A blues lick is a stock phrase or pattern, usually catchy and often using conventional blues ornamentation such as tremolos, that is used to heighten interest, increase tension, or communicate a signature playing style.

No one “owns” a blues lick. They’re part of the language of the blues that has been passed on from one generation to another.

In this first of a series, I’m going to show and explain some of my all-time favorite licks. The first lick is simple yet very effective. It’s structured by alternating the root with ascending notes of the blues scale. It could be used at slow or fast tempos:Lick #1



This lick includes a grace note (a common blues ornament) and two of the three “blues notes”:Lick #2



The following lick makes use of a repeated (but alternating) pattern. The repetition of brief patterns is a common feature of blues piano style, and helps to build tension and interest:Lick #3



This harmonically-rich lick employs grace notes for an even sweeter sound:Lick #4



Finally, here’s a rhythmically-catchy lick that works especially well at fast tempos. You might try repeating it as is, or repeating the rhythm while using a different set of notes:Lick #5



If you like one of these licks, the best way to add it to your improvising is by intentionally incorporating it into your solos until it becomes part of your personal blues vocabulary.

It’s well worth transposing these licks to all keys. Have fun!

Check out my blues piano lessons in Portland, OR.

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