In this article, we will introduce seven blues piano licks that you can use in your jazz improvisation. We will be playing these licks over a I, VI7, IIm7, V7 chord progression in the key of Ab. However, these licks are also easily adaptable to various other chord progressions, hence making them worth learning.
Table Of Content
What Is A Lick On Piano
If you are brand new to jazz, you might just be wondering about what the term 'piano lick' means. Simply put, the word 'lick' refers to a short musical phrase. Hence, a 'piano lick' would simply refer to a short musical phrase played on the piano. The term is usually used in the context of Jazz; you will certainly not hear a classical musician say 'play that lick from Beethoven's Symphony No 5!'
How Do You Get The Blues Sound On Piano
Before we get into our seven blues licks for piano, it would be very helpful to understand that the key to get that blues-ey sound on the piano is pentatonic and blues scales. In fact, all of the seven blues licks that you are about to learn are constructed using notes from the pentatonic and blues scales. Now, let's start learning about what these scales are with the pentatonic scale first.
What Is The Difference Between Minor And Major Pentatonic Scales
There are two pentatonic scales: major pentatonic, and minor pentatonic.
The major pentatonic scale is constructed with the following scale degrees: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. Do take note, that these scale degree numbers take their definition from major scales. Hence, an Ab major pentatonic scale would be played with the following notes: Ab, Bb, C, Eb, F
On the other hand, the minor pentatonic scale is constructed with the following scale degrees: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7. Once again, it is important to remember that these scale degree numbers take their definition from major scales, even though we are constructed a minor pentatonic scale. Hence, an Ab minor pentatonic scale would be played with the following notes: Ab, Cb, Db, Eb, Gb
What Are The Blues Scales For Piano
The blues scales are almost identical to the pentatonic scales, with the exception of one additional note. As with the pentatonic scales, these is a minor blues scale and a major blues scale.
The major blues scale is constructed using the following scale degrees: 1, 2, #2, 3, 5, 6. As always, scale degree numbers take their definition to major scales. Hence, an Ab major blues scale consists of the following notes: Ab, Bb, B, C, Eb, F
You will notice that, compared to an Ab major pentatonic, the only difference is the presence of an additional 'B' note in the Ab major blues scale.
On the other hand, the minor blues scale is constructed using the following scale degrees: 1, b3 4, #4, 5, b7. It is important to recall that, despite the fact that we are constructed a minor blues scale, scale degree numbers still take reference from the major scale. Hence, an Ab minor blues scale would consist of the following notes: Ab, Cb, Db, D, Eb, Gb.
Compared to an Ab minor pentatonic, the only difference is the added 'D' in the Ab minor blues scales.
Now that you know what are the blues and pentatonic scales, let's explore seven blues piano licks that makes use of these scales.
Blues Piano Lick #1
Our first blues lick begins with the notes of the major blues scale in the first measure and quickly changes to notes of the minor blues scale in the second measure. In the last measure, a descending major blues scale is used. You will also want to notice the frequent usage of grace or crushed notes, which helps give a blues-ey sound. Below is a video demonstration of the first blues piano lick.
Blues Piano Lick #2
One of the cool things you can do with this blues lick is to play a tremolo on the half note in the first measure. It also makes for a good opportunity to practice some quarter note triplets in the third measure, which is a rhythm that many players struggle with. Here's a demonstration of how to play the above blues lick on the piano:
Blues Piano Lick #3
As with the blues lick above, this blues licks would work well if the half note in the second measure is played with a tremolo. In the third measure, you will notice that a descending minor blues scale is used.
Blues Piano Lick #4
This blues piano lick might be slightly reminiscent of something you might hear on a Jerry Lee Lewis tune. In the first measure of this blues lick, the key note (Ab) and the 5th (Eb) is played repeatedly, with the occasional use of the #4 (D) as a grace note to the 5th. This is an extremely common blues piano phrase you will hear in many boogie woogie or rock and roll recordings, although here, we are using the idea in a jazz/blues context.
Blues Piano Lick #5
This blues lick is a simple one. It mainly uses the notes of the major blues scale, and is made up of two separate phrases in a 'call and response' manner.
Blues Piano Lick #6
As with blues piano lick #5, this is also one of the simpler licks in this list that uses only the major blues scale. This, along with blues piano lick #5, are great for internalizing the sound of the major blues and major pentatonic scale.
Blues Piano Lick #7
This blues lick is great for practicing quarter note triples that starts on even numbered beats and that takes place over the bar line. Measure 3 is an example of this although the notation is notated differently for better understanding of where exactly the notes are placed in time. This is easier demonstrated that explained, so be sure to check out the video demonstration of this piano lick:
Download PDF For Seven Blues Piano Licks
Download a free pdf for Seven Bluesy Piano Licks in the key pf Ab here
Alternatively, you may also get a copy of Seven Bluesy Piano Licks transposed for all keys here