December 2

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Blues Licks For Piano Players

By Thomas Gunther

December 2, 2021


What Are Blues Licks?

Let’s first talk about what musicians mean with the term “lick”. A lick is a short musical phrase used in blues and jazz music that can be repeated and applied to specific chords and genres. Every andvanced blues and jazz musician has its favorite set of “licks”. Those sets of licks are often so personal that they can help us identify a musician just based on those licks. For example, Oscar Peterson’s licks are what makes you say after just a few bars “hey, this must be Oscar”.
Now, Oscar did not invent his licks all by himself. Instead he “stole” many of his licks from N. C. Cole and other musicians he loved when he was young and quickly incorporated them in his improvisations. Over time he modified them to give them his own personal flavor. By the way, that’s exactly how most blues and jazz musicians develop there personal style.

What Makes a Song Sound Bluesy

Blues music has influenced just about any popular music style and genre since the beginning, at least up to the 1980’s. So what makes blues blues? Well, we could get all technical about it and talk about terms like Blue Notes, Blues Licks, Blues Scales, Blues Progressions, etc.. But what it really comes down to is the blues feel. Playing the blues gives us the means to express our pain, desires, disappointments, tragedies, etc..

Vocalists have a huge advantage over instrumentalists in this regard. Not only can they tell a story using words, but no instrument comes even close when trying to express once deepest feelings through music. Especially when we compare it to the piano, which doesn’t allow us to bend notes or do a vibrato, something that not only vocalists but also other instruments like the guitar or a saxophone can.

This means, blues pianists had to find a way to give the listener the illusion of bended notes, doing vibrato, crescendoing a note, and so many other things that a piano technically can’t do.
Blues musicians refer to it as playing dirty. Explaining it in words is almost impossible, so I made a little video for you that should clarify what I mean with this.

The bottom line: Blues licks are the key to sounding bluesy on the piano.

Thomas Gunther

About the author

Thomas Gunther (Thommy Günther) is a versatile internationally active jazz pianist and keyboardist, music producer, and music educator. Born in Germany, Thomas moved to Chicago after receiving his masters in teaching and performing popular music and jazz piano (from the State University of Arts & Music Stuttgart/Germany) to become the principle pianist with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. Soon he formed his own bands playing piano and keyboards all over town and touring Europe regularly. Today, Thomas is a well respected member of the Chicago music scene. For many years he has also worked as an instructor at Columbia College Chicago where he still designs and teaches courses for its Contemporary Urban Music Program (CUP) such as Pop-Jazz Keyboards & Theory, Applied Music Production with Logic Pro, Contemporary Arranging and Orchestration, Harmony & Rhythm, etc.. Thomas is also the creator and owner of several educational websites such as popjazzkeys.com and MusicTrainingOnline. Visit http://www.ThomasGunther.com for more info.

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