How Practice & Learn Funk Piano
Funk piano! – when we hear it done well you might find yourself saying: “Wow! I really wish I could do that.” When you hear the pros effortlessly playing funk with a great rhythmic feel and continual variation they sound awesome. Since it can seem intimidating trying to fathom how to acquire these skills and start sounding as good as the pros, I’ve outlined 7 essential steps to help you Learn Funk Piano.
1 – Learn Funk Piano from the listening to the Masters
This is actually incredibly important for all styles of music. Even music that is less obviously rhythmic has a unique feel that you must “get” to be able to imitate it. When listening to funky music you can help develop your rhythmic feel by clicking your fingers, dancing, or getting a shaker and playing along.
The trick is to slow it down (half speed) whilst you learn it and also study transcriptions of funky patterns. Next try playing simple repetitive patterns on the piano like basslines, riffs or chord vamps
2 – Practice with a metronome/drum track
Playing with a metronome with 4 clicks to a bar can leave everything sounding rigid and soulless. Jazz players frequently set the metronome to half time so it clicks on beat 2 and 4. This really helps with developing a swing feel but even if you’re playing straight it allows you a little more freedom to develop a feel whilst still keeping you in time.
A lot of people find playing to a metronome very hard at first so start with playing simple patterns or even just tap along with it playing a regular 4 beats per bar. If you can’t do this first you won’t be able to play against 2 and 4 nor will you be able to play correctly against a drum track. The good news is that once you get over this initial hurdle, things get easier very quickly and your funk piano skills are going to get razor sharp in no time!
You can check out a few metronome drills here
3- Listen to yourself / Record yourself playing (and listen to the recording critically!)
Yes, it’s surprising how few people really listen to themselves whilst they’re playing. This can be quite tricky at first, so try doing it whilst playing something that you’re already pretty solid on. By listening closely as you repeat the passage, you should be able to notice and correct minor mistakes.
Recording oneself is also a great, if excruciating test. Yes it can be painful at first but please don’t let that discourage you. The very moment you start hearing all the little imperfections, you’ll already be well on the way to fixing them. As a result you’ll start sounding a lot better!
4 – Play with other musicians
Playing with musicians better than yourself can do wonders for your playing enhancing your feel, musical communication and spontaneity. You can only really learn the skills of musical interaction by playing with other people, so get out of your bedroom and find some musos!
One way is to go to jam sessions. If you don’t feel ready to sit in on the piano, go along and play the tambourine or a shaker. Playing with other musicians your level (or better) is important. Even if you’re a beginner, it’s going to add a whole new dimension to your playing.
5 – Develop the Left Hand (of God!)
Work on your left hand basslines. Track down a book of funk, jazz or blues basslines and play through them. You will soon see the benefit and start seeing how to incorporate them.
Books can (and have been) written on this. Here’s a few tips on how to construct your own basslines:
Welect a chord progressions between 4 bars-8 bars long and practice playing the folowing notes for each chord:
- Root notes only;
- Root & Octave (playing notes on beats 1 and 3);
- Root & 5th
- Root, 3rd & 5th;
- Root, 3rd, 5th & 6th
- Root, 3rd, 5th & 7th
- Scale steps ; Bonus tip: try approaching each new new chord root by a semitone above or below
6 – Scales & Arpeggios (aren’t dirty words)
Some technical practice playing scales and arpeggios can be very important. So dig out that dusty AB Encyclopedia of Scale and Arpeggios and get in the woodshed.
7 – Essential Chords to Learn Funk Piano
To learn funk piano, you’ll need to acquire typical funky patterns and chord shapes. Pianists often aim for a punchy percussive sound – by using fourths and fifths in their patterns in places where they want to add accents.
Also commonly used are 7#9 chords (e.g. C7#9 voicing, left hand is already playing the C, right hand can play E, Bb, Eb, spread out like this it sounds very punchy).
Another classic is the fourth or quartal chord. This is essentially just two fourth intervals stacked upon one and other (e.g. C,F,Bb). The use of such chords warrants a tutorial in it’s own right but these have a great punchy sound and. They are commonly moved around in parallel quite freely, even non diatonically. There are of course plenty more shapes that can be used, so do some research…
And Finally, Don’t Forget to Funk!
Well folks, that about wraps it up for now, but if you found this useful, don’t forget to check out my article Ten Essential Principles of Productive Practice which is chock full of many more Red Hot Tips!!