Ben Folds Piano Licks Lesson

ben folds pianoDo you want to learn some Ben Folds piano licks & techniques?

You’ve come to the right place.

In this lesson, we’re going to breakdown 2 of Ben Folds piano licks. These licks will upgrade your improv skills in rock, pop, blues, and even jazz.

Let’s get started.

Here’s How This Ben Folds Piano Lick Sounds

To begin your study of the Ben Folds piano technique, let’s listen to this lick first.

This lick is very similar to what you would hear from a progressive band like Chick Corea’s Return To Forever or Dream Theater.

Before we break down this Ben Folds piano lick lets lay down some smart practicing techniques for learning any lick. 

ben folds pianoTo learn any lick, here are the steps to follow:

  • First, listen to the lick many times over.
  • Slow down the lick and pick out the notes by ear. If you need more help, we have a great guide on how to play piano by ear.
  • Next, play the lick over the chord progression.
  • To even get a better idea, learn your chords and brush up on piano chord theory. This will help you understand how the lick works.
  • Lastly, you can always refer to the transcription of the lick below to learn it faster:

ben folds pianoThe key to playing this lick is knowing your root position Em shape and your 2nd inversion Gm.

All you have to do next is practice arpeggiating those chords.

Remember to practice it slowly at first and then ramp up the speed as you get used to it.

Subsequently, advance further by learning this lick in all 12 keys.

Since we’ve started talking about chords, let’s talk about how a Ben Folds piano lick teaches you how to target chord tones.

How To Get Used To Targeting Chord Tones Like Ben

Since we want to sound good by outlining the chords in a solo, check out how Ben Folds does it:

To move things along, here’s a transcription of that particular lick:

ben folds piano

Now, take a note of some of the few things here to get the lick right:

  • First, the first half of the lick is a major triad arpeggio with a flat 3rd (or sharp 2nd) included. You create a bluesy effect when you incorporate that flat 3rd. (If you want to learn more blues piano licks check out this blues piano tutorial.)
  • Second, the second half of the lick is a simple 2nd inversion major chord triad with a perfect 4th preceding it.
  • Third, we see 4 bars of the lick. However, the 2nd half is just a slight variant that includes a block chord.
  • Lastly, take note that this particular lick has a swing feel. It starts with a swung 8th on the & of 1 followed by a triplet arpeggio ascending up and then descending swung 8ths last. (If you’re new to swing rhythms check out this jazz rhythm tutorial.)

Because you simply need your basic triads to learn the lick, it easy to learn the lick in all 12 keys. 

Here are ways to master this lick:

  • Remember, listen to how Ben Folds plays it.
  • Next, pick out the notes by ear
  • Third, practice it slowly.
  • Fourth, ramp up the speed gradually.
  • Lastly, learn and practice in all 12 keys.

Now that you’ve learned these two licks, how do you advance further?

How To Use Ben Folds Piano Licks In Your Own Music

At this point, you probably have learned the licks. However, the question is how to do you make them your own?

Here are a couple of useful steps:

  • We’ve said this a couple times now but it’s so important that we’ll say it again. Learn these licks in all 12 keys. You’ll improve your piano technique, your knowledge of the keyboard, your music theory chops, and be able to play even more songs in more keys. 
  • Because you want it to feel familiar, practice them first in context of the original chord progressions.
  • Start using the licks in other songs. Because each Ben Folds piano lick here is very chordal, you can easily use the over the right chords.
  • Interestingly, It’s also possible to use some of the patterns in the licks over other chords. For example, the Em arpeggio pattern in the first lick can be used over the following chords: C, Am, and G. If you’ve done your homework and transposed the licks in all 12 keys, you already have plenty of material to work with over any chord progression.

Finally, I hope you enjoyed this lesson on Ben Folds piano licks.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for the next few lessons, please leave a note in the comments section below.

Happy practicing. 

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Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.