9 Insane Gospel Piano Licks for EVERY Musician. Breakdowns of Top Gospel Artists!

9 Insane Gospel Piano Licks and Lines for EVERY Musician!

Q:What does Cory Henry, Mike Bereal, Travis Sayles, Eddie Brown, and other great gospel improvisers have in common?

A: They all have endless amounts of gospel piano licks, riffs, lines, and scales they can use at seemingly any moment, and with any chord. 

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Yeah that's great, but when I try and practice my scales, it gets me nowhere!!!!! 

A: Yes, you need to practice scales, but are you are memorizing gospel lines and gospel piano licks? Practicing scales are only the beginning, but you also have to memorize lines from gospel artists or records if you want to improvise like them. 

Here is How to know whether you need to focus on Memorizing lines:

  • You never seem to know what to do to fill up the space
  • You end up holding a chord for a long time because you dont know how to improvise with the right hand
  • You feel lost at how to solo over various chords in your left hand
  • Music
    You are really bad at improvising. Like, you wouldn't even improv in front of your super encouraging mom!! ?‍?

Today's post looks at how several gospel musicians use various lines to enhance their playing. These are not runs or scales only; we are looking at patterns. Remember, theory is nothing more than studying the relationships between notes and chords.

We want to focus on MEMORIZING LINES in the post. But we need to memorize the right thing and understand what we are doing. Let's look at each of these in context and you should be able to use most of these in your playing right away

1

Matt Simmons

This first Gospel Piano Lick for this song works well when you need fast, churchy-type runs that can sound good over and over even without a lot of extra improvisation. The following lines will form as a foundation so you can fall back on these as often as you need them.

The Concept

Matt is using the Ab Blues Scale and Ab Dorian scale as a basis for his improvisation. The implied chord he is soloing over is an Abmin7 (Ab - B - Eb - Gb). Please note that the Ab Blues Scale and the Ab Dorian Scale contain all of the notes within the Abmin7 chord above. 

To get better at these types of runs and lines, set your Metronome to roughly 

The Three Types of Scales to use with this groove would be: Ab Dorian, Ab Blues, and Ab Minor Pentatonic

Scale

Notes

Ab Dorian

Ab-Bb-B-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab...

Ab Minor Pentatonic

Ab-B-Db-Eb-Gb...

Ab Blues

Ab-B-Db-D-Eb-Gb...

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song below without the band. The band has been removed so you should be able to hear the keyboard clearly. Click the Orange Play button below

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See the Notes

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2

Eddie Brown

Eddie has Gospel Piano Licks for all types of situations. In this piece Eddie is riff-ing to the song "Still Here" by the Williams Brothers. Eddie has a unique style when it comes to using lines and runs. I am not talking about the notes that he chooses. Observe the TIMING of the notes in the video below. You may notice that he plays slightly "behind the rhythm". I believe this is by design and a key attribute to Eddie's unique sound and style

The Concept

Eddie begins his improvisation over a Major 2-5-1 to EbMajor7. The 2 is Fmin7 (F-Ab-C-Eb), the 5 is Bb7 (LH: B-D-Ab  RH: C-F-Bb). See the exact line Eddie uses on the 2 below

-Descending Notes: start by going down. If you are trying to figure out what to do over 2-5-1 progressions this line is a great way to start. Go to the root note of the 2 chord. In this case (F is the root). Your line will start on the 5 (in this case you will start on a C). Hit a descending triad from the 5 (C, then Ab, then F gives you a Fminor triads). Go down a whole step (in this case going down a whole step would take you from F to Eb). Go three half steps until you are at the note you started on. *This whole phrase should be on the 2, which is a minor chord!!!

-Ascending Notes: to go back up. Start on the 5th note above the Root Note of the 2. Since the 2 is Fminor, the Root of that chord is F, five above that is C. So we will start on a C and that will be our 1. We will be playing a Minor 6 melodically. This means play the 1-2-4-b6, then after that go to 7-b9-7-b7-b6-5. These notes are illustrated in the picture above

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song without the band. The band has been removed so you should be able to hear the keyboard clearly. 

3

Yaahn Hunter Jr

This is a short Organ Lick done during a hard break. Yaahn is on the Hammond organ (left side of screen) on this song. The lick is this song is done during a hard break during a Bbminor groove. It is not a straight arpeggio per se', but judging by the crowd its a very easy lick to memorize and add to your bag of Gospel Piano Licks

The Concept

This unique pattern comes from notes that are grouped in 4. So we have a series of four notes, starting on Ab, then starting on C#, then back to Ab again, and so on. The interesting sound comes from the first two notes of each group, which are a Minor 2nd interval apart.

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song without the band. The band has been removed and the audio has been slowed down so you should be able to hear the notes clearly. 

See the Notes

Please note that the notes should be played with a "swing feel"

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4

Travis Sayles

In this video, Travis Sales is improvising on the keyboard. This is not really a Gospel Piano Lick but it shows the importance of borrowing and adapting from jazz artists if you want Piano Licks for Gospel. To see the whole clip on YOUTUBE click here. 

The Concept

The influence of Art Tatum's lines on Travis Sayles cannot be understated. It is clear that Travis not only studied memorized many of Art Tatum's songs and movements. Check the Audio below to see if you can hear the similarities between Travis Sayles and Art Tatum

Hear the Similarities

Travis Sayles Playing keyboard

Art Tatum Playing Piano

See the Notes

For the notes, we will only look at the fast line he used over the A7 in the left hand. 

Although the line seems complicated, observe the notes of the A Altered scale: A-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-A... Now also observe the notes in the graphic above. You may realize that the notes are the same. You may ask how does one scale sound so cool the way he plays it? The answer is: he is using a PATTERN-based approach. Study the pattern first, and the notes second, and you will find your answer

5

Joseph Pryor

In this video, we show two different Gospel Piano Licks with Joseph groovin' on an Eb standard gospel kick pattern in the bass.  Memorize both lines and explode your gospel lines vocabulary in Eb.

The Concept

Variation 1: The first variation is Bb-G-Ab-A-Bb-C-Eb-D-Db over the Eb running bass. It is important to get the timing feel of this right as well. Although it appears as 16th notes in picture below you want to approach them with more of a gospel swing feel. Or 16triplets.

Variation 2: Another great gospel-type lick and riff to get if you want that "sound." The second variation uses a bit more detail than the first. (See the notes in the picture below) Please note that in the MIDI file the bass note is only given for reference so that you can see how the notes line up with the grid.

In this variation the notes of coming from the Eb9(13)#11 chord, which represents the Eb Lydian Dominant Scale. The notes to the scale are: Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-Db-Eb... Observe the notes in Variation 2 and you will notice that most of them come from this scale. The only exception being half-step enclosures or half-step approaches.

See the Notes

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6

Loren Dawson

Loren plays a nice groove on E. Loren Dawson seems to have Gospel Piano Licks for days!! Ever wonder what lines to use with major or minor 9ths with a 3/4 swing tempo? Look no further! The lines in this next clip have all the makings of a great solo. Half-step chromatics, enclosures, dominant bebop-type scales, and more! 

The Concept

This riff is happening on the following chords:

Emaj9 (or EMaj+2) - E13Sus - Emaj9 - E9Sus4

If you notice this riff it has an abundance of 2 movements: chromatics and triadic melody. By chromatics I mean the notes move in half-steps. In this example, the half steps are moving mostly downward. Triadic Melody is a word I made up for this article. It describes when a line includes a major or minor triad played melodically. He uses this to break up the flow and re-establish his point of reference. Observe the notes below and see if you can find the following triads: C#-E-G# and D-F#-A

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song without the band. The band has been removed so you should be able to hear the keyboard clearly. 

See the Notes

7

Cory Henry

Cory Henry is playing "I will Enter His Gates" on the Hammond organ. Even if you are playing a Hymn you can still have some jazzy, sounding lines that can tie your chords together nicely

The Concept

Cory is using the lick over the following progression in the Left Hand

F#7 - BMaj13 - BbSus9 - EbMaj9

Rather than seeing the lick as a combination of certain scales or modes, it may be easier to view the lines as broken chords. In other words, he is using notes from the chords to form syncopated rhythmic lines. This gives him flexibility to play every phrase different each time he plays this song, since he doesn't have to use the exact same pattern of notes over and over.

Hear the Audio

In the audio below I have slowed the tempo down so that you can clearly hear the notes played with the chord changes.

See the Notes

8

Mike Bereal

This movement is has the same kind of feel that Line 5 had. Use this line to help complement those uptempo, churchy-type runs.

The Concept

At the beginning Mike Bereal is riffing on using notes from the C Dorian Scale: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C... Observe the notes below and you will notice that most of them come from this scale. In fact if you go to the end of the  second line on the score below, you will notice that even the chords Dmin-C7-Gmin7 are all chords that are formed from the C Dorian notes above

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song without the band. The band has been removed so you should be able to hear the keyboard clearly. 

See the Notes

9

Cory Henry

Cory plays this laid back groove on the organ using the synthesizer to create the melodic lines. Use this to help you to play certain gospel scales over simple triads.

The Concept

Cory is playing the song Heart at Midnight, the Live version. The specific part of the song I am focusing on occurs at 3:49. He uses a technique that I enjoy using and that is using one scale (Ab Harmonic Major, Ab-Bb-C-Eb-F...) to ascend and another scale (Ab Harmonic Major, Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-E-G...) to descend. 

Hear the Audio

Listen to the Audio version of this song without the band. The band has been removed so you should be able to hear the keyboard clearly. 

See the Notes

Cory Henry Heart at Midnight
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  • Darryl says:

    Professor as always you outdid yourself. Excellent job! I was looking for the Mike Bereal audio but I didn’t see it. Nonetheless, it was still first class information that could only be done by the Master Musicologist ( slash) Transcriber DOCTOR SEAN WILSON!!! Excellent, insightful much-needed info. Thank you, sir and God Bless!

    • sean says:

      Mike Bereal Audio? Yes, excellent catch. I will comment and let you know when I add that here. Must be an oversight on my part

  • Johnny B says:

    Your transcriptions are always awesome bro.!
    I look forward to learning and developing my skills with your training always

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