December 2


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 (alias 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 popular music and jazz, with focus on piano and electronic keyboard performance from State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart/Germany.
In Chicago he soon become the principle pianist with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble let by Stan Kanton's music arranger and composer William Russo. Soon he formed his own bands playing piano and keyboards all over town and touring Europe regularly.
He has produced and recorded lots of music as a leader and sideman, appearing on over a dozent albums. He also offers music arranging and orchestration services. Thomas currenly serves as adjunct Professor of instruction at Columbia College Chicago where he designs and teaches courses for the Contemporary Jazz & Urban Music Program. The courses he has been (or is currently) teaching include Pop-Jazz Keyboards, Music Theory, Applied Music Production, Contemporary Arranging & Music Production.
Thomas is also the creator and owner of several educational websites such as and He also teaches group and private lessons on Zoom.
Visit for more info.

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