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How To Play “The Lick” On Piano

Sam Vesely  /  Musical Genres / Jul 10

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It’s simply called, “The Lick”. And it’s the most famous riff in jazz music. This lesson will teach you how to play “The Lick” on Piano, and why it’s so popular.

It’s been used so many times, it’s now become an inside joke in the world of jazz. And once you know it, you’ll start hearing it everywhere.

And I mean, everywhere:

So become part of the inside joke, and learn it for yourself.

How to play “The Lick”

As popular as it is, “The Lick” is very simple to play. There are only 5 notes.

How To Play The Lick On Piano

Really the only tricky part is that grace note in the middle of the first measure. That teensy D note means that you play it softer and faster than the E which comes immediately after.

Make sure you watch the video to see it in action.

This is “The Lick” in the key of D minor, but it can be played in any key signature. Once you have this version down, try playing in some other keys.

Don’t play it too much though, because then you’ll never get it out of your head!

Why is “The Lick” so popular?

It’s catchy! That’s the shortest and easiest answer. It’s simple and it resolves, so our ears are naturally drawn to it.

To get a bit more technical, “The Lick” is played over a minor 7th chord. It starts on the root note of that chord, walking up the minor scale, before jumping down to the 7th note (in this case C) and finally resolving on the D.

And that resolution is really pleasing to the human ear.

How to add “The Lick” to your playing

“The Lick” sounds great over a minor 7th chord. So to figure out how to use “The Lick” in your playing, you need to look for common places to find a minor 7th chord.

And one of the most common is the 2-5-1 jazz chord progression.

Let’s quickly look at this progression in the key of C.

The 2 chord is a D minor 7th. The 5 chord is a G dominant 7th. And the 1 chord is a C major 7th.

So immediately we can see that “The Lick” we’ve just learned will fit perfectly over that first D minor 7th chord!

Try it for yourself. Play the chords with your left hand and practice playing “The Lick” over the top.

And then smile.

Now you know how to play “The Lick” on piano.

And you’re part of jazz music’s biggest inside joke!


Sam Vesely is a graduate from MacEwan University's Bachelors of Jazz and Contemporary Pop Music degree with a major in Composition. His extensive knowledge of music styles and music theory is something that Sam is very proud of and he’s excited to share everything that he has learned with all of the students of Pianote.

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