Blues piano licks and riffs

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In this article, I am going to show you two different Blues piano shuffle licks & riffs that are fun and easy to play. Make sure you click on each sound file to hear the lick played.

Do you like the sound of the Blues? So do I. That’s why I created the new Play Blues Piano Series.

Blues Piano Lick #1

Before trying to read this lick, make sure that you listen to the audio file (right below the lick) to hear how it should sound. Even though the lick and left-hand are written out as eighth notes, they are really played with a triplet feel. It is common to write swung eighth notes as “regular” eighth notes rather than triplets. Take a look at example 1.

Ex. 1

blues piano triplet feel

Do you see how much more difficult it is to read example 1 than lick #1?

It’s unnecessary most of the time to write swung eighth notes like this. Instead, just notate that the eighth notes should be swung by using a style marking.

In the case of example 2, the style marking is Medium Shuffle. Well, medium is going to be right around 120bpm and shuffle means that the rhythm is a shuffle, triplet feel. BUT, notice how much easier it is to read lick #1?

I also want you to notice the tiny F# in the beginning of the lick. This is called a grace note. It should be played quickly and usually with the same finger of the note that you are going to. So the next note is G, played with your middle finger, so use your 3rd finger on the grace note.

Lick #1

Medium Shuffle
Blues piano licks #2

Listen to the lick


Blues Piano Lick #2

Lick #2 is a C minor pentatonic scale played in triplets. However, there is something interesting about how this lick is formed (besides just being triplets). Let’s start by just taking a quick peek at lick #2 and listening to it.

Lick #2

Medium Shuffle
Blues piano licks #2

Listen to the lick

Alright, so you hear the triplets right? But did you hear how the triplets were divided into four note groupings? In example 2, I’ve separated the groupings with boxes. This is creates a very cool sound because it’s triplets, but it’s triplets accenting a note other than the first triplet. The “top” note of each four-note grouping will produce a natural accent. Notice how the accent is on the first triplet in beat one, the second triplet in beat two and the third triplet in beat three? This is an example of phrasing a rhythm.

Example #2

Blues piano licks #2

Remember, even though the left hand is written as eighth notes, they are still played with a triplet feel. This means the first eighth note will “line up” with the first triplet and the second eighth note will line up with the THIRD triplet, NOT the second triplet. See example 3.

Example #3

Blues piano licks #2


Suggested Lesson : 15 Blues Licks

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Welcome Paul Buono

Paul Buono has returned to the JazzEdge family as an instructor.  His professional piano/keyboard experience includes national and international touring, university professor, musical director, pit

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  1. Willie, good basic stuff, love it, very clearly explained. Sincere thanks.

  2. Willie..thanks for all this stuff. I have your entire course and it is AMAZING…..THANKS PHIL

  3. This was great. I am really a beginner at blues but this helps a lot.

  4. Willie, thanks for the explanations. Very clear… I’m an auditory learner as well. I can’t get the “listen to the lick” to play.

  5. Great basic stuff, really important. Very kind of you to post this stuff!! Can’t tell you how much fun it was sitting down and knocking these out. Sincere thanks.

  6. Valarie & Willie, Thank you for your for your ability, effort, and enthusiasm.

  7. I wii be in R.I. this summer for 5 or 6 weeks.If you play the piano in any local clubs or lounges I sure would like to come. How about a list of your engagements???????? Fred

  8. Sounds hard – plays easy with your help! Makes me sound way better than I am – that’s got to be good!

  9. Thanks for making this available. I love how you break it down!

    Thanks, Neil

  10. Great stuff. I’m just starting out on keys, so this kind of stuff is gold-dust for me. 🙂

  11. awesome stuff. Thank you for all these lessons. They are the best I’ve seen on web!!

  12. Thanks very much Willie, i am a very beginner , only 4 months on the piano, and this is very usefull, many thanks from Spain.

  13. Thanks Will and Val,
    I really enjoy these little riffs….such great building blocks…so clear in explanation and layout too!
    Concurring with Gene M….
    thanks heaps for the time and effort guys!!!!

  14. yeah it was very helpful.
    I’m only 11 and these explanations are wonderful.

  15. I cosider this lesson important to learn more blues in a little part of time. Thanks

  16. Thank You Willie!!I’m a guitar player trying to expand my musical world into keyboards. Your lessons and DVD’s are the best I’ve seen.I find the virtual keyboard on top of your piano very helpful.

  17. You go right to the point. And explain with few words and a lot of meaning. I´ve been incorporated many things in my playing and the way I do it becomes better each day. Thanks !

  18. Willie – very good basic stuff – easy to learn and very effective. Will be joining your blues programme in the new year

  19. “This means the first eighth note will “line up” with the first triplet and the second eighth note will line up with the THIRD triplet, NOT the second triplet.” EX 3 See I was thinkinkg 4 triplets to the bar and I read this 4 times before I realized it means the second eighth lines up with the 3rd note of the triplet. Your attention to detail is just beautiful….Thanks so much..I plan to become a member as soon as my next work stint ends. Will be going through the free lessons as soon as I receive them.

  20. Thank You! This was very helpful. I am 81 and love to play lots of the old boogie Music. My favorite is Down The Road A Piece. I think this will help on some of the harder sheet music like some Frankie Carle arrangements.I took classical but play more pop music. I have trouble with the new music because it is always 16th notes and I can play all the older stuff. I play organ too.

  21. Willie, the assessment seemed inadequate. I think I’m still a beginner. I have fair dexterity in my right hand and can play chords and some lines in my left. I have an interest in bebop licks and use them over left hand chords and funky rhythm drum tracks. I’ve found that good knowledge of scales allows me to exploit motif possibilities producing cool lines over blues progressions. Additionally, I’ve developed a pseudo Joplin-esque style which is fun. Should I go for the Slow blues lessor or something else. I’m in a quandary.

    1. Hi Cary, which lessons were you working on that you felt weren’t lining up with your current level? We will find you some other lessons to work on

  22. Willie These are great but I get an Error message on the audio clips. Any advice?

  23. Hey Christine, I need to fix those audio files. I’ll try to get that done this weekend for you.

  24. Hi Willie

    That’s very helpful. Good stuff.

    Hope to see your ‘arrangement method’ working from basic chord/melody sheets.

    Many thanks

  25. Hi Willie,
    I am only 16 years of age and I have been searching around for a new style of music. I have been playing for 6 to 7 years know ….but I haven’t learned to play by ear…do you have anything that would help me with that.