by Gjermund Sivertsen
How to play the funk style (Jazz Piano)

If you have ever heard Lee Ritenour, Marcus Miller, The Brecker Brothers or pat Metheny, you probably have heard some funk. 

In this lesson I will show you how to play some funk, and what we can do as piano players when we play this great style of music. 

This time we were in studio with my good friend Mikael Chauvet. (I've played with him since we were kids). 

I hope you enjoy this little tutorial and that you get something valuable out of it. 

​​​​​​​Please have a look at the full video here:

If you liked this video, please subscribe here:

Divider Text

Playing funk piano is very fun and can also be a bit challenging. I happened to learn this style by playing Nintendo when I was a kid (now a long time ago).

So what I did was to simulate the “STAR” music of the old Super Mario Bros music. Then I played it with a different feel.

So this was my entry point to the funk style. Now: I’m not saying we should play Super Mario, but we can find inspiration for music anywhere!

​​​​​​​1.     The pattern I’m using

I use only ONE pattern that I’m tweaking and improvising over. This pattern simulates the Clavinet. The clavinet was an instrument produced between 1961 and 1980, and as far as I know, it was invented by Ernst Zacharias.

So the pattern is as follows:

Make sure that when you play this you try to find the groove. To learn the pattern, feel free to use my free play-along tracks that you can find with this lesson!

The way to practice: Play slowly at first, then gradually increase the speed. Feel free to change the rhythm and the notes. The notes in your left hand should be seen as ghost-notes. (Barely play them). In general, I suggest you try to play this pattern as a rhythmical pattern as that is what it is supposed to be: A rhythmic effect.

2.     Accompaniment

Mainly when playing the Funk jazz piano style, I mostly play two types of chords:

-      Upper structure voicings

-      Fourth voicings

The upper structure voicings are usually rootless voicings. I’ve created another lesson on YouTube where I teach this as an overview, as well as the Jazz Piano Step-by-Step Course where I teach all of this in detail (step-by-step).

The fourth voicings is also something I teach in the Jazz Piano Step-by-Step Course, but in general, it contains a stack of notes in 4ths.

So for example a Cmi7 could be played like this:

This example contains 4ths + a 3rd at the top.

Then what I do when I play is to move this voicing and similar around when I play. In this case it is a minor 7 chord, but in other cases you could play similar voicings on major chords. (That’s a long story that I don’t have the time to go in detail about here).

3.     Soloing

When I play a solo in the Funk style, I like to use 3 types of scales.

Scale 1: The Pentatonic scale.

There are two types of pentatonic scales: Major and Minor.

Example of Major: C-D-E-G-A

Example of Minor: A-C-D-E-G

Note: The scales are exactly the same with different starting-point!

Scale 2: The scale.

For us piano players, the Phrygian scale is best described as playing from E to E on the white keys. When you play like this, you get the “Chick Corea” sound. At least I get reminded of him every time I play this scale.


I have shown this to my students and this way of thinking will save you a lot of time!

1.      Remember the ”Phrygian sound”. This means: You want it to sound “Phrygian” or “like Chick Corea”.

2.    Then all you need to do is to play the diatonic/major scale, starting from a major 3rd step under your starting note.

​​​​​​​For example:

You want to get the E Phrygian sound, play the C scale, but start from the third note in the C scale.

If you want to get the D Phrygian sound, play the Bb scale.

Again: This is a lot easier than learning 12 Phrygian scales! If you already know the 12 diatonic scales, you’re all set and ready to rock and roll, or maybe I should say Jazz and… umm… troll?

Scale 3: The Phrygian Dominant scale.

I think of this as the Harmonic Minor scale, but I’m starting at the 5th note.

So in order to think like this, you should learn well the harmonic minor scale. (This is one of the 8 scales I’ve learned).

Here is the Harmonic Minor scale in C:

To find the Phrygian Dominant scale, play the same scale starting from the 5th note: In this case: G.

Then the Phrygian Dominant scale (as shown above) will work fine over a G7:

If you did it correctly, it should sound like you’re somewhere in the Middle East. Beautiful sound J. Another tip is to play this in octaves!


This is the title of the tune I wrote and we demonstrated in the YouTube video. A side-note to this: I played this on my exam back in the days. At the time, when we performed the tune, the saxophone player was not prepared at all for the very challenging melody. So the result was that it sounded a bit like a mess.

This made me feel like I had unfinished business. I had to close the loop and “move on”. That is also one of the reasons for using this tune as the example-tune, but also that I personally like the tune, and it is a good tune to experiment with funk-patterns and solos.

Two more things:

1. Vary between playing outside and inside. The tune is written as a very atonal tune (outside). This is typical for the funk or fusion style of jazz. As a big contradiction, the B- part is very melodic and easy to sing. Here we can get a break from the “off-notes”. If you do a solo, it is in general smart to vary when you’re playing outside and when you’re playing inside.

Last thing: STABS

Stabs are just syncopations that all or most of the instrumentalists play together. In this example: Play the chords as written above the melody. The rest of the band will do the same. This is also one of the things that make this music style very fun and very challenging.

To practice stabs I usually do this:

1.      I play together with the music if I’ve got it. Slow at first.

2.    If I don’t have the music, I use a sequencer (such as Cubase) to program the stabs. Then I play together with the sequencer.

Whatever you do, you’ll save a lot of time if you can remember the stabs and exactly how they should sound like. (Get them into your head!)

Divider Text

A few words and a disclaimer: I do not have superpowers!

At the very end of the tune Stillesvir, it goes insanely fast:

Divider Text

The tempo of the music is 124bpm, and if you read music, you’ll see what I mean by this being extremely fast.

In the end, I was playing in octaves. This is actually impossible, at least I cannot do it. Still, I thought it would be fun to include it in the video for musical purposes. So now, I’ll be the magician revealing the impossible:

I recorded the last line in 50% tempo so that I could play it. Then I doubled the speed in the video at just this moment! Then with some adjustments, I edited the sound so it sounded natural. I did the same with the bass and saxophone.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t want you to think that I have superpowers. I hope it was visible in the video (it looks unnatural), but if you didn’t catch it, then now you know! I’m not Superman!

So that being said: I hope you enjoyed this little lesson! Students: Feel free to send me your recording of the tune together with the play-along track

I wish you all the best! Take care of your music!

- Gjermund Sivertsen