lines, let’s play octaves on C in the left hand using a dotted-quarter/eight-note rhythm. In the right hand, you can improvise rhythmic stabs using Funky 4ths or Stacked 4ths. For example, try this up-line using Stacked 4ths.
Nice job! Now, try playing a down-line also, like this:
Excellent job! Did you know we have an two entire courses on Funky Blues Soloing (Beg/Int, Int/Adv) packed with funk grooves, scales, riffs, runs and more? If your enjoying this lesson, you’ll want to bookmark one of these courses to your favorites for further study.
In the next section, we’ll expand these techniques over a chord progression.
12-Bar Funk Blues
One form you’ll likely encounter when playing funk is the 12-bar blues form. This follows the same chord changes as a typical 12-bar blues, except that the 1 chord uses a Cm7 instead of a C7. You will continue to use the C Minor Blues Scale to improvise as you cycle through the chord changes. Try playing along with the example below or you can improvise your own lines over one of the backing tracks.
Great job! For more funk piano content, check out our Funk & Smooth Jazz Piano Learning Track.
Thanks for learning with us today. We’ll see you next time!
Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May
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